Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Sports Network: Golden Bears try to claw way past Rams

The 10th-ranked California Golden Bears take their act on the road for a non-conference clash with the Colorado State Rams in Fort Collins.  Cal, which finished 10-3 a year ago, began this new campaign on a positive note with a 45-31 victory over a strong Tennessee squad last Saturday. The Golden Bears improved to 19-2 in their last 21 home games with that victory, but they will need to prove worthy of their high national ranking by beating a Colorado State team hungry for victory. The Rams began the season with a major rivalry game against the Colorado Buffaloes, and while the contest was close from start to finish as expected, CSU came out on the wrong side of a 31-28 overtime decision. The Rams have now lost eight straight decisions, including the final seven of the 2006 campaign. In the only previous meeting between California and Colorado State, the Rams posted a 23-21 victory on the road back in 2003.

California possesses perhaps the nation's most explosive athlete in receiver/returner DeSean Jackson. Against Tennessee, Jackson raced 77 yards for a touchdown on his first punt return, marking the sixth time he has scored on a punt return. That total marks a Pac-10 record, and the fact that he has taken six of his 27 punt return opportunities in for scores is nothing short of remarkable. Quarterback Nate Longshore threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee, and tailback Justin Forsett racked up 156 yards and a score on the ground. Lavelle Hawkins was the most impressive of the Cal receivers, as he made seven grabs for 90 yards and a touchdown. Clearly, there is no shortage of firepower in Berkeley, a fact that is certainly not lost on Colorado State.

Defensively, California has some room for improvement after surrendering 31 points to Tennessee in the opener. On a positive note, the unit seemed to get better as the game progressed. After yielding 21 points to the Vols in the first half, the Golden Bears allowed a mere 10 points over the final two quarters. Tennessee did most of its damage through the air with 271 passing yards. It should be pointed out, however, that it took the Vols 32 completions to reach that total, so Cal managed to avoid getting stung by the big play. Brandon Hampton was extremely active for the Golden Bears, as he finished with 11 total tackles. The senior safety is undersized at 5-10 and 193 pounds, but he is fast and ferocious.

Colorado State has to feel good about the chemistry that was evident between quarterback Caleb Haine and receiver Kory Sperry in the opener against Colorado. Those two hooked up for three touchdowns, one in each of the first three quarters. Haine completed 20-of-27 passes for 229 yards with three touchdowns in the clash, but he was sacked three times and did throw an interception. As for Sperry, he made eight grabs for 103 yards. The ground attack was spearheaded by Kyle Bell, as he rushed for 135 yards and a score on a staggering total of 40 carries. The Rams made good on 11-of-19 third down conversion attempts and held the ball for over 37 minutes. With those stats in mind, it is hard to believe that the club came out on the wrong side of the decision.

The Colorado State defensive unit limited Colorado to 18 first downs and 330 total yards in the opener. But while the defense was not torched for big yardage, the unit allowed three touchdowns and three field goals. The Rams put forth a mediocre effort against the run and did allow some big plays in the passing game. Nine defensive starters are back from the disappointing '06 squad, and while that level of continuity usually leads to success, better results have to be demanded by the fans and coaching staff. Put simply, allowing 31 points rarely leads to victory. Klint Kubiak, a secondary player, is the leading returning tackler for the Rams, and he came through with seven total stops against Colorado.

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