Thursday, October 25, 2007

SF Chronicle: Cal's offensive linemen claim their share of the blame

Rusty Simmons

Just about everyone, from coaches to players, has tried to take the blame for Cal's two-game losing streak.  Add one more. "The numbers speak for themselves," center Alex Mack said. "As a line, we're not doing enough to help the running game. "It's frustrating for us because our expectation is perfection. I think we're still a good line, but we're not as good as we need to be." After starting the season on a torrid pace, rushing for 198.6 yards a game and allowing only four sacks during the 5-0 start, the Bears have run for 125.5 yards and allowed four sacks in the two losses. For the third consecutive week, Cal will face a rush defense ranked among the top 15 in the country when it plays at Arizona State on Saturday.

"We have a lot to prove this week," Mack said. "We know we have a good line, and we're dying to show that this week against a good opponent." The Bears ran for 184 yards but allowed three sacks in the 31-28 loss to Oregon State, which was No. 1 nationally in rushing defense and No. 3 in sacks at the time. UCLA limited Cal to 67 rushing yards and recorded a sack. Early in the season, line play was so strong that Cal showed no signs of missing graduates Andrew Cameron at left tackle and Erik Robertson at left guard. The Bears ran for more than 200 yards in each of their first three games, including a 230-yard manhandling of Tennessee.

"We've slipped a little, but we've refocused on the little things," left guard Brian De La Puente said. "The camaraderie is still there. "We're hungry. Saturday can't come soon enough," he said. "We can't wait to get back out there and get this taste out of our mouths." The bad taste started against Oregon State, which held tailback Justin Forsett out of the end zone on four consecutive runs from inside the 2-yard line. Before the failed 4th-and-inches play, left tackle Mike Gibson shoved each offensive lineman in the chest. "I told them that this is what we're all about," Gibson said. "This is about pride. If we want to be No. 1 in the country, we've got to start acting like it. We definitely didn't play like one of the top teams in the country. "That should never happen." Coach Jeff Tedford had a more simple explanation. "We need to block better," he said. But that didn't stop him from relying on the running attack late in the 30-21 loss to UCLA, which often put eight or nine defenders in the box. Tedford trusted the line to open holes as he called for nine running plays on Cal's first 12 plays in the fourth quarter.

"If (the running game) gets shut down four times in a row, we expect to get something out of the fifth and sixth one," he said. Cal has a history of that. Offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik has mentored lines that have paved the way for five consecutive 1,000-yard backs, and Forsett is well on his way with 811 yards through seven games. "We take winning the battle at the line of scrimmage personally," right guard Noris Malele said. "All five of us have that mean streak, that edge, so we just take it as a challenge. We'll pick it up, we'll take it out on the field and we'll see what happens."

Briefly: Quarterback Nate Longshore said the Southern California wildfires didn't do any damage to his family's home in Canyon Country, but a fire did blaze through his backyard. "My brother and my uncle were out there with garden hoses," he said. "My mom gives me updates on what's going on. It's pretty scary, but at the same time, I have faith that our firefighters will do a good job of keeping everybody safe."


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