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November 2, 2012

Gameday Central: Cal vs. Washington

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Grudge Match

California vs. Washington


WHEN: Nov. 2, 6:00 p.m.
WHERE: California Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, Calif.
TV: ESPN2 -- Carter Blackburn (play-by-play), Rod Gilmore (analyst), Jemele Hill (sideline reporter).
THE LINE: Cal -4
COACHES: California -- Jeff Tedford (82-54 as a head coach); Washington -- Steve Sarkisian (23-23).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Memorial Stadium will be in full golden flower for the second-to-last home game of the season with the Gold Out, and the fans will be hyped for the return of former coaches Tosh Lupoi (DL), Eric Kiesau (WR/OC) and Justin Wilcox (DC), as well as the first game in Berkeley for the younger brother of Cal great Syd'Quan Thompson -- and former Bears commit -- Shaq Thompson.
PODCAST: The Bear Republic: Dawg Days
BERKELEY -- This is not just another game. This isn't another week. This isn't another team. This is Washington. This is Tosh Lupoi and Shaq Thompson and Eric Kiesau and Justin Wilcox. This is the preseason taunting. This is for the 188 years. According to some well-placed sources, this game may even be for head coach Jeff Tedford's job.

Above all, this is personal. Even if not a single Bear will openly admit it.

"This is motivation for us to win a football game. That's enough motivation," said Tedford on Sunday. "The reality is, you have Kiesau did a good job, and Tosh did a good job while he was here. He did a lot of good things here, so things like that happen. This is more about us now, getting a win. We'll be motivated enough for that. That's enough motivation, right there."

Earlier this week, Lupoi said, in not so many words, that it ain't no thang.

"Yeah, for us, it's another Pac-12 game," said the 2010 Rivals.com Recruiter of the Year. "It'll be tough competition. There's a lot of talent on the field that we've got to face and they do a nice job. They've got a lot of offense for us to prepare for, so we're doing everything we can to get ourselves in the best position."

But it is a thing. It matters. Neither team is particularly good this season. The Huskies (4-4, 2-3 in the Pac-12) are winless on the road. They have not scored more than 21 points in a game against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent this season. Washington ranks eighth or worse in the conference in 20 statistical categories. Cal (3-6, 2-4) is eighth or worse in 15. This is a slap fight - perhaps the most important slap fight for the Bears this season.

A loss means Cal will be ineligible for a bowl game for the second time in three years. Yet, the players still believe.

"The goal in the beginning of the season was to reach our full potential as a player and as a person, and we had Rose Bowl dreams," said sophomore safety Avery Sebastian. "Those aren't there right now, but we can still get to a bowl game. That's going to start with this week. We're not thinking about next week right now. That's something that hasn't even crossed my mind. Everything is focused on this week. We're going to let everything play out."

Sebastian was recruited by Lupoi as a U.S. Army All-American in 2011. Lupoi preached about the Cal family, the #CalGang. He preached the blue and the gold.

"A big thing that coach Lupoi told me when he was recruiting me, was that you commit to the school, not to the coaches, because coaches can go anytime, anywhere," Sebastian said. "He reiterated that to me throughout the process, and I actually chose -- I love coach Lup -- but I actually chose Cal for everything that they have, all the exposure you get here."

When Lupoi left on Jan. 16, 2012, it was Sebastian -- along with his future teammates Bryce Treggs (who should play after a mild ankle sprain against Utah) and Zach Kline -- who helped keep the 2012 class together.

"I felt like it was our job to let the people know and let the fans know that we're still going to be here, that, no, we're not going to fall apart. One or two guys won't make the team fall apart," Sebastian said. "When he left, it was a big blow, emotionally, but he's still there for us, friend-wise, and he's a great coach. Really, for me and my teammates, it was just to reach out to the people that were committed here, and just let them know that we're here for them, and that the coaches don't make the team; the players make it, and the school makes everything happen."

Sebastian became the recruiter Lupoi had been. His eloquence, passion and fire helped to maintain a recruiting class he wasn't even a part of. That has shown on the field since he was inserted as a starter in Week Four.

"Avery's, ever since we inserted Avery with more time, he's a very good football player. He leaves it all on the field," Tedford said. "He plays full speed and has a great passion for the game. He's done a nice job, and it's nice to see, because he works hard. The passion he has for the game, I think, shows. He flies around and does a nice job. Ever since he's gotten in there, he's made a positive impact."

Lupoi also recruited defensive end Todd Barr as a part of the 2011 class. When he left, he didn't call Barr, or Mustafa Jalil, or Gabe King, or Viliami Moala to let them know he was leaving.

"I still love Tosh with all my heart," Barr said. "It was a business decision he had to make, and I'm not going to hate him for it. At the time that he left, I didn't get that. I was immature and I didn't really analyze the situation like I should have, and handled it like an adult. In life, you have to make business decisions, and that's what he made.

"You're going into your season, and all of the sudden, you see on the ESPN ticker, 'Tosh Lupoi leaves Cal,' and I was sitting on my couch, thinking, 'This can't be. We would know about it.' When we found out it was true, it was a heartbreaker, because we all came in and Tosh recruited us, but we just have to deal with it, and move forward."

While earlier this week, Tedford admitted that, with Lupoi, Kiesau and Wilcox on the opposite sideline, the Huskies know the Bears better than Cal knows Washington, many fans rolled their eyes. But, on the flipside, the Bears offensive line and tailbacks know exactly what they're going to face against Lupoi's defensive line. The Huskies are 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense.

"Their D-line, we know how their D-line is going to be coached. They're going to be active and ready to go, knowing Lupoi over there. We can see a lot of things coming, and we expect it," said tailback C.J. Anderson, who took the place of wide receiver Keenan Allen on the calbears.com splash page, promoting Friday's Gold Out, when Allen was announced to be out for the foreseeable future with an injury to his Posterior Cruciate Ligament.

"Of course, no one's every going to change their coaching style," Anderson continued. "We can see a lot of things. His D-line frees up the backers, and that's why the backers are making plays. All three of them -- Shaq and [John] Timu, mostly -- that's why they make the most plays, because of the way Lupoi coaches the D-line, gets them free."

Washington is in the bottom 17.2 percentile in the nation sacks and the bottom 16.3 percentile in tackles for loss by a defense. Only 11.93 percent of the Huskies' defensive snaps result in a turnover, sack or tackle for loss. Washington averages 0.05 sacks per opponent passing attempt -- in the bottom 22.8 percentile in the nation.

Cal, though, is last in the conference in tackles for loss allowed (72), is 10th in the Pac-12 in third-down conversion percentage (32 percent) and 118th in FBS in sacks allowed (37) and 116th in tackles for loss allowed (7.89 per game), with the second-most TFLs allowed in the nation, behind the 73 surrendered by Maryland.

Without Allen, the running game will be that much more important, putting Lupoi's unit square in the middle of the spotlight.

"You've just got to run hard. You've got to be physical," Anderson said. "You know it's going to be a physical game and the holes are going to be tight. You've got to run hard, and we know they're going to be amped up, especially with two of our coaches coming back here, we're going to be amped up, ready to play. To gain yards, you've got to take what they give you. You can't try to hit the home run every play. You've got to take what they give you and then eventually, you'll spring one."

Allen - who broke the program record for all-time receptions and now sits at 205 in his three years on campus - ranked 36th in the nation in yards of all-purpose offense per play, with 12.51. Springing one with No. 21 won't be an option. Instead, another player with ties to the Huskies -- one-time Washington commit Brendan Bigelow -- may have to shoulder the load.

Bigelow has been used sparingly this year with just 27 carries. But, he's averaged 12.7 yards per run and has gained 343 total on the ground, becoming the first Cal player since Jahvid Best in 2009 to score three touchdowns on running plays of 50 yards or more. When Bigelow touches the ball via rushing, receiving or returning kickoffs, he's averaging an astonishing 16.52 yards -- 10th in the nation.

Bigelow was booed roundly last season in Seattle for his last-minute switch at the end of the recruiting process, and he'll face quite a challenge in the dynamic Washington linebacking corps, which is, at times, bolstered by the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Thompson, who plays a hybrid of nickel back and linebacker.

"It's good that you have someone like Shaq that can play both," Anderson said. "He plays the nickel, so he has to be accounted for as a DB in the pass game, but he plays as a linebacker, probably quicker than most of the linemen that he faces in the run game. That's why he's flying to the ball and making plays.

"They're good at shooting their gaps and protecting their hole and holding their ground. Even though they're 11th in the conference, just looking at the run game, there's not a lot of push. It's a lot of stalemate movement and the running backs making cuts off of them to get the yards they have to gain. They don't ever get bull-rushed back, pushed back. It's either a stalemate, or, nine times out of 10, they're getting in the backfield somehow."

With the web of interconnectedness strung between these two teams, there is no shortage of bad blood. There will be no shortage of big hits, even though, as Tedford said, Lupoi won't even be on the field.

"I don't know that there's a vendetta there, from our players," Tedford said. "I'm not going to turn this game into that. This game is about us. This game is about doing the things that we need to do to win a football game. Tosh isn't going to be wearing a helmet or pads or anything out there, so there's enough motivation and, like I said, Tosh did a lot of good things here. He was a very good coach, a very good recruiter and he chose to move on for his own personal reasons, so I don't begrudge him that. It happens in football, and in this profession, so this game's not about that. This game's about getting the win, and doing everything we can to be prepared to go compete as hard as we can to get a W."

"This week, it's not us against Tosh and the other coach," Sebastian said. "It's really just us against Washington. It's going to be a great game. It was hard, but you learn to move on. You get better. Cal brought in another great set of coaches. We kind of just stuck together, really. That was the main thing. It was a big blow, but we rebounded and kept things going.

"To all the fans and supporters out there, there's a lot of ups and downs throughout football, and we're in a time of adversity right now, and we're getting through it. This is a special game. We're going to be under the lights at night on ESPN, and we've been really sticking together as a team, and coach Tedford has been doing a really good job. Even though some of the games that we've lost have been so close, I feel like, this game, we can reach our full potential. We've got spark left. We've got three games left, and if we win all three of them, we can get to a bowl game. These are very winnable games against great teams. We've just got to come, ready to play."

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