A bleary-eyed group of offensive linemen woke up in a hurry.
Cal's football team has its Monday meetings early in the morning, and when the Bears' offensive linemen showed up earlier this week at 6:45 a.m., offensive line coach Steve Marshall made it apparent immediately they didn't have much time to rest this week.
The offensive front's assignment: Deal with Oregon State's Stephen Paea, a handful of a defensive tackle who is expected to go during the first two rounds of next spring's NFL draft. At 6-foot-1, 285 pounds, Paea possesses a combination of immense strength and quickness that will require Cal's interior linemen to be at their absolute best when the Bears visit the Beavers on Saturday.
"We had our meeting Monday at 6:45 and Coach Marshall was making sure they were awake," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "There's a big challenge, and we have to rise to the challenge. You have to be ready to compete against him because he's going to get off the ball hard and fast, and he's relentless."
Paea considered leaving for the NFL last year before returning for his senior season. ESPN's Scouts Inc. rates him the No. 9 overall prospect in the 2011 draft. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper ranks him third among senior defensive tackles.
Paea's strength is evident on a YouTube video in which he is filmed doing 44 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press rather easily. Paea says he could have done more. The bench press record at the NFL scouting combine is 51 reps.
"It's always fun going against great competition," Cal center Chris Guarnero said. "He's a great player. He's really quick off the ball. He plays with great leverage and he's super strong. You prepare for it and then go out there and try to compete against a great player."
Paea was a force last year during the Beavers' 31-14 win over Cal. He had a tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry, as well as generally stirring things up at the line of scrimmage.
"He got after us," Guarnero said. "We want to go out there and prove that we weren't that bad and hopefully better this time."
For the most part, the Bears say the stat is merely a coincidence. But it's also been on their minds as they prepare for another road trip this weekend.
"We're definitely talking about just getting back to basics," said safety Sean Cattouse. " "... Just to make sure we're going in there fully prepared just amongst ourselves and all the guys that are going to be on the field. It's an issue that everyone knows amongst the team. So we're definitely going to get it fixed this week."
Cal's veteran players also can gain a little confidence from the fact they went 4-2 on the road last season.
"To everybody else I guess it's a big deal about the whole road and home thing," Tedford said. "To us, we prepare the same exact way. It just happens to be that way, that the games that got out of control were on the road."
Cal (4-3) at Oregon State (3-3), 12:30 p.m. Fox College Sports