BERKELEY -- More than once this week, Arizona State coach Todd Graham called the Cal offensive line the best the Sun Devils have seen this season.
Yes, the same unit that allowed 13 sacks the past two games and helped generate just 77 rushing yards at USC last Saturday.
Asked if the Bears are capable of living up to Graham's expectations, senior center Brian Schwenke said, "Oh, absolutely. If we do exactly what we're supposed to do, we can beat any front seven.
"But if we're not doing that, it doesn't matter who we're playing."
Actually, Schwenke suggested the opponent was very much a factor last week, when the Trojans sacked Cal quarterback Zach Maynard seven times.
"We have some younger guys who don't have that confidence, and then we're going against USC," Schwenke said. "They've seen USC their whole lives, and they get there and they have that intimidation."
Schwenke, the lone healthy returning starter on the line, said he remembers having that same reaction when he was younger, losing his concentration, then his technique.
"As you get older you realize they're not actually anything special," he said. "But if you don't do what you're supposed to do, you're going to get beat."
On Saturday, the Bears are playing a 3-1 Arizona State team that ranks first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (12.8 points per game) and total defense (274.0 yards per game).
And if the pass protection and running game don't
One factor in the line's inconsistent play is youth. The Bears start redshirt freshman Jordan Rigsbee and sophomore Chris Adcock at the guards.
Two seniors who started every game last season have combined to play in just one game this fall. Dominic Galas, moved from center to guard in the spring, tore a pectoral muscle before the start of fall camp and isn't expected to be healthy until sometime in October.
Tackle Matt Summers-Gavin, regarded as the Bears' top offensive lineman, has missed the past three games with a knee injury. His status for this week remains uncertain.
As a result, coach Jeff Tedford said, "They're all kind of learning under fire. They played against some pretty talented guys the last couple weeks, and that won't change as we go through our conference play."
The biggest letdown at USC was the Bears' inability to run the ball, coming a week after they had 224 rushing yards at Ohio State.
Keeping opponents off Maynard is another story. Asked about the six sacks at Ohio State and seven at USC, Schwenke said, "We know that can't happen."
But Tedford said, "All the pass protection things are not completely on the offensive line."
It hasn't helped that three Cal tight ends -- including would-be starter Richard Rodgers — have been injured. Route-running by the wideouts also is a factor, Tedford said, as is blocking by the backs. Sophomore Brendan Bigelow, an explosive ball carrier, still is mastering the art of helping to protect the passer.
Maynard's responsibility is to limit sacks by getting rid of the ball or scrambling for yardage when the play breaks down.
"He's made some plays with his legs," Tedford said of Maynard, who had 47 yards at USC on designed runs or scrambles. "I would prefer him to (do that rather) than try to throw into coverage, and he's been doing a pretty decent job of that."