BERKELEY — Here's a guess that it's probably not the best feeling in the world to have bruising Stanford running back Toby Gerhart coming at you with a full head of steam. But for Cal's defense, it will be a welcome sight.
The Bears have had a pretty solid run defense all season, but smaller, quick tailbacks have been cause for the rare times they've had trouble. There's nothing small about the 6-foot-1, 232-pound Gerhart, although he has surprisingly good speed for his size.
Still, the Bears have had success against the more straight-ahead runners this season, and that gives them confidence heading into the 111th Big Game on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
"If their plan is to run the ball at us, our defense is going to be licking (its) chops," Cal linebacker Worrell Williams said. "I think we have the best run defense in the business. Big backs don't really scare us. If they are going to come downhill on us, it's going to be right down our alley."
Cal has the fourth-ranked run defense in the Pac-10 at 124.3 yards per game. The Bears have allowed just three opposing running backs to rush for 100 yards in a game — Arizona's Keola Antolin, Oregon's Jeremiah Johnson and Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers. Antolin and Rodgers are smaller, shiftier backs, whereas Johnson is a talented runner with all the tools.
Gerhart ranks fourth in the conference in rushing (93.9 ypg) and has seven 100-yard games this season. He gained 101 yards against USC's stout defense, including an impressive 40-yard rumble that set up a Stanford touchdown.
"You really need to gang tackle him," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "He's a big, physical guy with great balance. He has surprising speed for a big guy. He can take it the distance. It's going to be very important that we wrap him up. It's very hard to bring him down one on one."
Tedford said the Bears will place a special emphasis this week on special teams. Cal allowed an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown during last week's loss to Oregon State and a 56-yard punt return that set up another Beavers score.
"There needs to be great focus," Tedford said. "We let them have a couple plays off special teams. That comes down to discipline and doing the right thing, and kicking the ball where you need to kick it. We have to get that straightened out."
Cal kicker Giorgio Tavecchio also struggled. His first two kickoffs reached only the 14-yard line and his third went out of bounds. Backup Jordan Kay took the last kickoff and could get it no deeper than the Oregon State 17.
The Pac-10 announced that Cal's home game against Washington on Dec. 6 will begin at noon and be broadcast by Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. This marks the second year in a row that every game of the season has been televised. That had never happened in Cal history before last season. ... Safety Brett Johnson sat out practice Tuesday with a sore shoulder. Tedford said he's day-to-day.
— Jonathan Okanes