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November 15, 2011
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BERKELEY -- With Big Game Week comes Big Game traditions, and, for the California football team, that includes the scout team using white tape to affix various designs and patterns onto their blue helmets to mimic Stanford's white lids.
Donning the numeral 12 and some fancy artwork on his noggin this week is redshirt freshman quarterback Austin Hinder, who, at 6-foot-4, 198 pounds, is playing the part of 6-foot-4, 235-pound Cardinal signal-caller Andrew Luck.
Senior starting safety Sean Cattouse could be forgiven a few PTSD flashbacks, given that in last year's 48-14 Big Game throttling of the Bears, this year's Heismann frontrunner trampled Cattouse en route to a 58-yard run.
"It was just a bad play on my part," Cattouse said on Tuesday. "That's something that will never again happen in my career ? It was just a sloppy kind of play on my part ? I'm just more sickened with myself and how I went about even trying to tackle him. It looked like nothing I've ever done before. I've just got to do what I do and tackle him. Technique - it comes down to technique. I was too high, didn't wrap up, ducked my head, a whole bunch of stuff. It was bad all around on me. When you've got a No. 1 guy like that, they're going to put every play possible out there for him. It was a terrible play by me, so it happens."
How well is Hinder doing at replicating Luck?
"Throwing the ball, he's trying to get some balls out there, right out of a receiver's break and some things, but as far as the physical nature and running the ball, tackling Austin's a little bit easier," Cattouse smiled.
Luck leads the Pac-12 in passer efficiency rating, with a 168.6 mark, and has thrown for 2,680 yards -- third in the conference behind Arizona's Nick Foles (3,607) and Oregon State's Sean Mannion (2,690), who Cal held to 247 yards last week at AT&T Park.
"It's just his ability to look off the receivers -- he'll look one way and then come back -- and his accuracy as a quarterback," said senior linebacker D.J. Holt. "He throws great passes. His mobility, he can run pretty well for a big guy, so we've got to contain this guy, as well as take some of his routes away, keep him in certain coverage lanes, as well. We've just got to limit him. He's going to get his plays in. He's a top guy in the country, so he's good, but we've got to limit him, force him to make bad decisions and interceptions."
Luck has also rushed for 134 yards on 34 attempts, with two rushing touchdowns and averages 3.9 yards per carry this season, to go along with his 70.6 completion percentage through the air.
"He's definitely a big, physical guy," Cattouse said. "There were some other quarterbacks last year, and a couple this year, but he's definitely big and physical. But, there are other quarterbacks that are similar as far as physicality. That's one thing that sets him apart, for sure. He can break tackles and make some things happen." While Luck was nigh unstoppable in last year's Big Game -- throwing for 235 yards, completing 16 of 20 passes for two touchdowns and running three times for 72 yards -- in 2009, he went 10-for-30 with a crucial last-second interception to linebacker Mike Mohamed, now of the Denver Broncos.
Last week against Oregon, Luck was forced to throw the ball 41 times, completing 27 passes and throwing two picks as then-No. 4 Stanford fell to the then-No. 7 Ducks at home.
Oregon held the No. 2 rushing offense in the conference to 60 yards fewer than its season average, though tailback Stepfan Taylor ran for 99 yards on 23 carries -- just about his season average. The Ducks' defense may have held the rushing game in check, but their main target was Luck.
"They did a good job to try to put some good pressure on them, do some things scheme-wise that kind of threw off Stanford's offense," Cattouse said. "They'll do some things, but we definitely need do what we do. We're not at all copycats. We've got a game plan for us, and we're going to go out and execute."
What the Bears do well is defend the pass. Cal is first in the conference in total defense, allowing 4.9 yards per offensive play and 319.1 yards per game. The Bears are fourth in rushing defense (120.3 yards per game) and first in passing defense, holding opposing teams to 198.8 yards per game through the air and pulling in nine interceptions, tied for fourth-most in the Pac-12. Cal is also third in pass defense efficiency, holding opposing quarterbacks to a 116.2 rating.
By applying near-constant pressure on Luck, Oregon forced him to make mistakes. Cal can apply that same pressure, with a defensive line led by the No. 5 tackler for loss in the conference in senior defensive end Trevor Guyton. After Guyton's 9.0 tackles for loss, Holt and senior linebacker Mychal Kendricks are tied for seventh with 8.5, while the Bears' other senior defensive end Ernest Owusu is 16th with 7.5. Cal ranks third in the conference in sacks, with 29, led by 4.5 apiece from Guyton and Owusu.
But, what, exactly, did the Ducks do to get under Luck's skin? Can Cal learn from it?
"We are different. There's no question we're different than Oregon," said head coach Jeff Tedford. "Oregon is kind of their own deal, and so we'll watch all the games and break them all down and look at them and see what best fits, both schematically and personnel and everything else."
Part of Luck's troubles could very well be attributed to Oregon's quick-hit, fast-paced offense, which constantly builds upon itself, forcing teams to go to the air and abandon the run -- just as Cal did up in Eugene, when Isi Sofele and the rest of the Bears rushing attack saw the coaching staff call just seven runs after halftime as the Oregon lead continued to grow.
But, Luck's mistakes won't come easily for a second week in a row. Luck has thrown just seven interceptions in 313 passing attempts this season, or, 2.2 percent of his passes. Three other quarterbacks in the Pac-12 make fewer mistakes -- Arizona State's Brock Osweiler (2.1 percent), USC's Matt Barkley (1.6 percent) and Colorado's Tyler Hansen (2.0 percent).
Luck does, however, pace the conference in touchdown passes (29), and his TD-to-interception ratio (4.14:1) is just slightly lower than Barkley's (4.83:1).
"It's just really executing," Cattouse said of stopping Luck. "He can make a lot of throws and make some people around him really good. As far as the whole team on offensive scheme, we have to execute well against a tough team. We're just going to have to execute what we do better than they execute what they do."
Coming off their first loss of the season, the Cardinal will likely come into this week ready to take it out on someone, and with the way that Luck abused Cattouse and the rest of the Cal defense last year, the Bears are as good a target as any, particularly with a 1-3 road record this season.
"It's a big game every year, so every year, we want to win it," said Cattouse. "Going out as a senior, it would mean a lot to get the Axe back for the school and to keep the tradition going."
While Cal does have a 20-point underdog label to contend with, the Bears will at least not have to worry about becoming bowl eligible, after getting their sixth win last week against the Beavers.
"A few weeks back, we figured we'd get it one way or another, but I guess it's good to kind of get that and know that we're bowl-eligible and keep focus," Cattouse said.
Big Game Memories
Not all of Cattouse's Big Game memories are as painful as the play against Luck. This week, BearTerritory has been speaking with seniors about their favorite moments from the rivalry. For Cattouse, there's nothing like the first time.
"My first Big Game in my first year playing," he smiled. "I got the start my redshirt freshman year. Just the whole game, I mean, we got the Axe. It was when I got on the field, just being involved in it and being a part of it out there on the field. It was huge. It was exciting. It was big-time. It was all I could hope for."
Linebackers David Wilkerson (4.0 sacks) and Chris McCain did not practice, with Wilkerson in a heavy knee brace. However, defensive tackle Aaron Tipoti, who was an emergency reserve last week due to general soreness, was a full go on defense on Tuesday.