BERKELEY, Calif. – California has been awful in the first quarter this season.
The Golden Bears have scored no points, rushed for 70 yards on 15 carries, thrown for 81 yards on 8-of-19 passing with an interception, converted 2-of-8 third downs, and committed eight penalties for 80 yards in two games.
Fortunately, No. 12 Ohio State hasn’t been much better.
The Buckeyes have scored seven points, thrown for 35 yards on 5-of-12 passing, converted 0-of-5 third downs, and committed four penalties for 55 yards. The one thing they have done effectively is run the ball, averaging 7.15 yards per carry (143 yards on 20 rushes), with quarterback Braxton Miller doing most of the damage.
Needless to say, it is a point of emphasis ahead of Saturday’s game in Columbus, Ohio that Cal comes out of the blocks quickly.
“We got to be more consistent early on,” quarterback Zach Maynard said. “First and second down, making the ball move instead of putting ourselves in third and critical situations. Get points on the board when we can, even if that means we have to take a field goal sometimes. We got to get points on the board quick.”
“I think we just got to come out and play hard from the beginning,” right tackle Bill Tyndall said. “I feel like people are easing into it. We got to come out and hit someone in the mouth.”
Tyndall and head coach Jeff Tedford both agreed that practice Sunday afternoon had better pacing from the start, and were hopeful that it would be “habit-forming” and carry over to game day.
“We’ve already started out fast,” Tyndall said.
The one area where Cal has started out fast has been accumulating penalties, with several personal fouls assessed. Tyndall, making his first career start against Southern Utah, was flagged for a late hit. There was also a long touchdown catch called back against the Thunderbirds because of an illegal block.
“I think we have great potential to be a very good football team if we stop shooting ourselves in the foot with negative plays,” Tedford said. “It’s not just the negative yards, it’s the positive play you are taking away. The defense has shown it has played very well at times, the offense has played very well at times, and special teams, so it is just about putting that all together.”
But, as Maynard pointed out, the defense also feels the effects of the offense’s early ineptitude. They have been on the field for 45 first-quarter plays, nearly 20 minutes of game-time, against Nevada and Southern Utah, allowing 17 points.
“It’s very frustrating,” Maynard said. “The defense has got to get back on the field. They’re out of breath, they just came off the field, and we want to make a good drive for them so they can come back stronger.”
One factor that should not contribute to any slow start this week is the scheduled 9 a.m. Pacific kickoff, noon local time. Cal will leave for Columbus on Thursday, conducting a walk-through at the Horseshoe the day before the game. More importantly, its schedule of morning practices should have players conditioned for that level of activity.
“Our body chemistry is already kind of locked in to the a.m.,” Tedford said. “Our meetings start at 6:30, 6:45 in the morning, so guys are up everyday. We do that everyday, so it is not going to be a huge adjustment for us.”
There were no updates on the availability of outside linebacker Chris McCain (shoulder) and tight end Richard Rodgers (foot).
McCain had an MRI taken on Sunday, but the results were not immediately available, Tedford said. Rodgers will have an MRI on Monday.
Right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin (knee) did not play against Southern Utah, but showed some improvement that Tedford expressed cautiously optimism that the redshirt senior could be available.
“I’m just taking it day-by-day,” Tedford said. “I don’t anticipate he will practice early in the week, but we’ll have to see how he responds to treatment.”
Summers-Gavin is likely to travel with the team, even if he cannot play, for the leadership he brings.
“He is the kind of guy who is out there, watches everything and gives us tips and pointers,” Tyndall said of Summers-Gavin. “He has been a really good influence on me and a really good coach with my technique.”
Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and covers the Pac-12 for Fox Sports/Scout.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.