Sept. 6, 1998
Cal Hosts Defending National Champion Nebraska in Memorial Stadium
After posting a nerve-wracking come-from-behind 14-10 win over Houston in the season-opener last Saturday, California faces a much tougher task in hosting defending national co-champion Nebraska this Saturday at 4 p.m. The game will be televised to a national audience by Fox Sports Net. The match-up is the first of a two-game contract signed by the two schools last fall, which will see the Bears travel to Lincoln next Sept. 11. The game will also signify the first time Cal has hosted a defending national champion since Miami came to town on Sept. 15, 1990 and emerged with a 52-24 victory.
Cal Defense Passes First Test, But Stakes Will Be Raised This Week
It was widely assumed that Cal's defense would need to carry the load early this season while the offense retooled its lineup, particularly on the offensive line. That scenario proved accurate last week when the Cal defense dominated play against a wide-open Houston attack. It took the Bears a little while to work out the kinks as Cal allowed Houston to drive 86 yards on the opening drive of the game, but did hold and force an unsuccessful field goal. From that time on, the Bear defense took charge of the game, allowing the Cougars only 135 yards the rest of the way and holding them to just 1-of-14 third down conversions (overall, Houston was 3-of-17 in that category). The Bears could very easily have tossed a shutout as Houston's only touchdown came after a Cal punt was blocked and recovered by the Cougars on the Cal 7-yard-line. The only other score came on a long 52-yard field goal late in the third quarter on a drive that just netted 26 yards.
Cal's defense will have to step up to a new level if it hopes to contain a Nebraska team that averaged 513.7 ypg last season to lead the NCAA. The Cornhuskers have several new faces on offense this year, but still have proved they can move the football. After two games, Nebraska is averaging 453.0 ypg (tied for 14th in NCAA rankings) and is averaging 47.0 points a game (tied for 12th in NCAA). Cal is tied for 16th nationally in total defense (221.0 ypg) and is fourth nationally in pass efficiency defense (61.6 rating). However, Cal rated near the top nationally after last season's opener against Houston, but quickly saw things deteriorate, so it's unlikely the Bears are ready to proclaim their status among the nation's elite until the season evolves a little further.
Big Crowd Expected for Nebraska Game
With more than 55,000 seats already sold (as of Friday, Sept. 4) going into this week's intersectional match-up against Nebraska, Saturday's game could approach the 70,000 mark, which would make it one of the biggest non-conference crowds in Memorial Stadium history. Cal provided Nebraska 15,000 tickets in the spring and those were completely sold out. Since that time, it's hard to gauge how many more Nebraska partisans bought tickets because they had to go through normal Cal ticket outlets.
The largest crowd in Cal history was the 83,000 that showed up for a game between the Golden Bears and Navy on Sept. 27, 1947. But the bulk of Cal's sellouts have been traditional Big Games between Cal and Stanford and occasional match-ups with USC. One exception to that was a crowd of 74,500 that watched Cal host No. 3 ranked Washington on Oct. 19, 1991. The last time a defending national champion visited Cal came on Sept. 15, 1990 when 47,000 were in the Memorial Stadium stands to see Miami. Below is a list of the biggest Memorial Stadium crowds for non-conference games over the last four decades.
Biggest Memorial Stadium Crowds for Non-Conference Opponents Since 1959 Opponent Date Attendance Result Notre Dame Oct. 10, 1959 68,500 L 28-6 Navy Oct. 17, 1964 63,000 W 27-13 Michigan Sept. 29, 1979 57,000 L 14-10 San Jose State Sept. 5, 1992 56,000 W 46-16 Notre Dame Sept. 8, 1965 53,000 L 48-6 Minnesota Oct. 3, 1964 53,000 L 26-20
Deltha O'Neal Brings Visions of Charles Woodson in Two-Way Role
He hasn't had much of an impact thus far, as he carried the football just once last week and played only a handful of plays at cornerback against Houston, but Cal junior Deltha O'Neal looks capable of developing into a threat as a two-way standout who also returns kicks. It is believed he is the first Cal player to play on both sides of the ball since the days of single-platoon football ended over 30 years ago.
There have been several players who have switched sides of the ball at either skill positions or line spots. Wayne Stewart (defensive back to wide receiver), Tyrone Edwards (tailback to safety back to tailback), Todd Steussie (defensive tackle to offensive line), Jeremy Newberry (defensive tackle to offensive line) are just a few who fall into that category. However, O'Neal's performance last week against Houston was the first time that a Cal player has played both offense and defense in the same game (long-snappers and blockers in goal line situations excepted).
Looking Back 20 Seasons Ago: A Cal-Nebraska Dogfight in Lincoln
Almost 20 years later to the day, Cal and Nebraska hook up again for an intersectional battle. Hopefully, this year's game will offer some of the same drama and offensive fireworks. The previous game took place on Sept. 9, 1978 in Lincoln in the season-opener for both teams. Cal debuted a new quarterback for that game in sophomore Rich Campbell and he had a big day, completing 16-of-32 passes for 271 yards and 2 TDs (1 interception). The Bears held a 14-7 lead late in the third quarter despite three missed field goals (37, 39 and 49 yards). However, the 86 degree heat and high humility finally took its toll, and the Bears wilted down the stretch as the Cornhuskers scored 22 points in the final 15 1/2 minutes to pull out a 36-26 victory. Tailback I.M. Hipp gained 154 yards on 23 carries as Nebraska churned out 302 yards on the ground. Cal punter Dan Melville set a school record with an 84-yard punt from Cal's 16-yard-line (since broken).
Bears to Face Different Styles of Offense Next Two Weeks
Cal will face entirely different styles of offense the next two games with Saturday's game against Nebraska followed by a trip to Oklahoma the next week. Houston put the ball in the air 42 times, ran various sets with anywhere from three to five receivers, and its most effective rushing ploy was the draw play. However, Nebraska and Oklahoma are into pounding the football with an option attack. Nebraska is averaging 262.5 rushing yards a game this year after averaging 392.6 ypg last year. Oklahoma ran up 310 yards on the ground in its 37-9 opening victory over North Texas. Nebraska's grind-it-out style was evident last week when the Cornhuskers had three drives of 12-or-more plays and over 70 yards against Alabama-Birmingham. Nebraska's offensive line averages 298 pounds, which could create problems for a Cal defensive line that averages just 261 pounds.
Cal Makes Progress Both Making and Stopping Big Plays
One of the primary goals for the Cal Football team entering the 1998 season was to dramatically reduce the number of big plays that the Cal defense allowed. Last season, Cal gave up 66 big plays (passes over 20 yards, runs over 15 yards) - with 30 of those resulting in touchdowns. Against Houston last week, Cal gave up one 21-yard pass and one 18-yard run, neither of which led to touchdowns. That's a big step in the right direction. Cal also came up with some big plays with a pair of interceptions -- half the team's total from all of last year -- which gave the offense the ball at the Houston 40- and 30-yard-lines. Offensively, Cal clearly struggled with a new offensive line and couldn't get any semblance of a running game going. However, the Bears did provide some sparks as the Cal had touchdown passes of 30 and 34 yards. A year ago, Cal had only seven TD passes over 25 yards all season.
Dameane Douglas Picks Up Where He Left Off With Huge Opener
A year ago, Cal had one of the top receivers in college football in Bobby Shaw, who picked up first team All-America honors before being drafted in the sixth round by the Seattle Seahawks. This year, Cal may well have a receiver who could also emerge as one of the elite offensive players in college football in Dameane Douglas. He showed some signs late last season when he ended the year with back-to-back 12-catch/143-yard and 11 catch/143 yard performances against Arizona and Stanford, respectively. Showing that he plans to continue that hot streak into the '98 season, Douglas got out of the gates with a clutch 10-catch, 133-yard game against Houston. In addition, his work with the game on the line was impressive. With Cal down 10-7 with 3:25 left to play, Douglas started a 49-yard game-winning drive with a 9-yard reception. He kept the drive going by catching a 6-yarder on a 4th-and-1 situation at the Houston 40 and culminated the drive on the next play when he took an out pattern and broke through a tackle to dive into the endzone for a 34-yard TD pass.
Nebraska has shown some vulnerability to the pass as Louisiana Tech's Troy Edwards set a NCAA record with 405 receiving yards against the Cornhuskers two weeks ago. Last week, Nebraska allowed Alabama-Birmingham only 56 passing yards for the entire game. Douglas currently ranks tied for eighth in the NCAA with 10.0 receptions per game, while his 133.0 receiving yards average rates him 14th nationally. His three consecutive 100-yard receiving games combined with three straight games with double-figures in receptions are the longest streak at Cal.
Miscellaneous Notes, Odds and Ends, Three-Dot Data
Cal linebacker Sekou Sanyika's two interceptions last week means he leads the nation in that category, tied with four other players who are averaging 2.0 interceptions per game...Cal chancellor Robert Berdahl was the president of the University of Texas in 1996 when the Longhorns beat Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship game -- the last time the Cornhuskers have tasted defeat; Berdahl stopped by Cal's team room after the Houston win last week to remind the team of that fact, and he give the Bears a brief pep talk about the upcoming game...Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Byrne knows Cal and the Pac-10 well, having served as the Oregon Athletic Director from 1984-92 before accepting the offer to move to Nebraska...If there was any reason to dispute the importance of Nebraska football to the state, Cal issued 15 TV credentials from the state of Nebraska with almost all of the six visiting stations planning to give live reports after the game...Of Cal's final 10 opponents, eight of them remain undefeated after one or two games (with only Stanford and Arizona State losing thus far)