BERKELEY -- If Cal is going to reverse nearly 93 years of history against No. 4 Ohio State on Saturday, its defense must shoulder its share of the assignment.
The Bears defense has allowed more than 500 yards in each of its first two games and has been particularly susceptible to the big play. And that is exactly what the Buckeyes (2-0) and quarterback Braxton Miller can spring at any moment.
"You get out of your gap for a second, he takes off," first-year Cal coach Sonny Dykes said of Miller, the preseason Heisman Trophy candidate, who has totaled nearly 5,500 yards passing and running in two-plus seasons.
Miller is identified as a game-time decision by OSU coach Urban Meyer after spraining a knee ligament a week ago. Dykes expects him to play but said Ohio State will be a handful either way.
"It's a very, very good offensive team, one of the best in the country," he said.
So far, at least statistically, Cal's defense is one of the worst. Injuries and youth have been factors in the equation that have allowed Northwestern and Portland State to reel off 35 plays totaling 828 yards. That's nearly 24 yards per clip -- the definition of a big play.
"That's kind of been our Achilles heel," Dykes said.
At Columbus last season, the Bears (1-1) nearly pulled off their first win vs. OSU since the 1921 Rose Bowl. They were undone by two big plays -- a 55-yard touchdown run by Miller and his 72-yard TD pass to Devin Smith with 31/2 minutes left, which secured a 35-28 Buckeyes win.
Practice this week in Berkeley has been dedicated to putting players in the right places and plugging the holes. "We had some guys who were a little bit lost last week," Dykes conceded.
The improvements must come in areas of staying disciplined and tackling better in the open field. "Trust your eyes, read your keys, do your job and don't try to do somebody else's job," cornerback Stefan McClure said.
McClure said inexperience is no excuse.
"We're not sitting around waiting to get the injured guys back or waiting for next year when we've seen it," he said. "This is an opportunity to go out there and shock the world."
It's possible, but not a sure thing, that defensive end Chris McCain (head) will return after missing last week's game, and that linebacker Nick Forbes (back) will make his season debut. The Bears are a work in progress, to be sure.
"We're two games in," Dykes said. "I'm not ready to proclaim that we can't play defense."
He understands fans wonder about his ability to coach both sides of the ball. His Louisiana Tech team last year led the nation in scoring but was woeful on defense.
Dykes points to 2011, when Louisiana Tech rode its defense to the Western Athletic Conference championship.
"At the end of the day, we're going to be successful here only if we are good on defense. I know that, our team knows that," Dykes said. "All you have to do is look at Oregon. They started winning Pac-12 championships when they started playing defense."
Ohio St. (2-0) at Cal (1-1),
4 p.m. Fox
Stanford (1-0) at Army (1-1),
9 a.m. CBSSN
Inside: Heavy favorite Stanford still faces challenges. PAGE 3