Is the Big Game scene too big for Cal’s young O linemen? They don’t think so

Prior to last Saturday afternoon in Corvallis, Oregon, California redshirt freshman offensive linemen Brayden Rhome and Brian Driscoll had gotten a few shots on cleanup duty in two games. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Mello had been on the field mostly on special teams.

But after a second positive COVID-19 test visited the Bears, Rhome and Mello were suddenly the starting tackles against Oregon State. And when senior center Michael Saffell left the game with an injury in the second quarter, Driscoll got the call.

For the remainder of the game, quarterback Chase Garbers operated behind an offensive line consisting of three sophomores and two freshmen.

“I think we ended up doing well,” Driscoll said, featured in the video below:

“Overall, I think the O line played very well in the circumstances we were in,” Rhome said.

Even in a 31-27 loss, coach Justin Wilcox saw a lot of things he liked.

“To really not have any (practice) reps, I thought they were playing extremely hard. I think they competed well. It didn’t seem too big for them,” Wilcox said. “There was lot to fix – it was by no means perfect. I was proud of how these guys competed.

That’s a good thing, as the Bears look likely to use the same five-man squad on Friday afternoon against Stanford in the 123rd Big Game at Memorial Stadium.

Starting tackles Jake Curhan and Will Craig and guard Valentino Daltoso, all sent to quarantine late last week, are unlikely to be cleared.

“That’s what it looks like,” Wilcox confirmed. “We’ll know a bit more closer to game time, but we anticipate that will be the case.”

Driscoll and Rhome had a blast in their first significant appearances for the Bears. Each got four or five garbage-time snaps in last season’s 35-0 loss to Utah, and a few more plays in this season’s opener at UCLA.

“Certainly the first ride I was a little nervous,” said Driscoll, who had just minutes to flip the switch into game mode after Saffell’s injury. “Taking the first shot back to Chase I was a little more confident. I had just gotten my first shot, after that I was ready to go, mostly.

Rhome and Mello learned on Friday that they would be leaving for the first time.

Rhome called the experience “brilliant”, while noting that it was the first time in a long time that he had had the chance to play when a game was up for grabs.

“Nerves were definitely going. It wasn’t nervousness to be afraid. I think it was more eager to go out there and start doing it,” he said.

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Rhome discusses the situation in more detail in the video below:

Now both players have settled down and want more.

“I think we have a ton of confidence,” Driscoll said when asked about the Big Game. “We trust our coaches. We all have great faith in our system. We’ve all seen how many yards we racked up last week. We know we can play well. We are happy to go there.

Rhome shares this perspective.

“100% confident with our group,” he said. “We trained, we bled together. For eight months, we have all been training together.

Garbers is the final word on the matter, and he feels great after the Bears went for over 400 yards at Oregon State.

“The whole offensive line played well. Some of them were thrown there unexpectedly and for most of them it was their first time playing college football. They answered the call very well,” said Garbers. “We only gave up one bag, which means they were doing their job.”

Garbers said he expects the same group of young guys ahead of him against Stanford, and he thinks they’ll be ready for the big stage.

“They’re pretty sweet guys,” he said. “They did pretty well. I believed in them even before the game. I knew what they were capable of and they showed it even more last Saturday.

“I can’t wait for Friday.”


Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave shares his thoughts on the O line’s performance last week:


Follow Cal Sports Report’s Jeff Faraudo on Twitter: @jefffaraudo

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