Prior to last Saturday afternoon in Corvallis, Ore., Cal redshirt freshmen offensive linemen Brayden Rhome and Brian Driscoll had gotten a few snaps in mop-up duty in two games. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Mello had been on the field primarily on special teams.
But after a second COVID-19 positive test visited the Bears, suddenly Rhome and Mello were the starting tackles against Oregon State. And when senior center Michael Saffell left the game with a second-quarter injury, Driscoll got the call.
For the rest of the game, quarterback Chase Garbers operated behind an offensive line composed of three sophomores and two freshmen.
“I think we ended up performing well,” said Driscoll, featured in the video below:
“Overall, I think the O-line played great for the circumstances we were in,” Rhome said.
Even in a 31-27 loss, coach Justin Wilcox saw plenty he liked.
“For really not having any (practice) reps, I thought they played extremely hard. I thought they competed well. It didn’t seem too big for them,” Wilcox said. “There was plenty to correct - it wasn’t perfect by any means. I was proud of how those guys competed.”
That’s a good thing, because the Bears seem likely to use the same five-man group 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 into quarantine late last week, are unlikely to be cleared.
“That’s what it looks like,” Wilcox confirmed. “We’ll know a little more closer to game time but we’re anticipating that being the case.”
Driscoll and Rhome had a blast in their first meaningful appearances for the Bears. Each got four or five snaps at garbage time in the 35-0 loss at Utah last season, and a few more plays in this season’s opening defeat at UCLA.
“Definitely, the first drive I was a little nervous,” said Driscoll, who had just minutes to flip the switch into game mode after Saffell was injured. “Getting the first snap back there to Chase, I was a little more confident. Just getting my first hit in, after that I was ready to go, mostly.”
Rhome and Mello learned on Friday they would start for the first time.
Rhome called the experience “awesome,” while noting it was the first time in a while he’d gotten the chance to play while a game was up for grabs.
“The nerves were definitely going. It wasn’t nervousness about being scared. I think it was more anxious to go in there and starting doing it,” he said.
Rhome discusses the situation further in the video below:
Now both players have settled down and are eager for more.
“I think we have a ton of confidence,” Driscoll said when asked about the Big Game. “We trust our coaches. We all have a lot of trust in our system. We all saw how many yards we put up last week. We know we can play well. We’re excited to get out there.”
Rhome shares that outlook.
“100 percent confident with our group,” he said. “We’ve practiced, we’ve bled together. For the last eight months, we’ve all been working out together.”
Garbers is the final word on the subject, and he feels good after the Bears rolled up more than 400 yards at Oregon State.
“The whole offensive line played great. Some of them were thrown in there unexpectedly and for most of them that was their first time playing college football. They answered the call very well,” Garbers said. “We only gave up one sack, which means they were doing their job.”
Garbers said he expects the same group of young guys in front of him against Stanford, and he thinks they’ll be ready for the big stage.
“They’re pretty mellow guys,” he said. “They handled themselves pretty well. I had belief in them even before the game. I knew what they were capable of and they just showed it even more last Saturday.
‘I can’t wait for Friday.”
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave weighs in with his thoughts about the O-line performance last week:
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo
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