Cal's defense ready for anything against new-look Southern Miss

Updated: August 29, 2003, 4:43 PM ET

BERKELEY, Calif. -- California coach Jeff Tedford has no idea what to expect from Southern Mississippi's revamped offense under new coordinator Rip Scherer.

Unfortunately for the Golden Bears, Tedford knows exactly what to expect from the Golden Eagles' superb defense when the teams meet on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

"Everybody is aware that this is one of the best defensive teams in the country that we're playing," Tedford said. "We don't have any illusions about that. They're going to be as good on defense as anybody we'll play in the preseason this year."

But Tedford and Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower both enjoy a challenge. That's why Bower scheduled a difficult cross-country trip as his alma mater's season opener.

The Eagles have never played a team from the Pac-10, and they haven't played in California since 1970.

"It's a pretty long flight," Bower said with a grin. "We have to stop at Dallas-Fort Worth to refuel."

The most exciting battles on Saturday could be in the matchup of Cal's inventive offense against Southern Miss' loaded defense, which has five preseason all-conference selections led by linebacker Rod Davis.

While the Eagles have the advantage of unpredictability, the Bears already have a game under their belts. The Cal defense, which has just two returning starters, yielded 535 yards in a 42-28 to Kansas State last week, but the Bears still didn't appear overwhelmed.

"We have to face a team that plays with a lot of heart and pride," Davis said. "There were key points in the game against Kansas State where most teams would have quit. They never quit, and they played all four quarters. That shows a lot of character."

The Eagles' defense was so far ahead of its young offense during training camp that the coach held back the defense to avoid hurting the offense's confidence -- and maybe getting somebody hurt during contact drills.

In the home opener of his second season, Tedford has one of the bigger challenges of his tenure. Tedford's offense routinely shredded opponents last season, but Southern Miss seems up to the challenge that many of the Pac-10's defenses couldn't handle.

"They like to pressure you," Tedford said. "They're very unconventional and like to pressure you, moving in and out a lot, trying to confuse you. It looks like they want to reroute your receivers long enough so they can get after the quarterback, and they do a very good job of it."

Bower hopes his retooled coaching staff will put the Eagles in position to contend for the Conference USA title again. Junior Micky D'Angelo will start at quarterback, hoping to solidify the position he shared with Dustin Almond last season.

"We're getting tired of beating up on each other," D'Angelo said. "It's time to go play some good competition in California. We're going to be different this year. This year is all business."

The Bears have studied Southern Miss' personnel, but they aren't certain what to expect from Scherer's offense.

"We're kind of coming in there blind, but whatever they throw at us, we'll be ready," Cal safety Matt Giordano said. "This is our home stadium, with our home crowd, and you can't beat it. I think it's great to have a tough schedule, because you can show that you're a good team, that you're a contender."

Junior Reggie Robertson will start his second straight game at quarterback for Cal, but sophomore Aaron Rodgers will play as well. The Bears passed for 378 yards against Kansas State, with receiver Geoff McArthur making eight catches for 169 yards.

The game also marks the debut of Memorial Stadium's Momentum Turf, a ballyhooed synthetic surface designed to simulate natural grass. It has received positive reviews from the Bears during practices.

"I'm hoping we can get out there on the turf and run away from them," McArthur said. "Hopefully it'll be an advantage."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index