What must the Oregon Ducks do in order to avoid a letdown against the California Golden Bears in Berkeley Saturday night?
Oregon has struggled in Berkeley in their last two trips to their southern neighbors. The NorCal Bears have found a formula to slow Chip Kelly’s offense and surrendered just 16 and 15 points during the Ducks’ last two trips to town.
Despite the overwhelming statistical advantage, it’s never wise for the Ducks to look past the Golden Bears. Anything can happen in college football, especially when the Ducks go to Berkeley.
"The game is not won on paper," C.J. Anderson, Cal’s senior running back, said, according to Jeff Faraudo of MercuryNews.com. "We're thinking about ending somebody else's national championship run."
Let’s take a look at what the Ducks need to do in order to avoid the upset and march forward towards their goal of a national title.
Stay focused on things they can control
The BCS system and the Kansas State Wildcats are going to keep on churning. There’s nothing the Ducks can do about that. The only thing they can do is take care of the things they can control.
That begins with a big win over the Golden Bears in Berkeley.
Oregon can do itself a big favor by getting a couple big wins down the stretch as they make their case for a spot in the national title game.
The Ducks are blowing away their competition in the first quarter, giving their opponents little chance for a comeback. As descriptive a statement as “blowing away” is, it doesn’t do justice to their dominance in the first two quarters.
Through their first nine games, Oregon has outscored opponents 176-29 in the first quarter alone, and are averaging 36 points before the halftime whistle is blown.
Cal is on the opposite spectrum of those quick starts. They’ve scored just two total first-quarter touchdowns this season.
Freshman QB Marcus Mariota in passing situations
The Ducks offense is a finely tuned and well-oiled machine when operating on first and second downs, as well as on manageable third downs.
Despite the seeming dominance of the offense in those situations, there is a weak spot that’s not been addressed much this season: What happens on third down when it’s an obvious passing situation?
Freshman Marcus Mariota isn’t a tremendous pocket passer and has struggled, somewhat, on 3rd-and-long situations. The Ducks rank just 31st in the FBS in passing-down efficiency.
Overwhelm backup quarterback Allan Bridgford
California junior backup QB Allan Bridgford will “most likely” get the start in place of injured Zach Maynard, Bears’ head coach Jeff Tedford said, according to Jeff Faraudo of MercuryNews.com.
That hampers the offensive plans of the Bears, who will likely turn to a more rush-oriented attack to try to control the pace of the game and keep the Ducks offense on the sideline.
But when they pass, Oregon needs to unleash its swarming pass rush on the backup QB. The Ducks are in the top 25 in sacks this season with 24 on the season. They’re also a very opportunistic unit. They’re second in the nation in interceptions (16) and third in defensive touchdowns (four).
The blueprint is there, it’s as clear as day. Oregon just needs to go down to Berkeley and take care of business on the gridiron tonight.
Mike Hoag Jr. is a Breaking News Team writer and NFL featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: