Oregon Ducks vs. California Golden Bears Complete Game Preview
Two programs that battled through much of the 2000s for the right to join USC at the top of the then-Pac-10 will face off on Saturday for the first time under their new head coaches.
Cal and Oregon have been on a roller coaster ride since the year 2002, when Jeff Tedford left his job as Oregon's offensive coordinator to become Cal's head coach. Tedford led the Bears to four wins in five years against the Ducks from 2004-2008 before the Bears took a dive.
The Bears were never able to capitalize on their momentum against the Ducks and quickly gave way to Oregon as the league's premier program outside of Los Angeles. The Ducks quickly took control of the rivalry and surpassed the Bears and USC to own the Pac-10/12.
After smashing the sixth-ranked Bears, 42-3, in 2009, the Ducks rose to new heights while Cal faltered. For different reasons, both programs have new head coaches in 2013, but things look as if they are much the same as Oregon enters Saturday as a heavy favorite.
Here's what you need to know as Sonny Dykes and his high-powered Bears travel to Eugene to take on Mark Helfrich and the Ducks in the Pac-12 opener for both teams.
When: Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013 at 10:30 EST.
Where: Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: Oregon Sports Network
Oregon Keys to Victory
Regardless of how good the Ducks secondary is, Cal is going to put up yards behind Jared Goff and a standout group of wide receivers. No one has stopped Cal's passing attack thus far, but they have forced Cal into mistakes.
Northwestern returned two second-half interceptions for touchdowns in its 44-30 victory over Cal in Week 1. Goff has put up huge numbers early in his freshman season, but he has had four passes intercepted.
Play Its Game
The Ducks have been in total control against Cal in the past few years, save for the 2010 game, which the Ducks won just 15-13. The Ducks should be able to run the ball with relative ease against the Bears. Marcus Mariota will likely have an easy time against the Cal secondary after shredding it on the road last year.
As long as the Ducks stick to the script, keep the penalties relatively low and keep the pressure on Cal all night long, they should have the starters on the bench by the time the fourth quarter comes around.
Cal Keys to Victory
With a talented but young quarterback at the helm, Cal has and will continue to go through some ups and downs. It will need more ups than downs on Saturday if it hopes to end the Ducks' four-game win streak in the series.
Cal needs to stay focused and remain disciplined in order to keep penalties and other unforced errors to a minimum. The Ducks did nothing to eliminate their addiction to penalties against Tennessee, and if the right team stays disciplined and takes advantage of the extra opportunities Oregon gives it, it could wind up derailing the Ducks' BCS title dreams.
Whether or not that team is Cal will depend on everything else the Bears do on Saturday. Mistakes will happen, but if a team eliminates the ones it can control, things will be much easier. Goff's two tipped interceptions against Northwestern wound up being the difference in the ballgame.
If the Bears can catch the ball when it hits their hands and keep away from costly mental errors, they could put a scare into the Ducks early in the game.
Create Turnovers and Capitalize on Them
The Ducks have forced seven turnovers through three games while not turning the ball over once. Cal has thrown four interceptions, two of which were taken the other way for six.
Cal has an equal number of turnovers lost and gained through three games, which has done nothing to help it overcome its porous defense. It has a tough group up front and good athletes in the back seven that possess the ability to make plays capable of changing the game.
If the Bears hope to hang with the Ducks beyond the first half, they will likely need to force Oregon into some mistakes and then capitalize on them once they get the ball. Cal's offense can hang with anyone, but its defense doesn't allow that to happen. The defense has a talented group, but injuries and inconsistency have been a killer.
Oregon Players to Watch
QB Marcus Mariota: Mariota had perhaps the best game of his career against Cal in 2012 when he threw for 377 yards and six touchdowns while adding 42 yards on the ground.
Cal's defense is banged up and has been one of the country's worst units through three games. All three opponents, including FCS Portland State, have gained more than 500 yards against the Bears.
Another big day for Mariota is likely and could vault him to the top of the Heisman Trophy race after throwing for 456 yards and four TDs against Tennessee in the Ducks' last game.
LB Derrick Malone: The Ducks' leading tackler will be called upon to help cover the middle of the field against Cal's wide-open passing attack. Malone has been solid in his first season as a starter, but this is the kind of game that could help put him on another level as one of the Ducks' defensive leaders.
RB De'Anthony Thomas: Thomas has been nothing short of spectacular in 2013 but has yet to put up the kind of numbers that will keep him in the Heisman Trophy race. A big day against Cal is far from a stretch, so his numbers could go up in a big way on Saturday.
Cal Players to Watch
QB Jared Goff: For those worried about recruiting rankings, Goff might be a good case study. He was a well-thought-of prospect who was named a finalist at the Elite 11 Quarterback Camp but wasn't even considered a top-15 QB by most recruiting services.
For those worried that Oregon's current quarterback commitment, Morgan Mahalak, had never started a high school game until a couple weeks ago, Goff is the reason why.
Goff won the job at Cal after enrolling in the spring and has set the world on fire in his first three collegiate outings. He leads the country by averaging 435 yards per game and has seven touchdowns against four interceptions. Two of the interceptions were deflected passes that were no fault of his. The bottom line is that Goff is very good.
The thing to keep an eye on with him is that all three of the games he has played were in the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium. For Goff, like any freshman, a road game will be a whole different animal. Not only will it be his first-ever road game, but he will be facing one of the best secondaries in the country.
He also has no idea what he is in for once he steps onto the field inside Autzen Stadium. The first road game is always tough for a true freshman. Having your first road game ever at one of the most intimidating stadiums in the country against a Top Five team could be a nightmare.
RB Brendan Bigelow: The speedster chose Cal over the Ducks out of high school and has been mostly average thus far in his career. Cal's rushing attack has been sub-par through three games, having been out-gained by its opponents 786-356.
The 5'11", 200-pound sophomore will need to make some big plays to help keep the pressure off of Goff.
What They Are Saying
In this Oregonlive.com article, Mark Helfrich discusses Cal's offensive attack with Andrew Greif.
Obviously they’ve done a great job of moving the ball, period. They run the ball better than I think people give them credit for and (RB Brendan) Bigelow’s a guy who’s a home-run type of back is a real powerful runner and has incredible top-end speed, similar to guys we have here. … Their scheme is really good. You think you have a pretty good idea of what they’re going to do but they always have a little wrinkle that fits their scheme that always presents a little bit of a problem, and for us we need to continue to play team defense.
This piece from Oregonlive.com beat writer Jason Quick discusses Cal's vaunted passing attack with Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal.
They are a spread team with talent and speed. They know how to go deep and they know how to go short. And they have a decent running game, too. We have our hands full in every dimension. The difference is their team speed. We are going to have to be at our best.’
First-year Cal head coach Sonny Dykes, known very much for his offense, has very high praise for the Ducks offense. As reported by Sean Meagher of Oregonlive.com, Dykes gave the Oregon offense a lot of respect during the weekly Pac-12 media conference call. Dykes was quoted as saying that the Ducks offense is "as good of an offense as I've seen."
Cal won four of five matchups against the Ducks from 2004-2008. Since then, the Ducks have won four straight, three of which came in dominant fashion. Saturday's matchup sets up as another Oregon blowout.
The Ducks are more than a five-touchdown favorite and could easily hit that spread. No matter who it is on either side of the field, a five-touchdown spread is ridiculous for a league game.
Cal has way too much individual talent to struggle the way it does. Its offense is too good to be shut down, and it will be able to score some points on the Ducks. It won't be enough to win the game or even make it close, but the spread might be a stretch.
Oregon 63 - Cal 28