KICKOFF: Thursday, 9 ET
SITE: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Ore.
SERIES: Cal leads 39-32-2. (Last meeting, 2010, Oregon 15-13).
RECORDS: California 3-1, 0-1 Pac-12; Oregon 3-1, 1-0 Pac-12
POLLS: Oregon (No. 9 AP, No. 9 USA Today)
PREDICTION: Oregon 34-21
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- For California: Control Oregon RB LaMichael James and get a pass rush on QB Darron Thomas. The Bears did an excellent job in both respects last season, and if they can come close to matching that effort, they can stay close. Cal wants to pound Oregon with its running game to keep the score down.
-- For Oregon: Keep up the pace. The Bears were able to keep it close last year by delaying tactics on defense. Jumping out to a big early lead would foil that ploy.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
Cal is averaging 39.5 points and has moved the ball effectively against all four opponents. But all four opponents had weak defenses, and that includes the Bears' most recent foe, Washington. QB Zach Maynard has been a noticeable improvement at quarterback over the last two seasons, because he is able to make plays at critical moments. His completion percentage of 52.2 percent remains far too low, however. WRs Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen have been outstanding. TB Isi Sofele has been better than expected in his first season as a starting tailback, averaging 95 yards a game. The offensive line has been solid, although, again, it has been against mediocre defenses. Cal's inability to score touchdowns from inside the red zone was a major factor in the Sept. 24 loss to Washington.
Cal's defense has been awfully good against the run and poor against the pass. The Bears rank 12th in the country in run defense, yielding 78.3 yards a game, but they rank 81st of 119 teams in pass defense. The Bears have 13 sacks so they have been applying enough pressure, but Washington and Colorado did virtually whatever they wanted to do in the air. Look for freshman CB Stefan McClure to get more playing time against Oregon. He may be a starter before long.
Oregon is averaging 52 points and 533.8 yards per game to rank among the national leaders, but Cal's defense has been tough early this season. The have allowed Bears 314.3 yards per game, but that small figure has still resulted in an abnormal 24.3 points per game. Cal is allowing only 78.25 rushing yard per game, but that will be tested by Oregon, which runs for 299.5 yards per game.
California is throwing for nearly 300 yards per game, but pass defense has been a strength of the Ducks, who are giving up 208.3 yards through the air despite three straight blowout victories when their opponents were forced to throw for most of the second half. The Ducks have not been getting many turnovers, only one a game on average.
Bears: Cal has averaged 8.0 wins a year in coach Jeff Tedford's nine seasons. ... The Bears are 13-17 under Tedford when playing ranked opponents. ...Cal had a chance to take the lead in the fourth quarter against Oregon last season, but Giorgio Tavecchio missed a 29-yard field goal attempt. Oregon took possession at its own 20 with 9:25 left in the game and proceeded to run out the clock in an 18-play, 65-yard drive that got as far as the Cal 12-yard line, where two kneel-downs ended the game. ... Oregon's only touchdowns against Cal last season came on a 29-yard pass to Jeff Maehl in the third quarter and a 65-yard punt return by Cliff Harris in the second quarter. Maehl has graduated, and Harris has returned after an early-season suspension, but has not regained his starting cornerback spot. ...\Cal defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi, perhaps the Bears' best recruiter, was suspended after last season's Oregon game for instructing players to fake injuries to slow down Oregon's no-huddle, hurry-up offense. The suspension arose a few days after DL Aaron Tipoti looked to the sidelines between plays, then suddenly crumbled to the ground. Lupoi is back on the staff. .... PK Giorgio Tavecchio was named a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy, given annually to the top student-athlete in college football. Cal's Alex Mack won the award in 2008, when it was known as the Draddy Award.
Ducks: Oregon has won two consecutive Thursday night games. The Ducks defeated UCLA, 60-13, last season and beat Oregon State, 37-33, in 2009. Oregon's last Thursday loss was 19-8 in the 2009 season-opener at Boise State. ... Cal was the only team in the Pac-10 to lose by single digits against Oregon last year. The Bears kept the Ducks to less than one-third of their average point total last year and have had a couple extra days to prepare for Oregon this year after a bye last week. ... Oregon has won 10 of the last 15 in the series, including the last two meetings. ... Eight o the last 11 games between the two have been decided by 10 points or less. ... The Ducks enjoy a big edge over the Bears at Autzen Stadium with an 8-1 mark in games played since 1989. ... Oregon has won its last 13 conference games overall and 18 in a row at home. They are averaging nearly 50 points an outing in that 18-game stretch. ... Junior RB LaMichael James loves league play. He is averaging 150.3 yards a game in 19 career conference games.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
WR Marvin Jones -- Jones made a few acrobatic catches against Washington, and he should have some opportunities to make plays against Oregon's defense.
WR Keenan Allen -- He had 10 catches for 197 yards against Washington, and he ranks fourth in the nation in receiving yardage. Having Marvin Jones on the other side is a big help because it prevents defenses for devoting all their attention to Allen.
CB Stefan McClure -- Pass coverage has been the Bears' biggest weakness this season, and McClure, a true freshman, is expected to get a lot more playing time against Oregon. This is a tough spot for a freshman, given the Oregon crowd and the proficiency of the Oregon offense, so it will be interesting to see how he reacts.
WR Lavasier Tuinei -- It has been a quiet start to the season for the senior, but the team's top returning receiver has 15 catches for 177 yards and three touchdowns. There are seven players on the team who average more than Tuinei's 11.8 yards per catch, but he has become the most reliable wide receiver on the roster and regularly makes the tough catch over the middle or a big conversion on third down.
K Alejandro Maldonado -- Eventually, Oregon is going to have to kick another field goal this season and it looks like the sophomore will be the one to do it. Rob Beard made two field goals in the opener against LSU, but has missed the last three games because of an undisclosed injury. Maldonado has filled in, but has not had a field-goal attempt in three games.
LB Dewitt Stuckey -- The senior is a first-year starter who has filled in for a couple expected starters. He got extra time in the opener when Kiko Alonso was suspended and now he is helping fill the void left by injured Michael Clay. Stuckey leads the Ducks with 24 tackles and is tied for the lead with 14 solo tackles. He also has a sack and two tackles for losses.
TB Trajuan Briggs (knee, out), TB Dasarte Yarnway (knee, out).
PK Rob Beard (undisclosed, questionable), LB Michael Clay (undisclosed, probable).