THE VITAL DETAILS
When: Sept. 28, 7:37 PM Pacific
Watch: Pac-12 Networks
Series: California leads the all-time series, 39-43-2, but No. 2 Oregon has taken nine of the last 10 in Autzen Stadium and has won each of the last four overall and 13 of the last 20.
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WHAT TO WATCH FOR
So far this season, Oregon has reeled off 26 plays of 25 yards or more in three games. 10 of those have resulted in touchdowns. Last year, the Ducks tallied 46 such explosion plays. Those plays become that much more influential considering the ball-hawking nature of the Ducks defense, and the fact that the Bears have lost a total of six turnovers.
"They haven't turned it over once this year, and we have, too many times," says head coach Sonny Dykes. "That'll give us extra possessions, and we've got to get some stops defensively. We've got to do a better job on third down, limit the big plays."
So far this season, the Bears have lost 22 man-games due to injury, all on the defensive side of the ball. On Saturday, middle linebacker Nick Forbes will be available, though defensive coordinator Andy Buh has said that he will not play. Safety Michael Lowe, however, will play, helping out a depleted secondary. Lowe will be extremely important as the spy on quarterback Marcus Mariota, and we've seen in years past how crucial the safety spy is, particularly with the dismal performance of Sean Cattouse at UCLA in 2011.
Dykes commented on this week's edition of The Drive on the Pac-12 Networks, saying that his speech to the team on the topic of being hurt versus being injured has paid dividends. The Bears went from 16 players not practicing the first practice after the Portland State game, down to two not practicing on Monday after the Ohio State game.
"I think they got the message," Dykes says. "That's part of our culture that we've got to change. Guys have got to learn how to work through things. It's college football, and our No. 1 issue or concern is player safety, and if somebody's injured, we're going to take care of them. We've got the best medical staff anywhere in the country, and so we're going to make sure we take good care of the players, but sometimes, if you've got a sprained ankle, you've got to go out there and push through it."
His one-on-one chats with Brendan Bigelow and Khairi Fortt were also featured on the most recent episode.
"I have talks with guys like that all the time," Dykes said. "I have those kinds of talks 10 times a day, just not on television."
The second X-factor is edge containment. With Brennan Scarlett still not cleared for duty as the starting defensive end, the Bears will go with Chris McCain at the rush, and Dan Camporeale at end. We saw two years ago how that experiment turned out against the Ducks, as well as last season. McCain, while athletic, has yet to prove he's disciplined enough to stand his ground against an offense like Oregon's, and Camporeale, while disciplined, is not nearly as athletic as McCain. If DeAnthony Thomas gets to the edge with regularity, it's curtains for the Cal defense.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Daniel Lasco: "We know that if we're trying to go to the Rose Bowl, this is the game that we have to win. I think this team is focused, and I feel like we're about to go in there and shock the world."
EUGENE, Ore. -- With up to a half an inch of rain, winds of up to 35 mph and gusts over 40 mph expected on Saturday at Autzen Stadium, conventional wisdom would dictate that the team that can run the ball better will be the one to come out on top.
Over the first three games of the 2013 season, that has not been a staple of California's Bear Raid offense. For the past two weeks, offensive coordinator Tony Franklin has been trying to change that.
"I think we got better in the run game," Franklin says. "Believe it or not, we simplified, which is hard to imagine, when you have four run plays, but we simplified some stuff, and we got better."
Plowing the way for the run game, the offensive line will feature yet another new face at right guard, replacing Matt Cochran, who is out for at least another three weeks due to a high ankle sprain.
"I think everybody got better," says Franklin, who will start Alex Crosthwaite in place of Cochran. "I think everybody got better. I was really pleased with some of the backups. I think they were encouraged when they saw that they had a chance to play, so those guys practiced well."
After getting eight of his 10 carries two weeks ago in the fourth quarter against Ohio State and leading the Bears in rushing with 64 yards, Lasco thinks that Cal can "shock the world," and is ready for a heavier load – one which Franklin promised over a week ago.
"Honestly, I give the RBs a different persona," Lasco says. "We have a bunch of speed with the RBs, and towards the end of the game, a lot of things weren't working, so we kind of just threw me in, and I had to lower my pads and do what I'm taught to do, and me being the bigger back out of the whole bunch of us, that's what I'm good at. When they threw me in, I just had to be that bruising back.
"It makes me more focused, knowing that I'm going to get more plays, more carries for the next game, especially it being the No.2 team in the nation. It's exciting to know that they believe in me, and know that I can get the job done for them."
Lasco will have to be focused, because Autzen will be just as slick – and just as loud -- as it was two years ago, when the Bears headed into halftime with a 15-14 lead, only to fall 43-15 while wearing the all-white helmet and uniform combo.
"We love the rain," says Franklin. "We think it's huge. We hope it pours. I hope there's sheets of rains, monsoons of rain. We think it helps our offense, tremendously. Rain is whatever you believe it to be. There's been incredible games, massive scoring, throwing the ball every snap with sheets of rain, and there's been horrible games. It just depends on your attitude, so, our attitude is, we love it. I hope it rains a bunch. When we're good, we do [play well in the rain]. When we're bad, we play bad in rain, sun, doesn't matter. I've seen a lot of big games in rain and snow and sleet and all that stuff."
Last season, this coaching staff had the most prolific offense in the country, and much of that was due to the run game. Louisiana Tech ranked 17th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing in 2012, and while not quite as prolific as the Ducks – who came in third in rushing offense – it still helped to take the pressure off of the pass game.
While both Franklin and Dykes acknowledged the similarity in the philosophical underpinnings of Oregon's Blur offense and the Bear Raid, neither Franklin nor Dykes wants to be the Ducks.
"We'd rather be like Louisiana Tech, last year, which was better than Oregon," Franklin smiles. "That's what we'd rather be."
The pressure on freshman quarterback Jared Goff is expected to be immense, with his first road start coming in one of the most hostile environs in all of college football.
"That's part of the unknown with young players, and you just don't know until somebody does it," says head coach Sonny Dykes. "You think you do, but if he's anything like he's been, he'll go out there and just play football and play at a high level. That's what he's done this year, and he continues to get better. You walk off the field every day, and you say, ‘Wow, he got better today,' and that's a positive. I'm starting to see that with a lot of the young guys."
As for his first road game as Cal's head coach, Dykes is more than happy to get away for a weekend.
"Typically, our teams have played pretty well on the road. We don't make that big a deal about it," Dykes says. "I enjoy coaching on the road. Believe it or not, our life is a lot simpler on the road than it is at home. You just get to go out of town and play against somebody and coach against a team. In a lot of ways, I look forward to that, and I think our players do, as well. It allows them to focus a little more on football. When I was in the WAC, we were playing 7, 8 road games a year, so it was either enjoy it, or convince yourself that you were."
Like Franklin, Dykes, too, is looking forward to putting his Bears through the Northwest's natural car wash.
"We've always felt like the passing game helped us," Dykes says. "We know where we're going, and the defense doesn't. I think, in a lot of ways, a slick field is a bit advantageous to our offense. We've never had any issues throwing or catching the ball in the rain. It shouldn't be a big deal. It's both ways, whether it's hard on us or hard on them. The wind, it'll be more of an issue than the rain."
PODCAST: Duck and Cover
Q&A: Quack Kills
BTTV: Three And Out with the SF Chronicle's Hunter Hewitt
BTTV: Key Matchup
Franklin Talks Depth Chart
Lapite: The Little Prince
Ragin: Home Sweet Home
The Lowe Down
BTTV: Gingold Smash
NOTEBOOKS and PRACTICES
Battle of the Backers
Sunday Practice Live Thread
Monday Practice Live Thread
Cal Depth Chart
First Offer in for Humphreys
Several Suitors for Okun
VIDEO: Watson on Recruitment
HOOPS: Two visits down for Welsh
HOOPS HIGHLIGHTS: Plfueger
Where does Calhoun Stand?
KICKOFF CENTRAL: Cal vs. No. 2 Oregon
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