California (4-3, 2-3 in Pac-12) vs. Oregon (6-1, 3-1)
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Last Time Out: at Oregon 55, Cal 16 (Sept. 28, 2013)
Last Time in Berkeley: Oregon 59, Cal 16 (Nov. 10, 2012)
The Betting Line: Oregon -18; O/U 79.5
When: Friday, Oct. 24, 7:00 PM Pacific
Where: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., the first ever collegiate game played at the San Francisco 49ers stadium; Cal will be the designated home team
Watch: FOX Sports 1; Tim Brando (play-by-play), Joel Klatt (analyst)
Listen: KGO 810 AM, Cal IMG Sports Network; Joe Starkey (play-by-play), Mike Pawlawski (analyst), Todd McKim (sideline reporter)
Student Radio: KALX 90.7 FM; BT intern Glenn Borok (play-by-play), Vince Morgado (analyst), Jarrod Suda (analyst)
California Injury Report: RB Khalfani Muhammad (likely; thumb), CB Joel Willis (out for season; ACL), S Griffin Piatt (out for season; ACL), WR Ray Hudson (likely; head), OG Chris Borrayo (likely; head), Jeffrey Coprich (questionable; foot), DE Brennan Scarlett (out; knee), S Avery Sebastian (out; quad), WR Darius Powe (likely; shoulder), WR Chris Harper (likely; back), WR Trevor Davis (out; neck)
Cal Game Notes
Oregon Game Notes
DISCUSS: Message Boards
FIVE BOLD PREDICTIONS
1. Bryce Treggs will have more than seven catches.
2. Daniel Lasco will run for more than 100 yards.
3. Tre Watson will have a kickoff return of over 20 yards.
4. The Bears will notch the first interception Marcus Mariota has thrown this season.
5. Khalfani Muhammad will have at least two carries and one catch, despite his casted thumb.
What to Watch for on Offense:
HOW WILL CAL TACKLES STAND UP TO SPEED RUSHERS? Over the past two games, left tackle Steven Moore has been eaten up by speed rushers Hau’oli Kikaha and Owamagbe Odighizuwa, to the tune of one sack, one QB hurry and one pass breakup by Odighizuwa and three sacks and a forced fumble by Kikaha on quarterback Jared Goff.
“We can obviously always be better on our sets,” says Cal offensive line coach Zach Yenser. “The biggest thing we’re working on with our tackles is, when they’re getting vertical, they’re opening up and shortening up the edge a little bit. The one that Steve got beat early on by Odighizuwa was a power, a back side of power. He tried to widen him, and it was play-action, so we’re not doing a vertical set on it, so we’re widening out to him, and he ran the hump on us, and is a very good football player and got back. We’ve got to give Goff time to step up.
“We always tell the quarterbacks, if they’re at launch points past nine [yards back], they know that their back foot hits nine, and they step up, because those D-ends, that’s our aiming point. Anything past nine is on them.”
Helping Moore out will be the return of left guard Chris Borrayo, who missed last week’s game due to a concussion. In his stead, Matt Cochran -- the backup center – played left guard.
“Oso (Borrayo), he’s a powerful human being,” Yenser said. “He’s probably our most powerful O-lineman. Strength helps. It also allows me to play Matt [Cochran] back at right, give Chris a break at left, give [Chris] Adcock a break. It frees Cochran up, too, and it gives us more depth, which is always good.”
Oregon, on the season, has the No. 9 pass defense in the conference, but the No. 5 passer efficiency defense. The Ducks are No. 4 in sacks (20), with three coming from redshirt senior linebacker Tony Washington and 2.5 coming from 6-foot-7 defensive end DeForest Buckner. 6-foot-8 defensive end Arik Armstead leads Oregon with four quarterback hurries, and presents a unique challenge for right tackle Jordan Rigsbee.
“I’ve played against him the last two years. I think you just have to get in him,” said Rigsbee. “He’s the kind of guy who, you let him go early, he’ll keep going. I think if you come out and bang with him a little bit in the beginning, I think he’s going to be less likely to give up his whole body, if you get him in the ribs a couple times. I think he’s gotten better. He’s gotten older and he’s gotten better; we all have. I played against him three years, and if you come off the ball slow, he’s going to get that reach on you, and then it’s tough. But, if you come off the ball, I think you’ll be fine.”
Armstead will be playing up against Rigsbee and Alex Crosthwaite on the right side of the line.
“He didn’t play as much against UCLA, when they got up big, and then he was a man-child against Washington,” Yenser said of Armstead. “He’s playing their 4-I. He’ll be over Rigsbee and Alejandro. He stays there and Buckner stays on our left side.”
Oregon runs a base 3-4, but they will show some even-front looks, depending on which coverage they’re in. The offensive line has to be on the same page in those situations, which will bring speed off the edge with redshirt junior linebackers Tyson Coleman and Christian French, as well as former Cal recruit Torrodney Prevot, who has a ton of speed. Washington will also walk up to be a fourth man at the line, though he won’t put his hand in the dirt.
THE CAL RUN GAME. Over the past three games, the Bears have averaged just 60.67 yards per game on the ground. Over the first four games, Cal averaged 172.25 yards per game. The biggest difference?
“The competition got better,” says Bears offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. “They beat our ass. We were physically matching up well with people that we blocked well and they got tougher and we didn’t block so well. Washington State was basically, I did that more than anything. There was stuff that I had to take advantage of, and if I ever got behind the count, we were not going to win the game, so we couldn’t do it. I had to score. In that game, that was the easiest way to do it. The last two weeks, we just got our butts beat, up front. If we don’t block better and stay on our blocks longer, we’re not ever going to run the ball against good people.”
Franklin said that the Ducks are powerful up front, and they “bench press you,” with their strength and the long arms of Armstead and Buckner.
“They are powerful, long guys,” Yenser said. “Obviously, we played against Armstead and Buckner last year, but we’re going to have trouble moving them, just because of how much leverage they can play with. They’re great athletes, and we’ve got to do a great job of staying on blocks. That’s the biggest thing that we’ve been harping on, especially with the 3-4. They’re more of a read defense, and we’ve got to put our face in their chest and take them where we want to go.”
Washington and UCLA have been two very stout tests for the run game, both of which Cal has failed, and the Ducks are no picnic.
“There are no holes,” Yenser says. “There might be little creases, but in the 3-4 defense, there’s overhangs and everything, so we’ve got to do a good job of coming up with some runs and going downhill.”
That downhill running has been a point of emphasis this week in practice, and it’s how Cal scored most of its biggest runs during the first several games of the season.
“We need to get back to our downhill run game,” Yenser says. “A lot of downhill and attacking inside, that’s what we’ve got to get back to. That’s what we were good at in the first three games.”
That also just happens to be what linemen love to do.
“They love to come off the ball,” Yenser says. “We’ve got to get back on track. We’ve got to play better up front and protect better, and ultimately, it all comes back on us. I thought we played hard against UCLA. Our effort was good. We just keep preaching the small things with those guys, and that’s when we’ll take the next step. We’re ready. I’ve challenged those guys to take the next step as an offensive line. From where we were last year to now, it’s been great, but now it’s time to go.”
Oregon’s defensive scheme is a bit simpler than it has been in years past, but it’s still been effective.
“I’ve always liked their scheme. It’s different this year. It’s not the same as it has been, but it’s still fairly close,” says Franklin. “It’s different in the fact that they don’t have as many elaborate blitzes. They used to be extremely elaborate in what they did, and they don’t live and die by that as much as they did. They were always sound – it wasn’t cover-zero or cover-one as much as it was a lot more zone-blitz stuff, and they still do it some, just not as much, so it’s a little bit more base than what we’ve seen before.”
JARED GOFF MATCHED AGAINST HEISMAN CONTENDER. So far, Goff has matched up with Connor Halliday and the Air Raid, and now, he’ll match up against a surefire bet for an invite to New York in Marcus Mariota.
A comparison in the numbers: Goff is ranked sixth in the NCAA and third in the Pac-12 in passing yards (354.6 per game), while Mariota is ranked fifth in the conference and 19th in the nation in that category (279.6 ypg). Goff generates 344.1 yards of total offense per game (8th in the nation, third in the Pac-12), while Mariota, thanks to his mobility, averages 320.9, good for fourth in the Pac-12 and 14th in the country.
Goff’s passer efficiency (167.3) is fifth in the nation and second in the conference, while Mariota leads all comers with a 191.0 mark thanks to his zero interceptions. Goff is tied for third both in the conference and the nation in points responsible for (144), while Mariota is second in the nation and the Pac-12 with 150. Goff has the edge in touchdown passes, ranking second in the NCAA, while Mariota is tied for seventh with 19.
Cal has produced 18 plays of 40 or yards or more and 10 of 50 or more from the line of scrimmage in 2014. The longest play from the line of scrimmage in 2014 is a 92-yard touchdown pass from Goff to Daniel Lasco against Colorado, which was the longest pass play in school history and one of 14 pass plays of 40 or more yards in 2014. With three kickoff returns of 100, 98 and 45 yards by Trevor Davis (who will be supplanted by either Muhammad or Treggs and Tre Watson due to his injury), the Bears have a total of 21 plays of 40 or more yards. Most recently, Kenny Lawler hauled in a 49-yard reception from Goff last week against UCLA. Last season, Cal produced a total of 14 plays from the line of scrimmage and 16 plays overall of 40 or more yards. Clearly, the offense is vastly improved, and one of the big reasons is Goff.
Goff’s maturity has shown in two key metrics: in the red zone and on third down.
The Bears have converted on 24 of 28 red zone trips this season, with 18 of those scores being touchdowns. Last year, Cal scored on only 72% of its 43 trips to the red zone (21 touchdowns, 10 field goals). Cal converted on all three of its red zone trips last week against the Bruins, with all three resulting in touchdowns.
Cal has converted on 50-of-106 (47%) third downs thus far in 2014 for a percentage that is second in the Pac-12 and 15th nationally after finishing 2013 with a third-down conversion percentage of 34 percent. The Bears have also gained first downs nine of the 13 times they have gone for it on fourth down, good for a percentage of 69% that ranks tied for 3rd in the Pac-12 and 23rd nationally. Cal was only 42 percent on fourth downs in 2013.
Could Goff be setting himself up for a possible Heisman run next season, behind a veteran defensive line – all but one of whom will return? We’ll see how he matches up on Friday.
“I think it’s a cool thing, but it’s never quarterback-versus-quarterback,” Goff says. “You see some of the greats go at it in the NFL, and it’s never really quarterback-versus-quarterback. It’s quarterback-versus-defense. But, at the same time, I’ve got a lot of respect for him and what he’s done through the years. He’s a great player who I really respect and look up to. It’s going to be fun competing against him, for sure.”
What to Watch For on Defense
THE SCREEN GAME. Whether it’s been quick outs or straight up screens, Cal has struggled mightily against a key part of the Oregon offense over the past three games.
“Oh yeah,” says Bears defensive backs coach Greg Burns. “It’s counting the box. It’s as simple as just counting to five or counting to six. Most offenses, all they’re going to do is see how many are in the box, and if it’s light in the box, they’ll run the ball, and if it’s heavier in the box, they throw it. Most teams are doing combination routes.”
The Bears cornerbacks have played off more often than not over the past three weeks, and this week, corner Cameron Walker says, they’re going to get to press more and be more physical, which plays to the strengths of both Walker and Cedric Dozier.
“We’re just going to do what we’re going to do,” smiles Burns. “We’ll mix it up. That will be part of it. We’ve got to improve getting off of blocks.”
Cal will have all its top defensive backs -- Stefan McClure and Michael Lowe, chief among them -- healthy for the game, save for Sebastian, and having them back helped a lot against Brett Hundley last week.
“It helps when anybody that’s coming off injury has significant playing time,” says Burns. “It was good. The continuity was pretty good, and they bring a comfort feeling to everyone else.”
In addition to those two, former receiver Bryce McGovern’s conversion to safety has been going well, and he played last week for the first time on the defensive side of the ball after just three practices at the position.
“He’s doing well,” Burns says. “He’s transitioned well. He’s very smart. He picks up what we’re trying to do pretty fast, and is showing some toughness. He’s coming along, and, for right now, I’m happy and content with what he’s doing.”
A YOUNG CAL SECONDARY AGAINST VETERAN CARVER MARCUS MARIOTA. Burns states the obvious when he says that the Ducks are an explosive offense, and the numbers bear that out. According to KnowHuddle.com, Oregon is the fifth most explosive offense in the nation.
“The biggest thing you always want to do is control the run game, and they’re very good at it,” says Burns. “Then, try to minimize the deep vertical big plays.”
Having Lowe and McClure healthy will help mightily in that regard, since they’ve faced the Ducks three times, and McClure has played them twice, meaning the read-option runs that Mariota makes won’t be any surprise to either of them. Their eyes won’t be fooled as much as younger, more inexperienced players, and they’ll also be able to cut off long plays down the middle of the field, as they did last week against the Bruins. Their roles in run support will also be crucial.
“It’s always great to have experience,” smiles Burns.
Mariota is completing 70.2% of his passes, and has yet to throw an interception. In fact, he has an active streak of 238 passes without a pick, giving him the Pac-12’s two longest streaks of pass attempts without an interception. He owns the all-time league mark at 353 over parts of the 2012 and 2013 season.
"I think he’s the best quarterback I’ve seen in a while. He’s really a good football player. I think he compares very favorably to Johnny Manziel,” says Cal head coach Sonny Dykes. “I played against him at Texas A&M when I was at Louisiana Tech. Mariota's a bigger, faster, stronger version of Manziel.”
As for Mariota’s near-perfection over the past three seasons?
“They do a good job. He plays under control. He’s not a reckless football player, at all,” Dykes says. “He manages the game well and he’s one of those players that, every time he touches the ball, they have a good chance at scoring, and fast. I think he’s probably the best player in college football. If I had a vote for the Heisman Trophy, I’d give it to him.”
McClure, who’s now seen Mariota several times, described the Oregon quarterback as patient, seemingly ironic considering he leads one of the fastest offenses in the nation.
“I think he’s really good. He runs the system very well. He’s a great dual-threat quarterback, and he’s patient when he runs the ball,” says McClure. “He knows how to pick and choose his plays, when he’s going to take off and run or sit in the pocket and look for something downfield. He’s got great touch, good accuracy and their offense looks good. When their O-line is blocking for him and protecting him, he’s really a top-flight, elite quarterback.”
Oregon also has the benefit of having left tackle Jake Fisher back, after he missed games against Washington State and Arizona. In those games, the Huskies and the Wildcats managed to sack Mariota a total of 12 times. He’s only taken six sacks the rest of the year combined. Without Scarlett, sacking Mariota will prove to be a difficult task for the Bears.
“We’ve had three starters on the offensive line out for a long time, four, at times, guys who were projected starters,” says Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich. “We’ve done a pretty good job of managing that situation, and I think, any time you take 60 percent, 40 percent of 20 percent of anything, there’s going to be a significant difference. I think part of that was guys that were veterans trying to do a little bit too much, when another position – in their mind – wasn’t totally solidified, and they made more mistakes than the new guys. That’s what was kind of frustrating, more than anything, during that phase. Our guys have responded well. Jake played OK against UCLA, we didn’t play our best game up front against Washington, and our guys have responded to our challenge pretty well.”
“I think Oregon’s gotten better,” says Dykes. “I think their offensive line is much improved. They’ve just gotten better week-to-week. I think they’re playing more steady probably than they were earlier in the year, and they’ve looked great the last two ballgames. They’ve looked like a top-10 team, a top-five team, a top-four team, whatever, the last couple weeks. They look like a team that can contend for a national championship.”
IS CAL’S RUN DEFENSE FOR REAL? Not having Brennan Scarlett last week against run-heavy UCLA hurt. There are no two ways about it. Bears allowed the Bruins 237 rushing yards – 37 yards more than their season average. Still, Cal is fourth in the Pac-12 in run defense this year, allowing an average of 133.3 yards, including holding run-heavy Washington to 111 yards on the ground, when the Huskies have averaged 183.1. Oregon, though, is a different animal.
Oregon freshman Royce Freeman is sixth in the Pac-12 in rushing (right ahead of Lasco), with 90.9 yards per game, and the Ducks are 32nd in the nation (and first in the conference) with 217.9 rushing yards per game.
“He can run with power, he can be elusive, he’s got great hands, he’s smart, he’s tough and he’s a great team guy,” Helfrich says of Freeman. “He loves to practice. He and Byron Marshall finished out practice the other day, and they were the first guys down covering on the scout kickoff team. That’s not where your starting tailback usually finds himself. That speaks to both those guys’ team-first mentality.”
Oregon is 14th in the nation in rushing touchdowns, 31st in rushing first downs and are second in the country in percentage of plays that go for touchdowns or first downs (42.77%).
The biggest point of emphasis for the defense has to be holding the edge, and with veteran linebackers Jalen Jefferson and Michael Barton on the outside, the Bears have the tools. Of great concern, though, is the fact that neither Harrison Wilfley nor Noah Westerfield -- listed as co-starters at rush end – have ever faced Oregon.
Furthermore, Cal’s tackling struggles last week – particularly on the edge – are also of great concern. Up the middle, the Bears are strong with veterans Mustafa Jalil and Austin Clark, but the two backup defensive tackles -- Tony Mekari and Trevor Kelly -- are both first-year players who have never faced Oregon’s speed, and that speed, of course, necessitates lots of rotation on defense.