(PHOT0) Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas (1), right, hugs cornerback Cliff Harris (13), left, after their NCAA college football game against California in Berkeley, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010. Oregon defeated California 15-13. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
"A win's a win," said Chip Kelly of Oregon's win over California. "We're 10-0. We have this week to improve in practice – we'll practice a couple of days this week – and get ready for a really good Arizona team. That's what this league is all about, and I've said it from day one: winning on the road in this conference is very difficult, and we've been fortunate four times. We're going to see if we can regroup, and get ready to go and play Arizona."
If ever there was a game that could be called a defensive gem, this one might count. After withstanding an initial drive that gave California a 7-0 lead, the Duck defense got real stingy and held the Bears to a total of 193 total yards and most of that, 140 yards was on the ground.
"We went with two or three things we were comfortable with and we just stuck with it," said Oregon Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti. "We just said ‘we're going to stop the run the best we can and make this quarterback (California's Brock Manison) have to beat us."
The Ducks gave up 49 of the total Cal offense on its first drive after Oregon turned the ball over on downs early in the first quarter. Behind the running of Bears running back Shane Vereen, who ended up with 112 yards of rushing on 26 carries but once Vereen slowed up Cal's young quarterback Manison was put into a position of making throws against the determined Ducks. Manison ended up with 69 yards on 10-of-28 throwing.
Following Cal's initial score, it took a great special team play by Oregon's Cliff Harris to swing the game back around in Oregon's favor. The Ducks forced Cal to punt eight times, and for the first few kicks, Cal punter Bryan Anger was getting high elevation on the kick allowing the Cal kick coverage to surround Harris and negate him from any kind of return. However, Harris, who is one of the most dangerous punt returners in the country was just biding his time until the right situation came along – and it did. Harris took in a ball that was not quite as high as the others and took off going 64 yards for a touchdown, his fourth of the season.
"I saw the guys up front give me lanes," said Harris of the return for score. "I just reacted."
Following Harris' touchdown return, the kicking unit got into the act and snapped the ball directly to Dion Jordan who scored his second 2-point conversion of the year and Oregon led 8-7.
The score stayed that way at the half. On the second California snap at the beginning of the third quarter, disaster struck when Vereen went over the right tackle for a seven yard gain, only to fumble forced by Jordan and recovered by Kenny Rowe on Cal's 29. Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas hit wide receiver Jeffery Maehl on a 29-yard toss for a touchdown and following a successful point after, the Ducks led 15-7.
"Just a great play call by Chip (Kelly), scheming it up coming out of halftime," said Maehl of the scoring play. "There were playing man the whole game. It was just a crossing route to try and get a pick and Darron (Thomas) put it on me."
Oregon gave up a second touchdown of the game in the second half when Duck quarterback Darron Thomas had the ball swiped out of his hand by Cal's Derrick Hill when Thomas attempted a pass for his own 12. The ball went into the endzone with Hill getting credit for a touchdown.
"He made a good play," remarked Thomas about Hill's steal. "They have a good defense, but we got the win and that's what we wanted."
The Bears attempted a two point conversion but failed and all scoring in the game was done with Oregon leading 15-13.
California's defense did what no one else has been able to do to the Oregon offense all year – hold the Ducks under 40-points. Cal's defensive line was getting get pressure on Thomas all night and recorded two sacks. Did the pressure put on by Cal make it hard for Thomas to find his receivers?
"Their defense came out and showed us a lot of different looks that we hadn't really seen,"
admitted Thomas. "So we had to adjust some things on the fly. But I'll give it up to their defense, they did a good job."
Chip Kelly will not, under any circumstance talk about penalties or officiating. Oddly enough, it may have been some key calls during the game that ensured Oregon the win. Cal had driven the ball deep into Duck territory in the fourth quarter but the Ducks forced Cal into a field goal attempt. Bear place kicker Gior Tavecchio successfully booted a 24-yard field goal, but a flag was thrown when Tavecchio flinched just before approaching the ball. The illegal motion call caused the play to be re-run but on the second attempt Tavecchio missed a 29-yarder preserving Oregon's 15-13 lead.
On the ensuing drive, Oregon was faced with 3rd- and-3 on its own 27, Thomas soared a pass out to Maehl, who was headed down the California sideline. Maehl caught the ball but it was ruled out bounds. A review of the play reversed the call and Oregon kept the ball only to turn it over later in Cal territory at the Cal 36. Still the time of possession and field position was important.
"I wasn't sure," said Maehl of whether he was in or out of bounds on the catch. "I landed on top of him (the defender) and that probably gave me the benefit of the doubt. When I got up I was out of bounds so I wasn't sure."
The Cal offense could not move the ball once they got possession and was forced to punt. All year long Oregon has been known for the fast tempo of the offense, but in the final nine minutes and 25 seconds the Ducks drained the clock, driving from their own 20 (following a touchback on Cal's punt). The Ducks used 22 plays but did not score. Instead they milked the clock. With 1:45 left on the game clock Cal called time out. Oregon was facing second and 11 on Cal's 20. Thomas handed off to LaMichael James who squirted through for six yards but a holding call was made against Oregon. Cal's headman Jeff Tedford faced a dilemma, if he accepted the penalty it would move the ball back 10 yards and greatly reduce Oregon's chances of holding onto the ball and running out the clock. If he declined his team had a chance to hold the Ducks to a possible field goal attempt and at least give the Bears the ball back. He chose to decline the penalty. The next play, James burst through the Cal defensive line for seven yards and a first down. Cal was out of time-outs and Thomas took a knee to run the clock out for the Oregon win.
"We pride ourselves on finishing, and that's what I told our guys even before that last drive," said Kelly. "We need to go down and score and extend the lead. That's what this league is all about, and I've said it from day one: winning on the road in this conference is very difficult, and we've been fortunate four times. We're going to see if we can regroup, get read to go play Arizona."
The Ducks, 10-0, 7-0 in the Pac-10 have next week off and on Nov. 26th play Arizona on a rare Friday night game. When asked if he was concerned about how the final score of the game might affect Oregon No. 1 BCS ranking, Kelly responded in his usual fashion.
"I don't care," responded Kelly to the question about the BCS ranking. "We don't talk about it at all. We'll pick our heads up and get read to go play Arizona. We're 10-0 and I don't know how many there are undefeated teams in the country…The BCS means nothing until you get to December 5th (the date the BCS decides who is in the BCS championship game.) If we lose it doesn't matter. All we can control is what we do on the field."
Ducks Offense Slowed But D-Wins 15-13
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