1. Locate Allen and Jones
Without question, sophomore Keenan Allen and senior Marvin Jones are the go-to players for Cal on offense. The two are arguably the best duo of wide receivers in the Pac-12 Conference and Cal's success Thursday night against the 9th-ranked Ducks in Autzen Stadium will likely hinge on Allen and Jones' ability to make a bevy of impact plays. Once heavily recruited by Oregon head coach Chip Kelly and the Ducks, Allen leads the Golden Bears in receptions and receiving yards, with 30 catches for 498 yards and three touchdowns through four games this season. Jones doesn't trail far behind his counterpart, as he himself has tallied three touchdown catches to accompany his 23 receptions and 375 yards receiving. To give one an idea of how vital Allen and Jones are to the Golden Bears' passing game, the next closest receiver to the two in terms of catches is Michael Calvin, who has hauled in a meager six receptions thus far this season. Though the Ducks faced maybe the deepest fleet of receivers roughly two weeks ago at Arizona, Allen and Jones pose a different set of problems for the Oregon secondary due to each's brilliant combination of strength and speed. Fortunately for Oregon, leaning on their secondary isn't an issue, as the unit is one of the deepest and most skilled of any on the entire team, ranking first in the Pac-12 in pass defense. The one weakness Oregon's defensive backs may possess, however, could be their spotty coverage when teams attempt to challenge them downfield. Against Arizona, there were a handful of opportunities for the Wildcats to respond emphatically to Oregon scoring drives if not for a few critical drops that erased potential Wildcat scores. Tightening the secondary's defense of the deep ball should be of primary concern for the Ducks as they set to face the tandem of Allen and Jones.
2. Pressure Maynard
Cal junior Zach Maynard, like any quarterback, despises pressure generated by way of an effective pass rush. Though he's plenty mobile to escape a collapsed pocket and make plays outside the tackle box, Maynard would undoubtedly prefer to drop back and distribute the ball without blitzing defensive ends and linebackers breathing down his neck. Disrupting his rhythm with Allen and Jones could severely handicap the Golden Bears' offensive attack, allowing the Ducks to play a swarming and overwhelming brand of football that was evident the last time Cal travelled to Eugene in 2009 when they suffered a 42-3 woodshed whipping. In Tucson two weeks ago, Oregon was able to sack Arizona quarterback Nick Foles five times; one sack more than the Ducks had in the previous three games combined. Though Foles is about as mobile as an anvil, the onus is on players such as Josh Kaddu, Dion Jordan and Terrell Turner to generate similar pressure on Maynard (a 52 percent passer) to force ill-advised passes and potential turnovers.
3. Start Quickly On Offense
What better way to purge the sour taste from a 2010 slugfest with the Golden Bears by starting off quickly on offense and asserting an unshakable rhythm. The Ducks did it in 2009, but failed to do it last season in Berkeley as it nearly spelled their undoing in a narrow 15-13 victory that marked the lowest offensive point total for the Ducks during their 2010 campaign. Coaches and players on both sides in this contest will tell you that 2011 is a different year, with different players and a different team dynamic. While that is certainly true, Oregon's tussle with Cal last season was an alarming wake-up call that Kelly's "blur offense" is far from invincible. Heading in to Thursday's game, Cal ranks ninth nationally in rushing defense, allowing just over 78 yards on the ground through four games. Since Kelly's arrival as offensive coordinator and now head coach at Oregon, the ground game has been a cornerstone of the Ducks' success, yet when stymied, Oregon has appeared to be rather vanilla offensively. Utilizing and establishing pass catching options such as David Paulson, Lavasier Tuinei, Josh Huff and the like against Cal's 79th nationally ranked pass defense early in the game may prove to be the necessary means for detonating the ticking time bomb that is the Oregon offense.
Follow Chris Courtney on Twitter at eDuckCCourtney
3 Keys To Cal
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