Bears Limping Way To Finish Line

Oregon and California's football programs appear to be going in opposite directions. Head coach Jeff Tedford has struggled to reach bowl eligibility each of the last three years, failing two years ago and already out of contention with two games left this season.

With his job in jeopardy, the Golden Bears (3-7, 2-5) have greatly under-achieved this season, with just three wins to date. They will carry a three-game losing streak into Strawberry Canyon Saturday.

Conversely, Oregon is reaching new heights, still without a loss this season; the Ducks haven't done so in nearly a full-calendar year, ripping off 12 straight.

The Bears effort won't be helped by a rash of injuries that began hampering them early this season and haven't let up. In the last two weeks, they've lost star wide receiver Keenan Allen for extended time and his half-brother, starting quarterback Zach Maynard, who will likely miss this Saturday's game in Berkeley versus the Ducks, head coach Jeff Tedford said earlier this week.

Oregon head coach Chip Kelly says the personnel that Cal places on the field, while likely weaker than it might have been earlier this season, won't affect the team's preparation.

"They run the same scheme, so that's what your game plan is against: what are they going to do defensively and what are they going to do offensively against you," he said.

Likely starting at quarterback for the Golden Bears will be junior Allan Bridgeford, who finished the Bears' 21-13 loss to Washington a week ago. Bridgeford isn't a new face for the Ducks, a highly-regarded prep out of Mission Viejo, he played in last season's contest when Maynard was again plagued by injuries.

"He's been there for a while, so it's not like he's a young kid. He's really well schooled, he understands how to play quarterback," Kelly said of Bridgeford.

Kelly doesn't believe an offensive scheme overhaul is feasible in such short time, and therefore doesn't believe California will approach the game much differently. He and defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti did agree, however, that Bridgeford may lack the mobility that Maynard would've presented, the significance of which is hard to measure considering that Maynard only rushed for 38 yards this season.

Bridgeford will have to depend on a slew of young wide receivers if Allen isn't ready to go, which many speculate he won't be. The junior from North Carolina made up over a third of the Golden Bears receptions, receiving yards and half of their receiving touchdowns before the injury.

What will likely become the focal point of the Bears offense is their running game, which according to Aliotti has responded well the last three games.

The Bears employ a three-back system, with C.J. Anderson, Isi Sofele and Brandon Bigelow each rushing for over 392 yards this season. Aliotti expects them to depend on the run-game and the short to intermediate passing game against the Ducks, playing keep-away from the high-powered Oregon offense.

"I like their running backs a lot. I think all three guys run hard," he said. "They're going to try and control the ball running the ball."

Despite the injury-plagued season, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich still believes the Golden Bears have "a ton of next level talent" defensively. When asked who scared him the most, Kelly gave a familiar name: sophomore linebacker Chris McCain.

McCain, a high school teammate of Allen, was an Oregon commit up until signing day three years ago. McCain and defensive tackle Gabe King decided on California in large part due to the draw of playing with Allen and Maynard.

"A lot of those guys were on our recruiting board," Kelly said. "We've got a pretty good understanding of who they are."

Now, a second-year starter, the Greensboro-native leads the team in tackles-for-loss and sacks.

The defensive front particularly concerns Kelly, because of their ability to "push the line". That is large part due to the size in the unit, with all six of the team's two-deep defensive-lineman weighing more than 275 pounds, and two over 300.

Both Kenjon Barner and Marcus Mariota highlighted the Golden Bears ability to bring pressure from all over the field. Specifically, how much they bring it from the second-level.

"We're going to have to be on our toes as to where they're coming from," Barner said.

The Ducks and Bears will play in the revamped Memorial Stadium Saturday at 7:30 P.M. The familiar ESPN crew of Joe Tessitore, Matt Millen and Samantha Steele will be on the call.

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