Bears-Ducks may be close

Over the last couple of seasons, when the California Bears and the Oregon Ducks matched up on a Saturday afternoon, there were a tremendous number of similarities. Much of the Cal coaching staff had worked at Oregon. Both programs recruited many of the players on both teams and the outcome of the games was very close. This year when the Ducks and Bears meet on Saturday afternoon at Autzen Stadium, while some things are similar, there will be some big differences.

While both teams are coming off a bye week, the Ducks (7-1, 4-1 Pac-10) will have a new quarterback that the Bears (6-2, 3-2) have little game film of to watch. The Ducks also have a new offense that was not around when Cal's head coach Jeff Tedford was the offensive coordinator at Oregon.

In the last outing, the Ducks beat Arizona, 28-21 but in doing so lost senior quarterback Kellen Clemens for the year. Clemens was having a sensational year, some saying a Heisman Trophy-type year with throwing for an average of 300 yards per game, 19 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Clemens also was the second leading rusher for Oregon carrying the ball for 228 yards. All that now is of course history, but in some ways that might help the Ducks because when the Bears look at the Duck game films this season, they'll only see Clemens' replacement Dennis Dixon in limited roles. This week Oregon has spent time accommodating the offense to ease things for Dixon -- finding plays for the speedy quarterback for San Leandro High School, in the East Bay area, just a few miles away from Cal's campus in Berkeley. The Oregon coaching staff has given Dixon more practice repetitions but also have worked on his mental preparation by increasing the speed of the practice to simulate game conditions.

"The first thing we are doing in terms of the mental thing (preparation) is looking at the reps we give him," said Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti during the Pac-10 Media Conference that was streamed on oregonlive.com. "We're trying to create quality reps, full-speed reps, so that all of the sudden you don't practice things at one speed during practice and then expect him to just jump up that speed during the game."

Bellotti mentioned that each quarterback must be treated differently. Some players will go along with whatever the coaches calls, but others might need to have the plan catered to them as they may like some plays and with other plays may not completely understand or feel comfortable in the scheme of the play. To aid in that development, the key for the coaching staff is open communications with their players and then being able to physically practice the plays then review and evaluate what works and what doesn't.

"I think the mental confidence comes from that," revealed Bellotti of his plan of action in developing Dixon's confidence. "It comes from doing it, doing it full-speed, seeing yourself on film, doing it the next day and understanding, ok what went right and what went wrong."

Another aspect that should help the situation for Dixon is more emphasis by the coaching staff on the running game or using running backs in controlling the ball in time of possession. That might mean that senior Terrence Whitehead, freshmen Jonathan Stewart, Jeremiah Johnson and Terrell Jackson might have a bigger role this weekend.

"Certainly running the football is going to be very, very important or maintaining ball control I should say," explained Bellotti of the upcoming strategy. "Ball control as opposed to running because several of our plays that I consider to be running plays are never statistically considered that way."

If the weather is rainy, then certainly controlling the ball will be a big factor as the ball tends to become heavier and more slippery, even though the officials try to keep the ball as dry as possible during the game. The other factor of ball control is that it helps tire out the opposing defense. The running game is going to be a factor for both teams as California's Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett are both averaging over 100 yards per game running ball. Lynch has 653 yards on 110 carries in six games with four touchdowns and a 108.8-yard average. Forsett has 106 carries for 867 yards, five touchdowns and a 108.4-yard average in eight games played. Lynch is a player the Ducks heavily recruited and for sometime many people thought Oregon had a lock on him. However, when decision time came two years ago, Lynch decided on Berkeley rather than Eugene.

Keeping the Cal running game at bay is going to be a task for the Oregon defense, but fortunately for the Ducks, the defense has played remarkably well since the second half of the loss to USC on Sept. 24th. For the season, Oregon has given up 359.8 yards per game to the opposition and only 121.4 yards of rushing. Bellotti cites a number of reasons for the improved play of his defense including the play of Devan Long, Anthony Trucks, Haloti Ngata and the development of Patrick Chung.

"Anthony Trucks missed two games early in the season and since has come back with a vengeance," Bellotti pointed out about the defensive unit. "Devan Long is healthy, he missed two or three games. Patrick Chung just continues to improve and I think he'll become one of the better DBs in this conference by the end of the season."

Trucks is the team's leading tackler with 61 tackles, 11 of those for loss. Chung, a redshirt freshman is the second leading tackler out of the rover position with 58 tackles and has two interceptions.

The Cal defense has similar numbers to Oregon having given up only 123.6 yards per game rushing, 228.2 yards passing or 351.9 yards per game over all. The Bears have scored an average of 37.9 points per game and have had 20.1 points per game scored on them. Oregon is scoring 35.4 points and having 24.5 points scored against them.

"Defensively I think people don't understand that they are the leading scoring defense in the conference and number one pass efficiency defense," cited Bellotti of the Cal defense. "Their corners are one and two in the league in passes defended."

Cal's junior cornerback Daymeion Hughes has a total of nine break ups and four interceptions and leads the Pac-10 in the Passes Defended category. His teammate junior Tim Mixon has eight break ups and three interceptions and is second on the Pac-10 Passes Defended list.

Offensively, quarterback Joe Ayoob is 106-of-209, 1,521 yards, 15 touchdowns, seven interceptions and an average of 190.1 yards per game passing. He has also rushed for five touchdowns. The leading receiver is freshman DeSean Jackson with 29 catches for 397 yards and four touchdowns. Robert Jordan is the second leading receiver for the Bears with 24 catches for 375 yards and four touchdowns. Both Jackson and Jordan missed the Bears' last game against Washington State, but will be available against Oregon. Offensive tackle Ryan O'Callahan also missed the WSU game and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane played only a few snaps against the Cougars. O'Callahan and Mebane will be ready to play on Saturday against Oregon.

Oregon's leading receiver is Demetrius Williams with 46 catches for 895 yards and eight touchdowns.

A win on Saturday will aid Oregon's cause to move up in the BCS rankings. The Ducks are currently 13th having dropped two spots during the bye week. Cal is ranked No. 23 in the BCS. Both Oregon and California are bowl eligible and a win will mean an advancement of the Pac-10 Bowl line up. Two weeks ago, considering that the Bears had dropped contests to Oregon State and UCLA, and that people around the nation were mentioning Kellen Clemens as a Heisman Trophy candidate, this upcoming game was going to be a lock for the Ducks. However, after the bye week the Bears look to be refreshed and the Ducks are playing with a new quarterback. If one thing has been consistent since Jeff Tedford left Oregon for California, is that the Oregon-Cal game will be close. Last year the Ducks dropped a heart breaker 28-27, which broke a 7-game Oregon win streak and in 2003, the Ducks won 27-17.

The game is scheduled for a 12:30 p.m. kickoff and will be televised by ABC with Keith Jackson and Dan Fouts announcing.

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