Ducks and Bears: Side-by-Side

The 11th ranked Oregon Ducks (4-0, 2-0) are on the road this week to take on the 16th ranked California Bears at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley. The game promises to be one of the top contests of the year in the Pac-10 and will be televised by ABC on Saturday with kickoff scheduled for 5 p.m.

LAST WEEK:

Cal traveled to Corvallis and dismantled the Beavers by a 41-13 tally. The Bears dominated the OSU offense; the Cal offense was balanced and efficient.

Ever-improving quarterback Nate Longshore completed over seventy percent of his passes for 341 yards, four touchdowns, and a stratospheric passing efficiency rating, Marshawn Lynch ran for 106 yards, averaging over six yards a carry, and caught two touchdown passes as well.

LAST WEEK:

Validation was the word coming from Mike Bellotti last week, and a 48-13 win over Arizona State was more than enough to prove that the Ducks’ 4-0 start to the season was no fluke. The Ducks were able to do most anything they felt like, running for 315 yards, passing for 259 yards, and holding ASU to a total of 175 yards of offense.

Quarterback Dennis Dixon continued his maturation and ran the offense beautifully going 19-for-30, 215 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions. Dixon ran for an additional 31 yards on nine carries. Sophomore wide receiver Jaison Williams again had a monster game with 10 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns, marking his third straight 100-yard receiving day.

Oregon had a total of five players in double-figure yardage receiving and a total of nine receivers caught a ball. When Oregon needed to run the ball they gave it to Jonathan Stewart - and he gained 142 yards on 12 carries. Stewart's best run was for 63 yards. Jeremiah Johnson was also effective picking up 89 yards on six carries and a touchdown.

Many wondered if Oregon's defense would be up to the task of holding down ASU's Rudy Carpenter as the depth of the Duck defensive line was thinned by the news that tackle Jeremy Gibbs stayed behind in Eugene. The hot weather in Arizona also concerned many back home in Oregon, but Carpenter was sacked six times and never got on track. Dexter Manley had a coming out party with three sacks and it appeared Gibbs was not needed and his time was best spent healing up his sprained ankle.
 

KEY INJURIES:
  • Defensive lineman: Phillip Mgbakogu(knee)
  • Safety-Thomas DeCoud (knee)
  • Offensive lineman Andrew Cameron (knee)
  • Offensive lineman-Scott Smith (Knee)
  • Cornerback-Tim Mixon (torn ACL) season

 

KEY INJURIES:

WHEN CAL IS ON OFFENSE:

The Cal offense has made great strides over the past four games and will have to be at its best on Saturday. Cal will have to make a commitment to the inside running attack, and try to take advantage of Oregon’s dinged up defensive line. With Marshawn Lynch in the backfield making such a commitment is not a huge leap of faith.

The passing attack is where Cal has done the most damage in its four wins. Lavelle Hawkins and DeSean Jackson are emerging as the conference’s most potent receiving tandem. Jackson has seven touchdowns and has averaged nearly 90 yards a game over the first five. Jackson by his own appraisal is “always open” and has full faith in his quarterback.

“Nate is the best quarterback I’ve ever played with,” said Hawkins. “Nate’s the man.”

“I got Jackson, you take Hawkins, but where did that Lynch guy go?”

That does not even put Robert Jordan, or Craig Stevens into the equation.

Cal has done a good job of spreading the ball around, and the answer to that is generally to stop the distribution at its source, the quarterback, by blitzing. Such a tactic by the Ducks does not bother Cal coach Jeff Tedford.

“People have been (blitzing) a little bit. Nate's done a great job, when people blitzed, of getting the ball out quick to his hot routes. He hung in there last week, took some shots, and threw the ball down the field. Being in the shotgun is really helping Nate. It gets him away from the line of scrimmage. He's so tall, can see the field very well, and is very tough that I think he's getting a really good feel for the pocket and understands the time that he has. He's holding on to the ball if he needs to for an extra beat, but he's doing a great job of getting the ball out quickly. When they have blitzed, he's done a nice job of making people pay for it.”

How often the Bears find the end zone depends on how well they take care of the football, and the extent to which Tedford and staff let defensive needs dictate the offensive game plan.

Long time-consuming drives keeping Dixon and company on the sideline would be of tremendous help, but Cal has been so efficient on offense – they score quickly.
 

WHEN OREGON IS ON OFFENSE:

After four games it is clear that Dennis Dixon is the ideal quarterback for the Ducks spread offense. Dixon seems to be more calm each game and is in total control of the offense. His ability to find receivers with pinpoint accuracy is demonstrated by his 258-yard per game average, six touchdowns, and only two interceptions. His favorite target has become Williams who has a 115.5-yard per game average and four touchdowns. Oregon has also spread the ball around to a total of 14 receivers so far this season.

Interestingly, all of Oregon's scholarship receivers are 6-1 or taller. However the big offensive news is the Ducks running game.

Stewart is averaging 114.2 yards while Johnson is at 60.5 per game. The Ducks present a big problem for opposing defenses because the experienced offensive line is able to protect the quarterback and with multiple receiver formations, Dixon has time to pick out his targets.

Throw in a powerful running attack in the form of Stewart and Johnson, it is no wonder the Ducks have racked up over 500 yards per game in three of the four contests this season. Oregon often operates without a huddle and that (partially) accounts for the fact the Ducks have ran more plays (292 to 263) despite having less time of possession (27:26 to 32:34).




WHEN OREGON HAS THE BALL:

Oregon has the type of offense that drives defensive coordinators batty. Usually one would create a defensive game plan around taking away what the opposing offenses like to do best. The problem with the Ducks is that it is hard to determine what they like to do best. Take away the run, they will pass, cover them deep they will use their short passing and screen packages to beat you. As Tedford says, Cal will simply have to play straight up balanced defense on every play.

Tackling and linebacker play will be paramount to stopping the screen pass, an Oregon staple, as well as Dixon’s running ability. Linebackers shedding blocks quickly and the defensive line controlling the battle up front will be key

It will be interesting to see if Cal goes with its usual pattern of keeping their corners in set positions, or whether Daymeion Hughes will track Williams and defend whichever side of the field he plays.

If the Bears cannot take away what Oregon likes to do best, perhaps the next best thing will be to try to bait the Ducks into what they do worst. Against ASU, Dixon was notably inaccurate anytime he tried to throw the ball downfield. Hughes is a master at tricking quarterbacks, perhaps he can force Dixon into a bad throw.

WHEN CALIFORNIA HAS THE BALL:

Has Oregon redesigned its defense by necessity? Mike Bellotti says his defense is "morphing" into something new. With a defensive line thinned by injuries, the Ducks shifted defensive end Matt Toeaina back to tackle and there is talk that the other end, Darius Sanders will see time at inside also. That means that Manley, Nick Reed and Ed Dickson will see more time on the field - and if last week was any indication, the smaller but speedier line up will do just fine.

The Ducks had their best defensive effort of the year against ASU and Bellotti thinks the game may have been the best since he's been the Oregon head coach. Oregon's team speed is impressive with Blair Phillips making a case that he is the best linebacker in the Pac-10 and maybe in the nation.

Kwame Agyeman will be listed as a strong safety in the program but he really is an outside linebacker in the Oregon scheme. A.J. Tuitele is the weakside linebacker, and a tenacious tackler.  J.D. Nelson and Patrick Chung are big hitters out of the safety positions while Walter Thurmond and Jairus Byrd have been very solid at the corners.

Two Bay Area products, Willie Glasper and Terrell Ward (both from De La Salle High School in Concord) will see time at cornerback.

The Ducks plan to use their team speed to put pressure on Nate Longshore to cut down the time he has to deliver the ball to where speedy Cal receivers can catch passes. 

Bellotti believes that the Ducks must know where Marshawn Lynch is at all times and called Lynch the "best receiver-running back in the country." Lynch may get his per game average rushing against Oregon, but the question is how much more will the Ducks allow California to run?
 

SPECIAL TEAMS:

The Bear kicking and return units had another good performance against OSU. Tom Schneider was named Pac-10 special teams player of the week. Look for DeSean Jackson to take advantage of short Oregon punting.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Place kicker Paul Martinez has hit 7-of-9 field goals with a long of 48, plus he has a touchdown on a fake field goal scored against Fresno State. Martinez is the Pac-10's leading scorer with 47 points.

Punter Matt Dragich has not worked much this season with only 11 punts for a 36.6-yard average. The Ducks’ Special Teams pride themselves on their speed - but last week that speed got outflanked when ASU's Terry Richardson returned a kickoff for 100 yards and a touchdown.

Jeremiah Johnson is the punt return specialist and has 11 returns for 120 yards so far this year.
 

CALIFORNIA CAN WIN IF: 

They take care of the football and tackle. Their offense is good enough that they will move the ball, and only turnovers will stall the attack. On defense the first guy to the ball carrier needs to bring him down consistently. If the Bears limit the short game and force Oregon to make their yardage throwing the ball downfield it will take the Ducks out of their offensive rhythm.

OREGON CAN WIN IF:

The Ducks will win if they do not turn over the ball and continue to execute their offense as they have in the previous four games. The Ducks have confidence that they can operate successfully in long-field situations as well as when the ball is within the 50-yard line.

They are 21-of-23 in red zone efficiency and Dixon is the right man for the job. He has an array of tall, fast receivers and the spread formation will put up to five targets in a pattern at a time. If other options struggle, the Ducks will simply give the ball to Stewart.  Stewart presents special problems to a defense because he can break a touchdown run every time he touches the ball. Johnson compliments Stewart and while Stewart is power and speed, Johnson is shifty and has an extra gear for speed.

The Ducks will score points against California's defense, so then it becomes a matter of Oregon's defense slowing down a potent California offense. The Ducks will be philosophically satisfied to bend-but-not-break with their defense. As long as the Duck offense can get back onto the field Oregon will score and score often.
 

CALIFORNIA OUTLOOK:

Oregon has played three tough games (plus Stanford) and was fortunate to win two of those. They are a bit inexperienced defensively for the multi-faceted Cal attack. This is the Ducks second game on the road, after a 100-plus degree day in Tempe.

Cal’s defensive line is improving, and Syd’Quan Thompson seems to “get it” better every week.

Look for lots of points, with the Bears emerging after a nail-biter.

OREGON OUTLOOK:

Oregon has a chip on its shoulder. It was snubbed last year by the BCS and then lost a heart breaker to Oklahoma in the Holiday Bowl. That was bad enough, but when the Ducks won a controversial game at home against the Sooners, the word validation was frequently heard around the Casanova Center.
ASU was the first victim of the Ducks rage – but the Quackers are not satisfied. While they hold high goals for the season, even in private conversations the players and coaches talk only about the next game.

The California game could be the biggest of the year for both teams. The squads are nearly mirror images of each other. Both have accurate throwing quarterbacks, two good running backs, multiple receivers, and lots of speed.

While Oregon's defensive line may be thin, they have compensated by drawing on team speed to field a
bend-but-don't-break defense. On offense the Ducks have an experienced offensive line that will be making its 17th start together as a unit.

With all the well-documented coaching connections, the fact many of the players on the Oregon roster come from the Bay Area and the competitiveness of the contests in the last few years, this game is a toss-up. Whoever makes the fewest mistakes, whoever wins the field position struggle, and very possibly – whoever has the last possession – will win the game.
 

CALIFORNIA LINKS:

Two-deeps | Roster | Schedule | Message Boards


OREGON LINKS:

Two-deeps | Roster | Schedule | Message Boards

Sean Mockler is a staff writer for the Bear Insiders.

Steve Summers is the publisher for eDuck.com and Editor in Chief of the eDuck Magazine.


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