November 3, 2004

Cal vs Oregon

Oregon, overall, may be a tougher ticket than ASU. ASU had a one-dimensional offense with extreme speed at the wideouts and a QB with a strong arm but no running game. Oregon has solid balance in their attack, and there is little chance Cal can arrange a third straight shutout without help from many Duck turnovers.

Cal: #4 BCS, # 4 AP, # 6 Coaches, # 2 Sagarin (96.56)
Ore: NR BCS, #33 AP, #32 Coaches, #33 Sagarin (76.24)

Line is Cal by 21. Sagarin predicts a 24-point Cal victory.

Sagarin says Oregon's schedule is only 48th-strongest in the country, which accounts for them being ranked behind UCLA and Oregon State. Their losses were to Indiana at home in the first game (an aberration), at Oklahoma, and at home to Arizona State. They beat Idaho, and they've won their last four games at WSU and Stanford and at home over Arizona and Washington. It's
tempting to paint them as the team that lost to Indiana and can only beat weaklings.

They're not entirely predictable, however, not even at this point in the season. They have some impressive stats (see below), but they scored just 7 at Oklahoma, just 13 against ASU, and just 16 against Stanford. But they scored 31 against UW and more than 40 against WSU and Idaho. They allowed just 37 yards rushing over their past two games (UW and Stanford), in part
due to a plethora of big sacks.

In addition, they're 5-1 in their last six, and they've won seven straight against the Bears. They are playing for 2nd place in the Pac-10 this week, the only other Pac-10 team with a single loss.

Offensively, Oregon is powerful but not overwhelming. They are a balanced attack with a big offensive line, a talented running back that leads the league in receiving yards for running backs, and a good QB. The Ducks are 4th in the conference, averaging 169 yards/game rushing, with 4.1 yards per carry and 11 rushing TDs. This is not quite as good as USC (and not nearly
as good as UCLA or Cal) but significantly better than the other six Pac-10 teams. They are 3rd passing (Cal is 5th), with 260 yards per game. More impressive is their high passing efficiency: 62% completion percentage, 7.1 yards per catch, and only 5 interceptions to 14 TDs. While these numbers are not as good as Cal's (Cal leads the Pac in passing efficiency), they are
very good and show a balanced, patient, creative attack. The Ducks are 2nd behind Cal in time of possession as well.

Oregon has run by far the most offensive plays of any Pac-10 team (620, 77.5 per game). OSU is the only other team to have run over 600. Cal has run just 483 (69 per game). Cal averages over seven yards per offensive play, while Oregon averages 5.5--a good but not outstanding number.

Cal, however, has the best defense the Ducks will have faced, possibly better even than Oklahoma's, which held the Ducks to seven points early in the season. Cal is 2nd or 3rd in all defensive statistical categories: scoring (2nd, 12.3 ppg); rushing (2nd, 92 ypg); passing (191 ypg, 8TDs, 6 ints); total defense (2nd, 282 ypg, 4.4 yards per play). Oregon has played
against the league's worse defenses, with ASU being perhaps the best overall... but overwhelmingly Oregon's opponents have occupied the 6-10 spots in defensive statistics in the Pac-10.

Still, Oregon's offensive line is very big (317 pound average) and terribly experienced (four seniors and a junior). Their TE is also big and tall, and their WRs are all 6-2 or taller. A team with this much on paper should be lighting up the scoreboard every week, particularly against the teams they've faced. They did it agains UW, WSU, and Arizona, but they scored a
combined 29 against ASU and Stanford. Cal's defense is the most athletic and wild they'll have faced, and it's hard to predict what will happen. There's so much potential and skill in Oregon's offense, but the same can be said about Cal's defense.

Defensively, the Ducks are also statistically solid. Again, the statistics are generated against the league's worst offenses. The Ducks allow just 2.9 yards per rush and are third in the conference at 101 yards per game allowed rushing. They allow a low 50% pass completion rate and have 12
interceptions to 11 passing TDs allowed. They are third in the league in sacks per game behind USC and Cal.

But Oregon has some weaknesses. They are the most penalized team, and they also have the least opponent penalties of all Pac-10 teams. They have attempted the most 4th-down conversions (18), but they're pretty good at converting them (must be a tendency to run on third and short, and not quite get there). They have not much of a kickoff return to speak of (18 yards per), and they average just 33 net yards per punt, 9th in the league. Also,
their red zone statistics are atrocious: 8th in offense with just 70% scoring in the red zone, though 21 of their 26 scored were touchdowns. Defensively, they're 7th, allowing 78% scoring, though they only allowed 11 TDs in 23 opportunities. Cal is #1 in both offensive and defensive red zone stats, by a wide margin. Generally, though, Oregon has been good at keeping
teams away from the red zone: just 23 opportunities in 8 games, which is better than the league average (not including USC's and Cal's ridiculously low 2 per game).

What's remarkable about Oregon's defense is their defensive interior. They are probably the two largest DTs in the league at 297 and 345 pounds. The ends are much lighter, with experience to help them out; that's why DE Devan Long is 2nd in the Pac-10 in sacks and has at least one in seven of his eight games this year. The big DTs likely crush the pocket, forcing the QB out to the ends, who wrap them up by getting around the big OTs. Cal is the
biggest and most powerful OL they'll have seen since their loss to ASU, who scored 28 points on them.

The weakness in the defense should be the defensive backs, who are relatively short (all under six feet). RC Bates is a true freshman, and FS Nelson is a sophomore. The linebacking corps is solid, though, with a ton of experience (two seniors and a junior).

All in all, I think Oregon is an unpredictable team with a lot of potential that they have not yet demonstrated in their games. If they play fully up to their potential, they will make a game of it and could give Cal a real scare. If Florida State can be upset by Maryland, and Miami can lose to
UNC, Cal fans should not count Oregon a "gimme".

I am confident, however, that the Bears have a more talented team. The question is the offensive injuries to the receivers, and a generally banged up defense. The Bears should come out ready to fight after a mediocre offensive showing against ASU, and the defense should be pumped up to play against a big, experienced O line with a productive RB and an efficient QB.

The Ducks will move the ball and will get on Cal's side of the field multiple times, but I think they'll have trouble getting in the end zone. Cal is vulnerable when offenses have a lot of field to work with, but when the Bears compress the field, they are very strong. Offensively, the Bears
have a running attack like Oregon simply has not yet seen, except perhaps when Oklahoma put up 214 rushing yards on them.

The key will be for Cal to lead at halftime. Oregon has lost all three games they trailed at the half. They are a good, solid offense, but they lack an explosive threat to take back a game that is sliding away from them. I do not think turnovers will be a factor in the outcome, but I do think
the crowd noise will be. If the crowd is fired up from the opening cannon, the Bears will perform efficiently. If the crowd is lackadaisical and passive, Cal will have a hard time getting off the blocks offensively and will struggle to control the game's rhythm. It is critical that the Bears
dictate the rhythm and not let the Ducks have control, especially in the first half. So go to the game, yell and scream, get crazy, fire up the Bears.

While I think Oregon does not get enough respect this year in general, I don't think this turns out to be an upset. Final score Cal 36, Oregon 16.

Go Bears!

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