October 5, 2006

duck season is open, too

It's obvious this Saturday's game pits two extraordinary teams against each other. But something's gotta give. Cal's time of possession is 28:43 per game, and Oregon's is 27:26 per game. Unless the game is called early, one of the two teams will have to come in over their average.

OK, just a few notes this week. Basically, this Oregon offense looks, on paper, like the best offense in the Pac-10. Check it out: The conference's leading passer, leading rusher, leader in receptions per game, leader in receiving yards per game, and leader in scoring all play for Oregon. Some other scary stats: Oregon leads the league in scoring at 40.2 points per game. They're also #1 in rushing offense (227 ypg) and total offense (497 ypg). Oregon gets the most first downs per game of any Pac-10 team. They are #2 in red zone offense, scoring 21 times out of 23 tries, with 16 of those being touchdowns. They average an astounding 6.2 yards per rush and 6.8 yards per play. And they have allowed just one sack in their four games. It's not like they've played a bunch of patsies, either.

Cal is no slouch on offense, though, sporting the league's most efficient passer, the league's leader in touchdowns scored, and the league's leader in all-purpose yardage. The Bears are right behind Oregon in scoring offense (38.4 ppg) and total offense (452 ypg). The Bears are a skitch better in the red zone, scoring on 13 of 14 opportunities with 11 of those being TDs. Someone on cyberbears analyzed the two teams' big play tendencies, and although I don't have the stats, it went something like this: Cal had a lot more big plays (over 20 yards) than Oregon. Apparently, this means Cal is a more explosive offense while Oregon is more a constant mover.

It's on the defensive side of the ball where Oregon appears to outclass the Bears--at least, statistically. Oregon has the league's leading tackler and has the league's best and most efficient pass defense. They've allowed just three passing TDs in four games and hold opponents to a miserly 50% completion and 5.3 yards per pass. Their run defense is suspect, though, as they give up 163 ypg and 4.3 yards per carry.

The Bears, meanwhile, appear to allow teams to walk up and down the field but don't let them into the end zone. Cal is #9 in the conference in pass defense and #7 in rush defense. While they lead the league in interceptions (Hughes has five of the team's eight), they have given up a league-worst 8 passing touchdowns and allow 7.7 yards per pass. Only Stanford has worse total defense stats as Cal gives up 5.7 yards per play and 370 yards per game (both #9). But the Bears are #4 in the conference in scoring defense at 20.4 points per game. (Oregon allows 20.0 ppg.) So they're doing something right. Indeed, the Bears are #2 in red zone defense, allowing just 6 TDs in 12 opportunities.

The only other stat that jumps out at me (besides the all-important Time Of Possession, noted above) is turnover ratio. The Bears are +3 on the season, but the Ducks are -1.

This is bound to be a close game. Recent history has the Ducks winning 8 of the last 9 games, with Cal's only win in that stretch two years ago in Berkeley when the Duck TE dropped an easy pass that would have given Oregon a chip-shot field goal for the win. But the last three games have all been close nail-biters, and this one should be no different. I only wish I could be there.

I honestly don't understand how Cal is a 5 point favorite unless there are injuries I'm not taking into account. I know the Bears have the talent to win this game, but I'd call it even. Given the offensive propensities, I think Cal might have a slight game planning edge--the Bears appear to have more explosive capabilities and may be able to focus on the running game more. Meanwhile, Oregon's offense may be unable to fully exploit Cal's youth at DB to provide explosive plays--the Bears have tremendous speed on defense and have proven to be good tacklers when they get their paws on a ball carrier.

I think perhaps this game is the single biggest reason Tedford hired a new Offensive Coordinator. Tedford got too predictable last year and second-guessed himself too much against the Ducks. resulting in a very flat offense. Having a new guy throwing curve balls at Bellotti can only help the Bears. Plus, the Bears have serious momentum after four beautiful games. But Oregon still has something to prove after The Replay two weeks ago. They spanked little poser ASU last week, but that's not enough for them. If they want to be part of the nation's elite, they need to wipe out that Oklahoma memory with a pasting of one of the big boys. Motivation and momentum and to spare on both sidelines this week.

All in all, this game is huge, and it has all the look of the Cal vs Virginia Tech game a few years ago--a real shootout with the last team having the ball to be the one to win.

I'll go out on the limb and say that the Bears will benefit from two interceptions in the second half and will be able to ride Marshawn's running game to victory. Final score: Bears 38, Ducks 35.


Boy, I wish I could be there.

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