The #1 ranked Oregon Ducks will take their high-powered offense down to the bay area this weekend to face the California Golden Bears. Oregon is 9-0 for the first time in their 115 year history and are on pace to demolish all of the previous offensive benchmarks set by Duck teams in the past. While the Ducks lead the nation in points per game (54.7) and total yards per game (567.2), the Bears might lead in inconsistency. Cal has looked powerful on offense and solid on defense at home this season, but atrocious on the road. They are undefeated in the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium, but just 1-4 away from their hippy-laden home crowd. With backup quarterback Brock Mansion leading the Bears offense Cal has a steep task ahead of them. With this week’s game against the Golden Bears being that last “tune-up” for the Ducks before facing two tough opponents to end the season, look for Head Coach Chip Kelly to come out firing to challenge the mental approach of his players. It was evident in last week’s game against Washington that the Ducks can come out slow and still thoroughly destroy a weaker opponent, but going into games against Arizona at home and at Oregon State to end the season the Ducks need to break that habit. Going into a bye week there is no reason Oregon should be concerned about Arizona yet, so if all goes as planned the Ducks will come at Cal with full-force and have their starters doing a little hibernating of their own after halftime. However, the Ducks cannot afford to let the Bears stay in the game early because if they do their fan base, most of whom live in trees surrounding the stadium, will motivate the Cal team and could pose a big problem for Oregon.
California’s offense has been very inconsistent this season, and with the injury to quarterback Kevin Riley things are not looking much better. Cal’s main threat is running back Shane Vereen, who is a solid back that has the speed to go outside but will lower a shoulder when he has to get the tough yards. The Bears also have talent at wide receiver with Jeremy Ross and Keenen Allen, both having shown the ability to make big plays. Quarterback Brock Mansion will have to protect the football against an aggressive Oregon defense that is near the top in the nation in takeaways. The Ducks failed to force a turnover last week against Washington’s backup quarterback Keith Price, so odds are they won’t let an opportunity like that slip away again. If Mansion plays like Brock Lesnar Cal may be in business, but if he plays like Brock from “Pokémon” it may be a long day for Cal fans.
While it would be hard to argue that the Oregon offense has ever struggled this season, some could make a case that it hasn’t been as powerful on the road. Granted playing away from home is usually more difficult for the offenses than the defenses of most teams due to crowd noise and things of that nature. So it is not really surprising that their 3 lowest scoring totals of the season have come on the road at Arizona State (42), Washington State (43) and Tennessee (48). The Ducks did play well on the road two weeks ago at USC by scoring 53 points and this week they will be near full strength with the return of running back Kenjon Barner to a prominent role in the offense. Barner did see some time last week against Washington, but he figures to be a much larger factor this week after getting slowly re-acclimated to the offense over the past few weeks. Barner will compliment Heisman Trophy contender running back LaMichael James. Like the Oregon offense as a whole, James has been running through the record books with apparent ease this season. James needs only 15 yards to pass Jonathan Stewart for 2nd all-time at Oregon (2,891), and earlier this season snatched the record for 100-yard games in a career and currently has 16. Thus far James has rushed for 1,402 yards and 17 touchdowns in 8 games. With his partner in crime back this week look for James to make a statment early then allow Barner to get most of the carries in the second half.
Sophomore quarterback Darron Thomas has exceeded expectations this season for the Ducks as he emerges as more of a threat in the offensive scheme with each passing week. Thomas has shown the ability to throw the football accurately and protect the football, the two biggest question marks coming into the season. However, the game plan may change this week concerning Thomas after finding out that backup quarterback Nate Costa will miss the rest of the season after undergoing knee surgery. Costa suffered the injury last week after scrambling out of bounds on a botched extra-point attempt. Though Costa did not see much time on the field in his 5 years at Oregon due to persistent knee injuries, he is undoubtedly a leader in the locker room for the Ducks and will remain that way through the end of the season. The Ducks have moved freshman Brian Bennett up to the #2 spot even though Oregon hoped to redshirt Bennett. It will be interesting to see what Kelly decides to do if he has a choice between taking Thomas out to protect him or leave Thomas in the whole game to save Bennett’s redshirt.
This is a game Oregon should handle with ease as long as they come out and play fast and focused from the beginning. However, since the start of the 2008 season the Ducks have only lost 3 games and 2 of those have come in the bay area. This is no Oregon team from the past, this unit will not be denied the Pac-10 title and a shot at the national championship at the hands of the Cali Cubs. The Ducks will have more bad news for the Bears when all is said and done, Oregon wins 55-17.
About the Author
Written by Rob Parness
My name is Robbie Parness and I am a student at the University of Oregon. I'm a California native that loves to play, watch and talk about all kinds of sports. I would love to become a sports writer someday or work in sports in any capacity.