Coming off of early season bye weeks, the #9 Oregon Ducks (3-1) will welcome the California Golden Bears (3-1) into Autzen Stadium on Thursday night.
The game will be nationally televised on ESPN, giving the Ducks another opportunity to prove their worth to onlookers around the country that remain skeptical of their true power.
One thing this game will not be short on is offensive firepower; both teams have talented and explosive playmakers to put the ball in the endzone at will.
Oregon leads the nation with a scoring average of 52 points per game, and Cal is not far behind at nearly 40 points per game.
The Ducks will bring their stable of speed with running backs LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, who combined for over 350 yards rushing against Arizona in their last game.
James is coming off of a performance of a lifetime when he racked up a school record 288 rushing yards and did so rather effortlessly against a demoralized Wildcat defense. James enters the game leading the nation in rushing (153.25 per game) and all-purpose yards (226.75 yards per game). Though many still consider him out of the Heisman Trophy race due to his disappointing performance against LSU, the “LaMichael for LaHeisman” campaign could get a boost with another big performance on national TV.
Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas has not been a slouch this season either, having thrown for 12 touchdowns against only 1 interception. Thomas has only been sacked once this season and has shown he has improved his decision making as well as his passing accuracy.
The Golden Bears have their own arsenal of weapons to bring to Eugene, led by wide receivers Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones.
Allen and Jones both stand at a solid 6-3, which will give them a strong advantage against an undersized Oregon secondary.
Cal quarterback Zach Maynard has taken the reins this season and has been largely inconsistent. He has thrown for 10 scores and only 3 interceptions, but struggled against the only decent defense he has faced so far this season in his previous game against Washington.
Cal lost a close game in Seattle that Maynard and Allen nearly stole from the Huskies by themselves, charging down the field in the waning minutes as if they were the only two players on the field.
However, they were not able to convert the drive into points and the Bears were handed their first and only loss on the young season.
The game on Thursday should come down to which defense can hold the other explosive offense in check.
Last season Cal was able to hold Oregon to 15 points in Berkeley, a game the Ducks were lucky to hold on to en route to the BCS title game. The Bears were the only team, other than those pesky Auburn Tigers, to hold Oregon under 35 points in a game.
Many think that Cal may have found a secret to stopping the Ducks offense, but looking at the film it appears the only difference between the Bears and other teams is that Cal was particularly blatant in their faking of injuries to slow the rapid Oregon offense. Needless to say the Bears should forget about their hopes for an Academy Award and focus on the Pac-12 trophy.
The Ducks have always struggled with the Golden Bears because Cal always has a tough and athletic defensive line, which has recently been a big problem for an undersized Oregon offensive line. The trenches will be a key on Thursday.
The major knock on the Oregon team is their defense, which is understandable but unfair.
The Ducks have given up a lot of yards and points to good offenses. But just looking at the yards and points does not tell the whole story.
The Oregon defense spends more time on the field than the Autzen Stadium grounds crew. With the pace of their offense the defense never has much down time.
Whether the Oregon offense scores a touchdown or has to punt, odds are they were not on the field for more than 3 or 4 minutes. That barely gives the Ducks defense long enough to find a comfy spot on the bench before they have to go back to work.
Oregon has faced nearly 350 plays on defense this year. Only 2 teams in the FBS have seen a higher number than that.
All things considered Oregon has done very well on defense. They lead the Pac-12 in pass defense (208.25 yards per game). They are also second in the Pac-12 and 30th nationally by allowing only 4.8 yards per play.
The offensive players will get the headlines prior to this matchup, but defenses may steal the show just like they did a year ago.
California: 24 Oregon: 49
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.