THE MATCHUP: Both Cal and Oregon enter Thursday night's game with 3-1 records, and neither team brings a quality win to the table. Oregon's best win to date was over a beat-up and mistake-prone Arizona team, and Cal's best win is either a 15 point win over Fresno State, or an overtime win in Boulder over Colorado. The Golden Bears had a chance to get a win in Seattle over the huskies, but were only able to muster three points in the second half, despite having a 1st-and-goal from the 2 yard line late in the fourth quarter.
THE HISTORY: We all remember last season at Cal's cramp epidemic, which affected numerous defenders' legs and kicker Georgio Tavecchio's brain. The 15-13 win was the closest call for the Ducks on the way to their first-ever national championship game appearance.
The last time these two teams met in Autzen, the Golden Bears came into the game ranked #6 in the country, led by Heisman-trophy candidate Jahvid Best. The Ducks had been embarrassed in Boise, had lost LeGarrette Blount, and had gotten terrible quarterback play from Jeremiah Masoli. The result was the Ducks' coming-out party, a 42-3 romp which featured three touchdown passes from Masoli, all of them to Ed Dickson. It was Cal's worst-ever loss suffered while ranked in the Top 10.
THE INJURIES: Oregon got two key players back against Arizona, with Kenjon Barner and Josh Huff returning from injury. Linebacker Michael Clay is still dealing with a leg injury, and kicker Rob Beard's status is still unknown, though both were in pads at practice on Sunday.
Cal has been able to stay relatively injury-free thus far this season; their most recent injury news is that reserve running back Dasarte Yarnway is out after having arthoscopic surgery on his knee.
KEY PLAYERS FOR CALIFORNIA
- QB Zach Maynard - The Buffalo transfer, and half-brother of standout wide receiver Keenan Allen, brings a dimension of mobility to a Cal offense whose last "mobile" quarterback was converted fullback Steve Levy. He has the ability to make plays with his legs, but hasn't really done so since the opener against Fresno State, when he rushed for 52 yards. He is only completing 52% of his passes, predominantly to wideouts Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones.
- LB Mychal Kendricks - Kendricks has taken over nicely for Mike Mohamed as the field general on defense, racking up 34 tackles in four games and recovering a fumble against washington. The Cal front seven will have a tall order in stopping a red-hot Oregon rushing attack, and the play of Kendricks will go a long way to determine how effective Cal's defense performs.
- K Georgio Tavecchio - First, a false start/illegal motion penalty. Then, a shanked chip shot. And that's how Tavecchio started the fourth quarter of last year's game. He has hit on all five of his field goals thus far this season, but will the demons of 2010 come back to haunt the Foulin' Italian?
- QB Darron Thomas - Last year, Thomas threw for only 155 yards, 5.3 yards/attempt. With Cal employing their "Cover Zero" defense and crashing down on the zone read, Thomas' inability to get the ball downfield is what kept the game so close. The Ducks haven't had to rely on Thomas' arm in a close game yet this season, and it's up to the team leader to rise to the occasion.
- The offensive line - Oregon's O-line hasn't faced even a good defensive front since LSU, and they will meet a talented group on Thursday, headed by senior end Trevor Guyton. The Ducks have had no problem running the ball against weak units, but were stymied in Dallas; establishing the run is vital to Oregon's success, and they'll have to outplay one of the better D-lines in the Pac-12 to do it.
- CB Cliff Harris - Will the real Cliff Harris please stand up? Against Arizona, his first significant action in 2011, he looked lethargic and uninterested. Given his play against the Wildcats, it's easy to see why it's taking him some time to get back into Coach Kelly's good graces. Cal has two top-flight wide receivers in Jones and Allen, and the Ducks could surely use the services of Kash, the ball-hawking, play-making superstar who was a key player in last year's win over the Golden Bears, rather than plain-old Cliff.