Getting into a rhythm on the ground will allow Oregon to get the ball to the edge and take shots at big plays to topple the Golden Bears.
Similar to last week, a simple look at the numbers would leave one believing that the two run defenses set to square off on Saturday are comparable, with Cal giving up 4.2 yards per rush to Oregon's 3.8. However, looking at the S&P+ statistics, they have Oregon with the 19th best run defense to 44th for representatives of ATQ South.
When one looks at Cal's run defense against upper-echelon run offenses, the results aren't pretty. Against the Ohio State Buckeyes – arguably the best barometer for an Oregon projection – the Bears gave up a lackluster 4.9 YPR. Against USC, a staggering 7.4 yards per carry.
Going back to the Cal-Ohio State match up, two of Ohio State's touchdowns came on long plays involving play action. The first (start at the :15 mark of this video) comes on a simple hesitation run by quarterback Braxton Miller. The linebackers get sucked inside following the running back, and once Miller gets outside, he's gone.
The second – and game winning – score came when Miller broke outside of the pocket and looked as though he was going to tuck and run. The defense sucked down towards him, and he lofted it over the blown coverage to a wide open receiver (3:30 mark).
Cal has an aggressive front seven that averages 6.4 tackles-for-loss per game which is good for 37th in the country and checks in at 14th in turnovers gained with 22, but is only 64th in scoring defense. This paints a picture of a defense that likes to gamble and chase the ball, which is a very risky thing to do when playing Oregon. I'd put a decent bet down that at some point in the game, Marcus Mariota pulls the ball on a zone read and runs for 50+ yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, Oregon will need to stymie the talented Cal running back stable of Brendan Bigelow and Isi Sofele. Bigelow is the bigger back and averages 8.2 yards per carry. However, he's shown himself to be plenty nimble in the open field, and linebackers Michael Clay and Boseko Lokombo will need to set the edge and shore up the lackadaisical tackling that reared its ugly head against USC.
Funny things always seem to happen when Oregon makes the trip to Berkeley – Though I take full blame for the 2010 debacle, as I was on a plane home from Boulder and that's the only game in the last 14 years that I've completely missed. However, without anything resembling a passing attack, and now without star receiver Keenan Allen and quarterback/alleged brother (rumor has it they're HALF-brothers) Zach Maynard, the Cal defense will get worn down Oregon will pour on the points.