Cal is without the hopes of a bowl game, their coach is on the hot seat, and it sounds like their starting quarterback will be in a reserve role. In other words, Cal has us right where they want us.
You can say whatever you want about how this Oregon team is so much better than the ones in the past. You can tell me how bad Cal has looked at times year. Believe me, I know, I watched their game against Washington last Friday and I laughed hard watching some of those plays.
I know one thing to be true though, one thing that can sway the whole balance of power. The fact is that Berkeley is one weird F-ing place.
Cal Will Win If:
Avoid Passing Downs. Cal's offense is ranked 80th in passing downs S&P+, a statistic used by Football Outsiders. Basically, they're not that great passing when the defense knows they are going to pass, and with Zach Maynard at best limited and Keenan Allen out, I would try to just avoid this whole scenario if I'm Cal.
Get Oregon Off the Field. Looking at the FEI stats for Cal's defense it is clear they are struggling this year. They rank in the bottom half of every type of drive statistic except explosive drives, so that will probably change after this week. Cal cannot let Oregon do whatever they want like USC did if they want to win.
Also, Cal needs to keep Oregon off the field. They are near last in the country in methodical drives, so this would be very uncharacteristic of them, but Oregon is 77th in terms of defending methodical drives.
The Cover 0 Works. Cal runs a 3-4 defense that puts speed on the field and puts a lot of people on the line of scrimmage. It caused Oregon some issues a couple years ago when everyone thought that the Oregon offense had been solved. Turns out being able to isolate defensive backs on Oregon's wide receivers and putting safeties in the box will slow the run. Cal is going to need to take chances and hope for the best on defense. They already have a penetrative defense line, which averages 6.4 tackles in the backfield per game.
They Keep It Close. In order for a team to win a national championship they have to get lucky, and for some teams they are unlucky when they drop out of the race. If Cal got a few turnovers or special teams plays that flipped the field and made some easy scores, they could keep this game close to the end. Laugh now, but Berkeley is a weird place, man.
Oregon Will Win If:
No Injuries. Kenjon Barner carried the ball 38 times last game and had receptions and blocks to make also. Oregon cannot afford to lean on him this game. Back to back workhorse games will wear any running back down. Get Byron Marshall out there as soon as possible. Bryan Bennett by halftime!
Let the Mamba Loose! He may be the most exciting player in college football, but opposing teams have gone out of their way to make sure that De'Anthony Thomas never touches the football. I get the philosophy of having the option man be one of the most dangerous open-field players in the country, but lets run some jet sweeps or motion him out of the backfield to cause havoc on defensive plans.
Use Play Action Effectively. As UOWillRubin wrote in the "How We Go" segment earlier this week, Cal got burned a couple times against Ohio State, a game they had a good chance of winning. The Bears are going to have to respect the run but if they stay undisciplined this game could get ugly.