The Kickoff: Cal comes to Autzen for Pac-12 Season Opener

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon opens as a big favorite against the Cal Golden Bears, as they look to start 1-0 in conference play.

The Pac-12 season starts for Oregon on Saturday as they host the California Golden Bears at 7:30pm PST Saturday night. Cal's Bear Raid has brought some excitement to Berkeley, but the Bears have struggled to a 1-2 record and Oregon opens as a 36-point favorite.

The big difference for Cal this season is head coach Sonny Dykes and his Bear Raid offense. Cal is averaging an astounding 56 attempts per game and true freshman Jared Goff leads the country in passing yards per game. Unfortunately for Cal, the efficiency is not quite there yet. Goff is completing over 61% of his passes and averages 7.8 yards per attempt, but has 4 interceptions (to 7 touchdowns) already on the season. This gives him a fairly mediocre rating of 135, but for a true freshman 3 games into his college career, it's pretty darn good.

Cal fans have a lot to be excited about offensively. Goff can throw a great deep ball, and has tremendous talent to throw to. Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs are both averaging over 100 yards receiving per game. Both are a bit undersized and listed at 180 pounds, but Cal also has a huge receiving threat in 6'4" 245 pound Richard Rodgers.

Cal's main problem at this point, as with most spread attacks, seems to be its offensive line. It's a talented and large group with returning experience, but they haven't had the production yet you would see from an elite unit. Despite home run threat Brendan Bigelow at RB, Cal is averaging only 3.07 yards per attempt on the ground. While that includes sacks, even if you take Goff's rushing numbers out, Cal is still averaging less than 4 yards per rush. More dangerously, Cal's allowed sack rate is poor. They have allowed 12 sacks already this year (including 5 to Portland State), on roughly 180 passing plays. That's a sack rate almost twice as bad as Washington State. There are a number of reasons this could be happening, but so far the offensive line isn't yet producing at the level that it can.

While the Cal offense as a whole doesn't look very balanced, one thing is for sure, this is the best passing attack that Oregon has faced this season. Few teams have gone at the Oregon secondary this season, but Cal is going to, and should prove to be a highly entertaining matchup.

On the other side of the ball, Cal has had trouble getting stops all year long. Though they've faced a tough schedule this year, they have given up an atrocious 7.42 yards per play, good for 122nd nationally. They've given up over 500 yards to Northwestern, Portland State, and Ohio State. While there's not a lot of shame in those performances against NW and tOSU, the Portland State performance is troubling indeed.

While there are no stats on this, over at California Golden Blogs there has been a lot of blame on missed tackles. Reading their recaps, it sounds like it's tough to place blame at any one position. The defensive line hasn't gotten pressure, the linebackers aren't reading the plays well, and the secondary can't always clean up after that mess. On top of poor defensive play, Cal has also had to deal with a number of injuries to defensive starters. It's a recipe for disaster.

Cal has enough talent that you have to think they'll improve as the season progresses, but it should be a favorable matchup for Oregon. Cal's defensive success against Oregon in recent years has relied on talented players being able to perform their assignments and make plays when they are there to be made. So far this year, Cal's defense has been unable to do that consistently.

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