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Breakin' it Down: A Real Preview of Oregon/Cal

Gotta love Cal fans.  They come in here and criticize me on my first thoughts (not even real analysis), and then drop gems like this (these are actually found in the comments):

I expect Cal to hold Oregon to under 150 yards on the ground (Oregon was 1-5 last year when held under 150 yards) because of how well our LB have been playing. We have held everyone under 157 yards on the ground.

You expect to hold the fourth leading team in rushing under 150 yards because you did so to an Arizona team that doesn't want to run and a Tennessee team that was minus their starting tailback?  Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Or, gems like this one:

Dixon may be playing better, but he's still Dennis Dixon and the Bears defense knows what to expect out of him. Same goes for Jonathan Stewart--it's not like he's come out of nowhere, and just because he's running well so far this year doesn't mean he's a phenomenally better player than he was in his previous campaigns with Oregon.

God, I hope that the Cal defense feels that way.  Then it really will be an easy game.

And if you think that these comments are ignorant/arrogant, you should read the Cal blogs:

This from Rose Bowl Before I Die, who claim that Cal will not only beat Oregon, but do so easily.  Read their gem of a post, which takes for granted things like Cal being able to hold Stewart to under 100, etc.

And, while I hate to criticize my colleagues at TBIOOTF, they chip in with garbage like this:

What is different?
Perhaps the only thing different is that this game is in Autzen, which I am sorry to say, is not the homefield advantage it is purported to be. The Ducks were blown out, at home by Arizona last year. The haven't had an undefeated home season since 2000-2001. The Bears went undefeated at home in both 2004 and 2006, yet, no one says Memorial is a great homefield advantage.  

So, now not only is nothing different than last year, but Autzen doesn't really provide a home field advantage?  Why don't they ask Lloyd Carr about that.  But if you really think that what happened last year makes a lick of difference, then you only need to look at you own performance against Tennessee.  This isn't going to be an easy game for either team.  When I really break it down, here is what I see:

Cal's Offense vs. Oregon's Defense

We all know that Oregon has trouble stopping the run, and I expect a steady dose of Justin Forsett this game.  However, Forsett has been a bit banged up himself this year, as has his offensive line.  And his fullback, Will Ta'ufo'ou has a torn PCL.  He probably will play, but a torn knee ligament has to limit your effectiveness.  Try to limit the big plays in the run game, but I would attack the weakness of their offense, and that's the passing game.

While our offensive line doesn't do great against the run, they have a great pass rush.  Longshore isn't the most mobile guy out there, so I would throw a variety of blitzes at him and try to get him to pass under pressure.  Our defensive backs are the strength of the defense, and I like their chances against the Cal receivers, especially with DeSean Jackson not at 100%.  Cal's depth behind Forsett at RB is limited, as Best and Montgomery have both seen very limited action (13 and 19 carries, respectively).  And I don't think that Forsett can do a Mike Hart and run the ball 45 times.  That means Cal is going to have to pass, and when they do, I'd try and make Longshore's life a living hell.

Another thing that we have going for us is that the game is at Autzen.  Despite the fact that many Cal fans want to downplay the home field advantage, they're only fooling themselves.  Longshore has a history of not playing well in hostile venues.  And Cal had 14 penalties last week.  While most of those were on defense, we know Autzen is always good for a couple of false starts a game.

Forsett will get a ton of yards, no doubt about that.  But Cal hasn't yet faced a team that combines a good pass rush and really good secondary.  As long as our secondary can keep Lavelle Hawkins from getting open over the middle, we should be able to limit their passing game and put a lot of pressure on their running game to keep up with our offense.  Its Aliotti defense.  We might bend with the running game, but our secondary should prevent us from breaking.  Basically, see the Michigan game.

Oregon's Offense vs. Cal's Defense

We all know what Cal's gameplan was last year.  Stack the box, shut down the running game, and force Dixon to beat you.  And we all know what the result was.  Many Cal fans seem to think that the same thing will happen with the same result.  There is a lot of reason to believe that won't happen.  We all know that Dixon and Stewart are better and Stewart is much healthier.  Plus, the dynamics of shutting down our running game are different than they were a year ago.

But Cal's personnel has as much to do with it as anything.  They lost three all-conference players from last year--Hughes, Mebane, and Bishop.  They lost seven starters overall, so there really is a lot of newer players on this defesnse.  Only Matthew Malele returns on the line (he will play this week), and Rulon Davis won't play.  And while Cal has great linebackers, their depth is severely limited due to the fact that their best defensive player, Zack Follett, probably won't play.  At the pace Oregon plays, the lack of depth on the line and at linebacker are one of the biggest advantages that Oregon has over the California defense.

In the secondary, Mike Decoud is a very good safety.  But Brandon Hampton should not be able to hang with our receivers, and Syd'Quan Thompson is prone to giving up the big play.  Cal's secondary gives up a lot of yards, and opponents complete 66% against the Bears.  A lot of it is nickel and dime stuff as Cal has the same "bend but don't break mentality."  The biggest difference is that our pace will really exploit the injuries in their defense, and cause them to tire.  They also have to worry about Dixon's legs as well as his feet.  Oregon's offense should get stronger as the game goes on and the Cal defense tires.

Special Teams

Here's where I really think that the pundits have it all wrong.  Most people think that Cal has the advantage in the special teams because of DeSean Jackson's and his ability as a punt returner.  But consider this.  Cal ranks 98th in the nation in covering kickoff returns.  Oregon ranks eighth in the country in kickoff returns.  This means that the Ducks should be able to start their drives in excellent field position.  Not only that, but with Josh Syria's penchant for unreturnable punts, Stewart is actually more likely than Jackson to score a special teams touchdown in this game.

Both teams have solid punting, and the kicking is a wash.  Both teams are very good in both return games, but the Ducks seem to cover better.


These teams are very even in a lot of ways.  Both have great running games, big time receivers, and suspect defenses.  They say that big games come down to turnovers and big plays, but that's a cop out. Oregon has three major advantages that should give them an edge in this game:

  1.  Oregon has one of the best playmakers in the country at quarterback, while Cal has an average quarterback who is one dimensional.  Its like Donovan McNabb vs. Trent Dilfer.  If there is heavy pressure on Longshore, he will likely take a sack or throw the ball away.  If he tries anything else, it equals turnover.  Dixon can make plays with his legs, and that will force the defense to play on its heels.
  2.  Key injuries to Cal, especially on defense, will really hurt them.  At Oregon's no huddle tempo, they will tire.  As the game goes on, Oregon will have more and more of an advantage.
  3.  The game is at Autzen.  And despite the wishes of Cal fans, the home field advantage will be as big as ever.  With the magnitude of this game, and it being the first with students back in town, the place will be rockin'.  At the very least, it will cause Cal to commit penalties and burn timeouts.  And, more likely, Longshore craps his pants and blows the game.
Cal tires as the game goes on and Oregon pulls away.  Final score:  45-32 Ducks.



Update [2007-9-28 13:17:34 by Dave]: The folks over at Rose Bowl Before I Die has retorted my analysis with one of their own. I don't agree with everything they say, but they make some good points that are worth a read. Especially, and I'll say this again, about how dangerous Jahvid Best really is.