Well, it happened. The Ducks’ chances of running the table against the Pac-12 is over, and it cost them CJ Verdell in the process. After a bye week to reflect and improve, Oregon returns to the gridiron to take on the California Golden Bears in the familiar confines of Autzen Stadium. Cal’s season hasn’t gone the way they’d hoped, but as they proved last year, they are an opponent that Oregon must take seriously. If the Ducks want to get back into the win column, there’s a few things they need to do against Cal to get there.
Why They’ll Win
It’s been almost two weeks since the Ducks lost in heartbreaking fashion to Stanford in overtime. It ruined Oregon’s hopes of going undefeated and severely damaged their hopes of making the College Football Playoff. After stewing in this loss for so long, the hope is that the Ducks will come out ready to play and prove that their loss to the Cardinal was a fluke.
Slow starts have been a bane of the Ducks this season, so coming out firing on all cylinders could right the ship and remind the players that they were the same team that walked into the Shoe and upset the Ohio State Buckeyes. This team is brimming with talent, but they haven’t had a game where they getting going early and often. There’s no better time to change that narrative than after a loss and silence the doubters.
Cal looked less than inspiring in their most recent game, a 21-6 loss to Wazzu. They scored on their opening drive but didn’t find much success throughout the rest of the game. Oregon’s defense has been hit hard by injuries, and Kayvon Thibodeaux will miss the first half after being ejected on a targeting call in the fourth quarter against Stanford, but this is still a talented defense who have excelled at creating turnovers.
A matchup against Cal’s underwhelming offense could be what this defense needs to get back on track. A few big plays or turnovers could really inspire the defense after losing one of their best performers in Bennett Williams for the year. Cal’s QB Chase Garbers has thrown five interceptions in five games this year, meaning Verone McKinley and co. could feast on mistakes by the Golden Bears signal caller.
Travis Dye Breakout Game
Before his season-ending injury against Stanford, CJ Verdell combined with Travis Dye to be the most effective one-two rushing punch in college football. Now with Verdell sidelined, the main duties fall to Dye. Although he’ll receive help from some of the younger Ducks backs like freshman Seven McGee, Dye is the elder statesman in this backfield and finally getting his chance to shine as the lead back.
Cal has been solid against the run, only allowing 3.7 yards per carry, put the Ducks like to run early and often. Travis is averaging an outstanding 6.4 yards per rush and if he finds success against the Golden Bears’ defense, the Ducks could run Cal right off the field Friday night.
Why They’ll Lose
I think most Ducks fans can agree that sixth-year QB Anthony Brown Jr. was....uninspiring against the Cardinal and hasn’t produced like most were hoping at the start of the year. Yes, he’s only thrown one interception all year, but it’s not hard to prevent turning the ball over if you refuse to take any risks when passing the ball. He hardly ever takes shots down the field and hasn’t been too effective running the football either.
While the loss to Stanford certainly doesn’t fall entirely on Brown’s shoulders, he does deserve a fair amount of criticism. This receiving corps is one of the most talented in recent Ducks memory and the fact that not a single receiver has reached 200 yards receiving after 5 contests is almost offensive. If Brown can’t improve off his recent play then he’ll hinder this team more than help it.
This has been the bane of the Ducks this year, their Achilles heel. While they looked good against Ohio State, Oregon has gotten off slowly against every other team this year, and it finally cost them in their loss to Stanford. They played Fresno St close, let Arizona and Stony Brook hang around longer than they should have, and were down 17-7 to the Cardinal at half. All of these are teams that the Ducks should have beaten handily given the disparity in talent, yet Oregon often didn’t put them away till much later in the game.
Coming off a loss, the last thing that Oregon can do is afford to come out of the gate like they have for most of the year. Cal has had their struggles this year, but other than their loss to Wazzu, are averaging around 28 points per game. Anthony Brown hasn’t had to play from behind too much this year, but after his last performance, I’m not confident he could if the Ducks fall behind early against Cal.
Cal Saving Their Season
I think it’s safe to say Cal’s season hasn’t been going quite how they’d like it too. They’re only 1-4 and after this contest, they have a difficult slate going forward. They have matchups against USC, UCLA and an Oregon State team that is proving they mean business. Somehow it’s already mid-October and Cal’s season is in real danger of slipping away. If the Bears still have aspirations of making a bowl game, they need to turn things around and fast. They’ve wasted the easier portion of their schedule to solidify their standings and now need to win some tough games in order to make an appearance in bowl season.
While it’s hard to see Oregon dropping two games in a row, the loss to Stanford exposed some flaws in this Ducks team that they need to figure out how to overcome. I think Oregon gets the win and eases the worries of Ducks fans, even if it’s only temporary.
Oregon 35, Cal 17.