Cal at Oregon Preview and Analysis
Oregon faces the California Golden Bears tonight in a Thursday night matchup, putting our Ducks in the national spotlight.
The Cal Bears have given Oregon a lot of problems in the past. Last year Cal almost won if it had not been for an illegal procedure penalty on the game-winning field goal. The following missed scoring attempt by the Cal kicker gave Oregon the ball back and then allowed Oregon to do something no one thought they could, play slow. Oregon killed the last nine and a half minutes in the game and left Berkeley with a win.
The year before, in 2009, Oregon ambushed the Cal Bears in Autzen winning 42-3 in a game that saw the sickest retro uniforms ever and the first passing touchdown of the season for Jeremiah Masoli.
In Berkeley in 2008 there was a biblical amount of rain that washed up the field and slowed Oregon down. TJ Ward had one of the single best performances I’ve ever seen in a game by a defender, but it wasn’t enough as Oregon lost in a game where it seemed like they were playing from behind most of the game.
Cal Head Coach Jeff Tedford is well known for his ability to groom quarterbacks. He did it at Oregon and did it at Cal. Recently, he’s been unable to accomplish his trademark with the likes of Nate Longhsore, Kevin Riley, and now a slightly struggling Zach Maynard having been average. Maynard has looked great against the likes of Colorado and Presbyterian, but against Fresno State and Washington his passer rating didn’t cross the 130 mark.
Keenan Allen, a former star recruit, is the go to guy in the offense. Through four games he has 30 receptions for 498 yards and three touchdowns, with his longest reception being 90 yards. Isi Sofele is the workhorse running back, operating mostly behind a fullback, and has carried the rock 79 times, for 380 yards, 5.8 yards per carry, and four touchdowns.
Last year Oregon’s offense was stifled by the “key to beating Oregon’s offense,” the cover 0. It’s when you have all the secondary players bump and run the receivers, have a strong safety spy Darron Thomas, and crowd the line of scrimmage. Oregon couldn’t gain separation from receivers, which they have had problems with this year, and that caused the offense to fall apart. Darron Thomas also had some accuracy issues and didn’t keep the Cal defense honest and let them stack the box and stop the rushing game.
To anyone who thinks that the Cover 0 is a novel approach just made up, you’re totally wrong. You’re like the coach in All The Right Moves (starring Tom Cruise) where he comes up with the 8-3 formation and saying, “Will it work?” Yeah it’ll work, it’s called stacking the box. The cover 0 is also known as playing fundamental football. Let me tell you this, if you can box the receivers out and stay on their hips and win the line of scrimmage, you’re going to win. You basically took out every look the offense had. It’s not a secret, it’s not science, its fundamental football. If that is just the best way to beat Oregon because the receivers are lagging then fair point, because Cal didn’t use it against many other teams. But if we’re thinking this is a new system, it’s not. It’s basic football strategy.
Oregon has played very well since the game at LSU (which they still played well in, LSU just looks that good) but has only played an Arizona team that is 1-9 in its last ten games, with its only win over FCS Northern Arizona. Cal has played a slightly tougher schedule in terms of quantity of quality teams, playing Fresno State, Colorado, and Washington. Let’s take a look at some advanced stats provided by Football Outsiders to look at the teams.
Oregon ranks fourth overall in the country in offensive S&P+, behind Michigan, Wisconsin, and Alabama. They have s score of 133.2. Cal is all the way down at 69, the bottom half of the country with Mississippi State, Bowling Green, Ohio State (who just finished throwing up all over itself against Michigan State), and Fresno State. They have a score of 99.8.
The key for the Cal defense is going to be to make Oregon get in to passing downs. 2nd and longer than five or 3rd and longer than three will force Oregon to do something it’s not comfortable doing, passing when the defense knows they’re going to pass. The passing down S&P+ for Oregon is 44th in the country. Getting Oregon to pass on long downs could be tough though, as Oregon is statistically the best team in the country on standard downs. Even more surprising to me is that Oregon has the seventh best passing S&P+ with a score of 156.9 and the fifth best rushing attack with a score of 164. I’ve expressed concern over the receivers, but apparently the lack of a go to guy or two guys who are consistently good haven’t hurt the Ducks… yet. Oregon has been remarkably well balanced so far this season on the offensive side of the ball, and as long as they can stay balanced and don’t have to play from behind or gain a lot of yards at once, they’re deadly.
If I’m defensive coordinator Nick Allioti, I’m probably only going to play with one safety deep,
John Boyett, and bring Eddie Pleasant up the box to help stop the run. Cal ranks 104th in rushing S&P+ with a score of 81.5. That’s pretty bad. I would force Cal to throw, which they rank only 57th in. Cal’s offense has survived this year on big plays. On standard downs the Bears are ranked 98th, and when they are on passing downs they rank 102nd in offensive production. Oregon needs to limit explosion plays and let Cal take care of themselves and make mistakes. I don’t think Cal can put together a 12-16-play drive for a touchdown.
The defensive stats have not been updated yet in terms of passing down defense and standard down defense, but the overall stats have been updated. Oregon ranks 17th in the nation with a score of 120.2. Cal comes in at 38th with a score of 108.7. They are in the same ballpark as San Diego State and SMU, which have given up their fair share of points.
If I’m Oregon I’m going to stack the box and force Zach Maynard to beat us. On offense I’m going to pound away using a lot of inside zone reads to open up play action passes for the receivers. Cal’s 3-4 defense puts a lot of speed on the field and on the edge, so I think Oregon will move away from the outside zone read plays that tend to sweep to the outside and go with more linear looks. I expect to see a lot more of the TZR plays that give a triple option look and second pitchman. Motion could be used a lot on the game to mess up Cal defensive assignments and to allow Darron Thomas to see what the defense is doing. Whatever Oregon does, I don’t think this game will be that close.
Oregon 47, Cal 17.