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California Golden Bears vs. No. 1 Oregon Ducks

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In-game threads
First quarter thread | Second quarter thread | Third quarter thread | Fourth quarter thread

This is the pregame thread for Cal football discussion only. To talk about other games, check out the early/late games thread by scrolling down or clicking here.
The California Golden Bears will take on the Oregon Ducks in a game approximately no one expects them to win. The Ducks have hovered from around 19.5 to 20 point favorites this week, and they bring a complete and healthy squad that has scored at least 42 points in each of their games, and has notched the 50 point mark in six contests. They will have their hands full on Saturday.

Game info

Time: 4:30 PM PT/7:30 PM ET
Weather: Temperature dropping from around 65 degrees Fahrenheit to 57 degrees by 8 PM, winds of about 2 to 3 MPH WNW/NNW; clear skies and 0% chance of rain.
TV: Versus HD (this game will also be available in 3-D).
Radio: KGO 810 AM (San Francisco), KESP 970 AM (Modesto), KGIL 1260 AM (Los Angeles), KPRZ 1210 AM (San Diego), KTKZ 1380 AM (Sacramento), KALX 90.7 FM (Cal Student radio, which has an online stream)
Gametracker: Click here
Streams: Post in the quarter threads

Injury report (via SBN Bay Area)
Oregon:
Nate Costa (out for season), Jeff Maehl (questionable, shoulder injury)
Cal: Kevin Riley & Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson (out for season), Derrick Hill (questionable, shoulder), Keith Browner and Kendrick Payne (unofficially questionable), D.J. Holt, Mike Mohamed and Keenan Allen (probable, officially and unofficially).

After the jump, we review all the material you should know before today's game.

Nick Aliotti's Oregon Defense:

Statistics:

Run defense: 3.38 yards per carry (20th in the nation) & 126.6 yards per game (34th in the nation), 1.97 yards per carry in the red zone (24th in the country; Cal by contrast is next-to-last).

Pass defense: 26 sacks (8th in the nation), 202.4 passing yards per game (39th in the nation), 5.5 pass yards per attempt (3rd in the nation), 54.7 completion percentage (19th in the nation), 15 interceptions (tied for 6th in the nation), 8 touchdowns (tied for 8th in the nation).

Misc defense: Only 64% of possessions end in scores (4th in the nation), 28 total turnovers, adding in the 13 fumbles forced by the Ducks (2nd in the nation), 30.1% in 3rd down conversions (8th in the nation), 69 tackles for loss (8th in the nation), 17.7 points per game (13th in the nation), 4.4 yards per play (7th in the nation).

Most impressive of all? Oregon has allowed 149 points in first halves of this season. They have shrunk that number to 48 in the second half. That's under six points a second half!

Scheme:

In the secondary, as the term suggests, Oregon is primarily a cover-1 team. They play as much, if not more, man coverage then any team. Only ocassionally, when they line up with 2-deep coverage, will they play a cover 2, mostly in passing situations. They put a lot of pressure on their corners to play man behind their blitzes. This allows Oregon to bring pressure, but also leaves them vulerable to big plays down the field. Teams can also rack off big run plays when they get to the second level.

Oregon also pretty explicitly telegraphs their coverages pre-snap. This is particularly true with their 8-man front. They have a 1-high safety and are pretty limited to playing man. This is shown, for example, in the clip above. When USC goes in motion, the CB follows. Then, when they go to their 2-high look, it is a fairly good bet that they are going to play zone.
In sum, Oregon plays an aggressive, blitz-happy style that puts a premium on attempting to confuse and overload the offense. The downside of this is that Oregon is vulnerable to getting caught leaving big gaps in the front and giving up big plays in the secondary.

Cal offense versus Oregon defense:

Ball control. It really all starts with this. Cal cannot afford many three-and-outs. Every time they get sent off the field, they put more pressure on the defense to make plays, and the defense has not handled added pressure very well this season. The Bears must run the ball and run the clock, and bleed away Oregon's possession opportunities. Ohio State won the Rose Bowl much in part to controlling the ball for nearly 70% of the game.

Quick-developing plays. During 42-3, Cal stubbornly stuck to slow-developing and predictable plays that got blown up over and over because the offensive line couldn't get in position and/or block their men. This made it harder for plays to succeed. So the key against Oregon will be to get the ball out quickly.

In the Ohio State victory over Oregon, there were several tricks the Buckeyes utilized, and many of them involved Pryor getting the ball out early to keep Aliotti's defense off-balance. BFA detailed the particular strategies the Buckeyes used to counter Oregon's man schemes.

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So we need to see plays that don't take much time, which will in turn pick up yards and increase the chances of moving the chains and the clock. Keeping the ball out of Oregon's hands for any extended stretch of time is a moral victory, and the first step toward getting to the end zone.

Chip Kelly's Oregon Offense:

Statistics:

Rushing offense: 307 rushing yards per game (4th), 6.33 rushing yards per carry (4th), 35 rushing touchdowns (T-1st), 47 tackles for loss allowed (42nd), 11 fumbles lost (107th).

Passing offense: 5 sacks allowed (tied for 7th), 260 passing yards per game (30th), 8.5 passing yards per attempt (tied for 20th), 63.8 completion rate (32nd), 23 passing touchdowns (tied for 9th), 6 interceptions (tied for 22nd), 158 passer rating (14th).

Total offense: 567 total yards per game (1st), 7.2 yards per play (tied for 5th), 27.9 first downs (1st), 54.7 points per game (1st), 65 touchdowns this season (1st), 48.78% on 3rd down conversions (19th), 87.76% red zone conversion rate (26th), 67.35% touchdown rate in the red zone (29th), 58.82% on 4th down conversions (40th), 179 plays of 10+ yards (4th), 60 plays of 20+ yards (tied for 3rd), 32 plays of 30+ yards (tied for 3rd), 20 plays of 40+ yards (tied for 1st).


Oregon scheme:

The bread-and-butter of the Oregon offense is the zone read. The Ducks will leave usually one man on the defensive line unblocked (usually the backside defensive end as pictured above). This gives the offensive linemen one less, and usually with the wide receivers/tight ends involving themselves in downfield blocking, eliminating one defender from the play if the read is executed right.

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Oregon's main staples are the inside and outside zone running plays. Again, for those who've forgotten, here's Chip Kelly explaining it a few years back.

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The first subtle advanced strand of Oregon's offense is the midline. Smart Football explains this evolved version of the zone read.

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[The second is the veer]. Why use the veer play over the typical zone read? The answer lies in the difference in the offensive line blocking. The zone read is usually a man blocking scheme, and last year Oregon's offensive line would've had a lot of trouble containing Cal's front three one-on-one (and they did, as a lot of Oregon's early runs got stuffed). With the veer, you can double-team the defensive ends (particularly Tyson Alualu last season) before moving to block out the linebackers, giving the running back just enough space to attack the available holes.

Oregon's up-pace tempo:

The obvious: A no-huddle offense that gets quickly to the ball gives a defense little time to read the offense's formation and get into position.The non-so obvious: A rapid snap gives a defense little or no time to get new personnel on the field, either to overcome exhaustion or to adapt personnel groupings as appropriate to the down and distance situation.

And more: a high paced offense that spreads the field forces a defense to reach deep into its depth for fresh players - players who may not be a skillful as the starters.

And even more: Because a defense has so little time to read the offense and adjust appropriately, and because plays are run in such quick succession, it appears that defenses get mentally worn down by the challenges being presented so quickly and so many times in a game. This may explain why teams that have been able to stay in the game with the Ducks will break down in the third and fourth quarters and surrender a lot of points.

And lastly: most defenses don't play at this tempo all season long - they play it just a few times a season - and cannot be as prepared for it as the Ducks offense is that plays it and practices it all year.

Cal defense vs. Oregon offense:

1) Three, four, five play drives by Oregon. We need a lot of these, scoring or non-scoring. Some of this will have to be planned, some of it will have to be luck. The pace is what kills defenses, not the touchdowns themselves. The longer the drives wear on, the sooner the defense will wear out (especially one as thin and as injured as ours). The Ducks need to be taken off the field early and often.

2) Forcing 3rd and longs. Buckeye Football Analysis (now our partners at SB Nation over at Along the Olentangy) has more on the last team to stop the Ducks offense, the Ohio St. Buckeyes.

3) Cal's defense has to play disciplined. For all the talk about the pace wearing down defensive personnel physically, it's the mental errors that eventually doom them to defeat. It's important for Cal to get stops early, maintain contain and keep Oregon off the field, or play for turnovers and make things harder for them.

There are so many different plays the Ducks can throw at their opponents that it'll be tough for the Golden Bears to figure out where to go. It's not going to be easy. The key will be putting Oregon in 3rd and long situations, whether through strong gap control or getting pressure on the quarterback early and often. It'll run some risk, but it's better than a slow fire roasting away our chances at victory as the Ducks keep on picking up the yards.

4) Even if all the following three things happen above, the offense has to play ball-control, which is an entirely different problem and independent of the defense. When Ohio State beat Oregon, they didn't engage in a shootout, but stretched the clock and were patient to pick up first downs and have long sustained scoring drives. The Buckeyes had the ball for nearly 70 percent of the game and Oregon's offense ran only 53 plays.