1. If Cal can keep DeForest Buckner in check (big if!), is there anybody else on Oregon's line that can reliably get to the quarterback? And how do you see Oregon's pass rush matching up against Cal's pass protection?
Rusty_Ryan11: Alex Balducci, the noseguard, has gotten a lot of success recently rushing up the middle. I think it says a lot, not positive, about our pass rush when our noseguard gets some of the best pressure. Tyson Coleman has thus far been our best linebacker and he forced a fumble against Arizona State by getting blindside pressure. Buckner's backup made some plays when Buckner had to have an injury tended to in the third quarter of the Arizona State game.
To be honest, I haven't spent enough time watching Cal's pass protection. The best defense for Oregon's pass rush isn't to have extra blockers. The better route is to use screens and quick passes out into space so that the pass rush is virtually negated because they don't' have nearly enough time to even get pressure on the quarterback. Oregon doesn't do anything exotic with blitzing so there's nothing too much to have to figure out post-snap.
Matt Takimoto: Christian French is the next in line in the Dion Jordan super tall TE converted to edge rusher (DJSTTECTER) position, and he'll get after Jared Goff from the other side. And Henry Mondeaux is a name to watch as well, true sophomore who's had some good moments thus far this year.
2. Oregon special teams have been a net positive while Cal special teams have been a net negative. What areas in particular should Cal fans be worried about?
Rusty_Ryan11: Charles Nelson and Bralon Addison in the return game. They are both extremely fast and can make cuts quickly. They each have a return for a touchdown this year and have had a few other moments where they almost took a return to the house.
Matt Takimoto: Charles Nelson will score a special teams touchdown on Saturday night. He tries hard to keep things fair, but sometimes he can't help it.
For the first time in forever, Oregon also has a reliable kicker! Ian Wheeler is steady and dependable, and as a fanbase we're almost to the point where we expect kicks to go in. It's weird.
3. Weather forecasts indicate that rain is very likely Saturday night. Do you think weather is likely to be a meaningful factor in this game? And if so, which team would the weather favor?
Rusty_Ryan11: I don't think it will be meaningful. Oregon probably has more experience playing in the rain but when both teams have a time to prepare for rain then I don't believe it becomes a factor. The only time rain has been a factor was the last time our two teams met, which was during a legit monsoon. I was at the game and it was not the most enjoyable experience I've ever had at a Duck game.
Matt Takimoto: Any rain that happens Saturday night will pale in comparison to the 2013 monsoon, so it won't be anything Jared Goff hasn't seen in Autzen Stadium. I think a slopfest would slightly favor Oregon because Royce Freeman is a bowling ball in any weather.
4. Vernon Adams: Dude made some crazy plays against Arizona State. What's the best defense to slow him down? Making him read a defense with 7 or 8 in the secondary? Giving him blitzes to read? Trying to not let him get out of the pocket?
Rusty_Ryan11: Don't let Vernon Adams extend plays. Our offensive line did a great job in pass protection and Adams did an amazing job feeling pressure but he's slippery in the pocket when teams try to make plays. With seven and eight guys in coverage it just gives him tons of time to keep plays going. Arizona State's blitzes got to Adams but he kept escaping because of poor discipline in pursuit. If tacklers come in under control rather than coming in too fast trying to make a play then they have much better success. Against Washington Adams' huge plays were from extended plays. By telling the outside rushers to not get higher than Vernon Adams you can limit any escapes sideways out of the pocket and if you bring linebackers hard up the middle you could have a much better time getting to Adams.
Matt Takimoto: Vernon Adams seems to thrive on chaos, and sometimes looks like he's creating it on purpose for his own enjoyment. Cal's defense has to wrap up and tackle him the first time if they get to him. If he slips that first tackler and gets to run around a bit and throw players open, big plays happen.
5. Oregon has played below expectations this year. If you were apportioning blame, how would you split it up between coaches, the players/talent and any other factors you can think of (for example, plain old bad luck).
Rusty_Ryan11: It's great that you ask this question because the answer changes every week. In my personal opinion I don't see the leadership within the team as being incredibly strong. Obviously, missing Mariota is huge and people might be wondering why there's such a big drop off and the answer is because all of the backup quarterbacks transferred. Four and five star QB prospects transferred out after one to two years. When our starting quarterback is a former local walk-on the offense isn't going to be excellent. On defense the front seven has been extremely disappointing.
Many people, inaccurately, blame the defensive coordinator for the struggles. There's only so much you can do when no one blitzing can beat their guy. Buckner and Coleman get doubled whenever they blitz and the other three rushers can't beat their guy one on one so there really isn't any reason to blitz when you have to send six or more guys to get any pressure. But the pass rush has improved. The secondary has been the strength and Cal will most likely shred our linebackers on the underneath routes. The Oregon defense is something like 97th in defensive efficiency.
But there's really only so much that can be done on defense when tackling is average at its best and atrocious at its worst, and when guys in the front seven can't shed blockers while rushing the passer or defending the run. It's not really a scheme issue or play calling issue at that point, it's about execution at an individual level and when the front seven is almost all seniors there are really no excuses as to why these guys shouldn't already have these skills down or have improved on them as the season goes on but they still allowed over 6 yards a carry against Arizona State. Hence, referring to my leadership on a player level within the team.
Matt Takimoto: The lack of innovation is what is most striking to me. The hallmark of Oregon's rise to elite college football status was being two steps ahead of the rest of the country in terms of new ideas and schemes. The rest of the country has caught up, and Marcus Mariota isn't around to out-talent teams anymore. Now when Oregon does something different, it seems gimmicky and desperate (Wildcat, WR passes, etc.) A change at offensive or/and defensive coordinator after the season wouldn't shock me (though I think if Scott Frost leaves it'll be because he's taken a head coaching job)
6. Were you given the opportunity to punch a person in the face, whom would you select for the honor?
Rusty_Ryan11: I'm under the impression that the PAC-12 office has not been the biggest fan of ATQ at times so I won't mention specifics but in any situations where there's a few public figures you can always identify the beef based on which figure has never been liked by a fan base. If you take that frame of mind it's pretty easy. Take your guesses to the comments.
Matt Takimoto: Former Washington point guard and bag of garbage Ryan Appleby. That's usually my answer.
7. What would you attribute Oregon's below-average pass defense to?
Rusty_Ryan11: Linebackers. Basically piggy-backing on my overly-extensive answer above. The secondary has done very will not giving up passes downfield and not getting beat deep. The underneath routes and 5-10 yard passes downfield are what have been destroying the Ducks' defense.
Matt Takimoto: Youth, lack of player development, bad defensive playcalling, bad offensive fluidity that keeps the defense on the field a long time, and probably Donald Trump.
8. It's been a long six years that we've been denizens of ATQ South, and this is the most vulnerable Oregon has looked during that span. How concerned are you about our uprising, conquest, and re-establishment of CGB North?
Rusty_Ryan11: Extremely concerned. Cal's passing attack is a great matchup against our defense. Cal has the potential to throw over 500, maybe 600 yards. I mean that with all seriousness. Put trips out to the right, send them deep, and have one receiver sneak out into the flat and that look will go for yards all day. The last few weeks though have given some optimism to the Oregon defense. They've shown they can get to the quarterback multiple times a game and that they can capitalize off offensive mistakes. I'm of the mindset that turnovers are always offensive mistakes and now Oregon seems to have been able to take advantage of mistakes. Maybe that bodes well after two of the last three Cal games.
Maybe the bigger tell is the Oregon offense. Royce Freeman isn't of this earth and has notably more yards after contact and more broken tackles than Leonard Fournette has this year. Bralon Addison has been a dynamic threat on offense and having Darren Carrington back brings a go-to receiver into the fold that Adams has really been connecting with.
I honestly view this game as a total toss-up. I was genuinely surprised when I saw Oregon was favored by five points. I can easily see Cal's offense being basically perfect. I can see Oregon's defense forcing one or two turnovers to get the win. There are a ton of different scenarios that I think are all equally likely. Don't take this the wrong way but we beat Washington this year and held them off for a twelfth year in a row so I'm pretty much fine with anything this season. They're the enemy. I went to the Cal game in 2012 and you guys were awesome.
Matt Takimoto: Very concerned. Goff, Lawler, Treggs, Anderson, and the thousand others against one of the worst secondaries in human history is frightening. If the weather allows, Goff will throw for 1000 yards. They may still lose, because Vernon Adams can pull touchdowns out of nowhere. This game will be a volcanic eruption, and I have no idea what will be standing when the dust settles.