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Cal run game and offensive line collapse in 45-24 loss in Oregon

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Cal falls to the injury-ridden Ducks

NCAA Football: California at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Well, let’s get this over with.

Expectations were still high for the Bears as they came off their disappointing loss at the hands of USC in which they were stride-for-stride through three quarters. However, the Ducks would strike quickly, shooting to a 17–0 lead in the first quarter that would ultimately be too much for Cal to overcome.

Offense

Total Yards: 263 (255 pass, 8 rush)

Yards per Play: 3.7

3rd Down Efficiency: 4–18 (1–3 on 4th-down opportunities)

Turnovers: 2 fumbles, 0 INT

Eight yards of rushing in a game. Single digits. 24 feet. Like the distance between my front door and my kitchen. Geez. Granted, if you discount Bowers’ -32 yards from the totals, we have a whopping 40 yards of rushing. But even then, you don’t win games in the Pac-12 North gaining only 40 yards on the ground. As anticipated, Jalen Jelks and the rest of the Oregon D-Line held up and prevented much of anything up the gut. It also didn’t help our cause that our offensive line did little to assert themselves properly throughout the game. Let’s just move on to the passing game.

On paper, Ross Bowers had a more-than-decent game. He was 23/41, 255 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT. That is...when he wasn’t getting sacked 7 times for an infuriating 40 yards. However, the stats definitely do not tell the whole story. The Cal offense appeared timid throughout the game, offering little confidence to a fanbase jaded by years of underperformance in Eugene.

As a lifelong Cal fan, it can be easy for me to focus entirely on the game negatives (which definitely outweighed the positives against U of O), but we should give credit where credit is due. The Bears were able to claw back to within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, which recent Cal teams have been unable to accomplish in Autzen. Additionally, Bowers avoided recording any picks following a game where it felt like he may have confused the objectively gross-colored USC jerseys with the elegant blue and gold. If it sounds like I’m grasping at straws to compliment our offense, you wouldn’t be too far off. Oh, and Matt Anderson made a field goal! There’s something else!

Defense

Yards Allowed: 459 (131 pass, 328 rush)

Oppponent 3rd Down Efficiency: 6–14 (43%)

Turnovers: 1 INT

Following the early exit of Royce Freeman due to injury, I was hopeful Cal’s spotty run defense would be able to play contain and force Justin Herbert to step up. And when Herbert left the field in the first half, I was again optimistic the Bears’ pass defense would be able to handle a backup QB thrust into a conference matchup. Yet, somehow, we fell apart. Kani Benoit more than stepped up in Freeman’s absence and Taylor Alie played the way you would want your back-up to play.

Devante Downs continued his season-long trend of solid linebacker play—recording 8 tackles—but it was Jordan Kunaszyk who provided the surprising performance of the game. He accounted for 9 tackles and an interception for 53 yards at the end of the second quarter that set up the touchdown heading into half. Add on Alex Funches’ 2 tackles for loss and those stats would normally account for a solid defensive effort by the Bears.

Alas, it was not so. Cal was unable to shut down the big-yardage rushes that also hurt them against the Trojans, allowing the Ducks to break open the game in the fourth quarter. Benoit’s 68-yard dash with about 10 minutes to go in the fourth would mark the beginning of the end for the Bears. Downs and company would eventually yield two more touchdowns (one of which was a short-yardage situation spurred on by a turnover) to put the nail in the coffin.

Final Thoughts

The Bears have a grueling schedule upcoming. Next week, they face Washington in Seattle and then Wazzu on a Friday in Berkeley. If Cal is going to win both or either of these games, they are going to need to limit the big plays on defense and bring more consistency on offense. Each side of the ball showed glimpses of hope for the Bears against Oregon, but they were unable to close it out. I remain firm in my hope that we can beat both the Huskies and the Cougars, but it comes down to learning from these losses against skilled opponents and applying those lessons tangibly in the upcoming matchups.