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Know your enemy: Previewing the Oregon Ducks offense

Quack, Quack, Quack

NCAA Football: Oregon at Arizona State Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Continuing the season series of which elite quarterback Cal will play this week, the Bears face rising star Justin Herbert and the Oregon Ducks. Herbert had his breakout game last season against the Bears and for those of you with short memories, he did nearly all of his damage in the second half. One year later, Herbert has established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the country. Take a look at his season to date below:

  • 1,178 passing yards (18th in the country)
  • 169.8 passer rating (13th in the country)
  • 10.0 yards per attempt (7th in the country)
  • 66.9 completion percentage (21st in the country)

Herbert also presents a unique challenge for the Bears as he has the ability to make plays with his legs as well as his arm. In the 2017 season to date, Herbert has carried the ball 28 times for 109 yards and two scores. The upcoming Saturday assignment for the Cal defense should yet again test just how far the Bears have come under Justin Wilcox.

The Bears have done a good job thus far containing explosive quarterbacks, slowing down the Shea Patterson hype train and Sam Darnold. Each of them are capable runners and Darnold in particular is one of the best quarterbacks in the country at escaping the pocket.

Saturday’s matchup depends heavily on the Bears ability to put pressure on Herbert early and often. This past weekend against Arizona State, Herbert struggled with his accuracy completing just over 50% of his passes. While Arizona State’s defense is known for the pressure they put on opposing quarterbacks, they don’t exactly have the most intimidating reputation. On the other hand, the Bears secondary has proven themselves to be much improved and if Alex Funches and company can get pressure on Herbert, the Ducks offense has the potential to struggle mightily.

2017 Season to Date

It’s hard to understand which Oregon team is going to show up Saturday. The Ducks have played two “gimme” games in the form of Southern Utah and Wyoming. Their third game was against a Nebraska team at home that should have been a better test than it appears it was, with Mike Riley’s team losing to North Illinois the week after the Oregon victory.

At first glance, Royce Freeman was the standout performer from each of those games and has been as dominant as he has ever been this year.

Game 1: Southern Utah

23 carries, 150 yards, 4 touchdowns

Game 2: Nebraska

29 carries, 153 yards, 2 touchdowns

Game 3: Wyoming

30 carries, 157 yards, 3 touchdowns

Game 4: Arizona State

15 carries, 81 yards, 1 touchdown

After looking into the Ducks opponents it is harder to trust Freeman’s statistics entirely. Wyoming is 104th in the country in rush yards allowed per game and Southern Utah isn’t ranked in the top 25 of the FCS. Nebraska is Oregon’s saving grace, currently standing at 29th in the country in rush yards allowed per game. Yet the list of teams Nebraska has played outside of Oregon shouldn’t scare anyone (Arkansas State, Norther Illinois and Rutgers).

Statistics aside, Royce Freeman is absolutely the player to watch outside of Herbert come Saturday. All Cal fans are well aware of the talent he possesses and the Bears defense have their hands full trying to stop a fairly well balanced offensive attack.

Reuniting Justin Wilcox and Justin Herbert

If you haven’t read the Oregon Live piece that talks about the friendship between Justin Wilcox and Justin Herbert it is a great way to spend five minutes getting ready for this weekend’s game. The article covers Wilcox/Herbert family backyard football games and fast forwards to present day where Justin Herbert still looks to Wilcox as a mentor.

What to Expect Come Saturday

Taggart is a run first, pass second coach dating back to his days at South Florida which makes Freeman’s 15 carries against Arizona State all that more puzzling. Expect Taggart to lean into this running game this week in Eugene, particularly if it rains in Autzen as forecasted.

One of the more exciting matchup’s to watch Saturday will be observing the defensive looks Tim DeRuyter uses against Herbert. In Taggart’s offense, the quarterback is often tasked with reading the defense for the run plays. Cal’s defense has been spectacular at changing looks on the quarterback, successfully getting Sam Darnold to bite multiple times last weekend. One misread in particular ended up in a Josh Drayden interception.

Look for Cal to apply the pressure on the Ducks early and make a similar statement as they did against USC. The Bears defense has made a tradition of slowing down high powered offenses this season to date and Oregon will be no small task.