The leaves are changing, the days shortening, and the weather is cooling as autumn befalls the Pacific Northwest and the Bears are traveling to Eugene for their second conference game of the season. Let’s take a look at the Oregon defense and how Cal can claim victory in their first bout with Pac 12 After Dark.
2017 Defensive Highlights (To-Date)
Previous Opponents : Southern Utah (77-21), Nebraska (42-35), Wyoming (49-13), Arizona State (35-37)
Total Yards Allowed: 1,398 (467 rush, 931 pass)
Sacks: 5 (27 yards)
Opponent 3rd Down Conversions: 18-67 (26.9%)
Oregon really had no where to go but up after a disappointing defensive campaign (saying that comrade to comrade) in 2016 relative to their playoff-level performances in previous seasons. Though this year has given glimmers of hope for the fans of the O as the defense has yielded a couple decent outings, the Ducks remain vulnerable in several key positions.
The most noticeable defensive component Oregon’s previous opponents have keyed in on is the young secondary. Arizona State and, especially, Nebraska exploited the relatively untested defensive backs to pull out the first win against the Ducks since 2004 (ASU) and stage a massive second-half comeback (Nebraska). Quarterbacks have been especially keen on targeting freshman cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. (5-10, 189), who has made some admittedly rookie mistakes (see missed tackle against ASU’s N’Keal Harry). I would not say, however, that the Ducks’ secondary is made of Swiss cheese. With 7 interceptions on the season credited to the Oregon D, Ross will have to be more careful with the ball if we want to avoid a repeat of the 4th quarter (I don’t even have to say which 4th quarter, you just know the one).
Moving to the D-Line and linebackers, Oregon appears to be feast or famine. Be on the lookout for Jalen Jelks (6-6, 245) and Troy Dye (6-4, 224), who have both recorded solid performances throughout this season. With the help from Jelks and Dye, the Duck defense has been able to pressure opposing quarterbacks well, which Ross Bowers...has some trouble with at times. However, with a freshman nose guard Austin Faoliu (6-3, 289), Laird and company may have some luck punching it up the gut (as seen successfully done by both ASU and Nebraska).
Keys to Cal’s Success
Forget the last 15 minutes of football you played. Chalk it up to whatever you want, whether it’s the fumble at the goal line, the missed FG, the plethora of interceptions, or USC Jedi mind tricks, but just move on. The Ducks are coming off their own disappointing loss to a team with red and yellow jerseys and will be looking to rebound. The Bears need to play with the swagger that we saw in the first three quarters against $C and maximize offensive opportunities.
That leads me to my second key: convert. The theme of the last two games for the Bears’ offense has been “missed opportunities.” Our propensity to go 3-and-out after an outstanding defensive stand or turnover ceases to amaze me. Improved as our defense may be, our offense needs to take advantage.
Finally, focus on the game. Autzen after dark can be daunting, especially to a young quarterback like Bowers. It is easy to see the weird-looking duck feather helmets and think of the Oregon’s of yesteryear. But these Bears can beat the Ducks. They’ve proven they can hold their own against a potential playoff team, now they just need to deliver.
In asking my cousin, a longtime and die-hard Ducks fan, his thoughts on the game, he left me with an answer worthy of the famous (infamous?) Cal self-deprecation: “Saturday I expect to see drives where Cal completely dismantles them [Oregon defense] and other drives where the Oregon defense does just enough to get off the field.” I would agree.
Vegas has given the edge to Oregon, but I argue the game will not be so cut and dry. Both teams have the potential for dominating defensive performances and electric scoring drives. In the end, it will be the team whose defense can capitalize on unforced offensive errors who will come out with the win.
What are your thoughts? How will the Golden Bear offense perform in Autzen?