There is no way around it. Oregon is the better team and it played true throughout the night as the Oregon Ducks pulled away early from the California Golden Bears.
It was great opening drive for the Bears despite a disappointing finish, settling for a field goal on a drive lasting 15 plays and nearly half the quarter. Once again, we saw Chase Garbers start with Brandon McIlwain mixed in toward the end. A few passes, some solid run-blocking, and a pair of QBs quick to take off led to a successful drive left unfinished deep in Oregon territory. 3–0 Cal
Then it was Oregon’s turn. The Ducks turned in a solid drive capped by an 30-yard dime from Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert to TE Kano Dillon despite great coverage from OLB Alex Funches. It was one of those throws that made you realize this potential Oregon let-down spot may not hold true as this team has one of the finest quarterbacks in the country. 7–3 Oregon
One play later, Garbers took a shot downfield looking for Kanawai Noa and it was intercepted by Oregon’s standout coverage safety Ugo Amadi; the ball was poorly underthrown. The Bears defense, however, stood its ground deep in its own territory, forcing a punt to start a Cal drive at its own 10.
END OF 1ST
The Bears were destined for a 3-and-out until a bonehead penalty by Ducks CB Haki Woods after a third-down stop provided new life for the Bears. Cal took advantage with McIlwain impressing on the drive—he completed a 24-yard pass to Noa and had a big-time 28-yard run for a touchdown a few plays later. 10–7 Cal
The Ducks responded with a run-dominated drive of their own. The Bears did a nice job until an over-pursuit from the Cal back-seven led to a 45-yard touchdown for Travis Dye, the little brother of Oregon All-Conference LB Troy Dye. 14–10 Oregon
The Bears continued to mix and match at QB and the drive ended with a three-and-out. The Ducks pounced on this with a few big-time completions capped by a 36-yard touchdown to Dillon Mitchell, who beat the Bears’ standout CB Camryn Bynum. Mitchell dominated the Stanford secondary last week and was back at it again. 21–10 Oregon
Both teams punted on their next series, but Cal’s Vic Wharton took advantage surprising the Ducks by not calling for a fair catch and returning the punt 35 yards to midfield. A couple nice scrambles by McIlwain had Cal fans on their feet until the play that sent some home early. McIlwain did not see pressure coming over the left guard Kamryn Bennett, was sacked by Drayton Carlberg, and coughed up a fumble that was returned 61 yards by Lamar Winston. 28–10 Oregon—the turning point in the game.
END OF HALF
The Ducks first play from scrimmage of the second half went 74 yards on a gashing run play by C.J. Verdell; shortly after, the ball was punched in for a touchdown to put Oregon ahead 35–10. This was by far the best offensive line that Cal has faced this season and they, along with their talented young running backs, made their presence known.
Cal’s response was admirable and it was Chase Garbers behind the Patrick Laird running game resulting in a Cal touchdown. 35–17. The Bears did a nice job up front tonight opening up holes for Laird who took the lion’s share of the carries partially due to the injury of Marcel Dancy.
Then came some signs of life. Cal’s defense was unwilling to quit and it was Jordan Kunaszyck forcing a Travis Dye fumble recovered by Rusty Becker. The Bears had some juice and sent in Garbers to deliver the goods. It did not turn out as planned as Garbers threw his second INT of the night to freshman safety Jevon Holland in the end zone.
Herbert led a balanced drive behind his stout OL, but the Ducks failed to record points on a missed 41-yard field goal by Adam Stack.
Cal then gave the nod to McIlwain, who led another impressive drive. He frequently demonstrated his dynamic running ability and willingness to take on contact. This drive, however, stalled on the Oregon 1-yard line with Cal electing to go for it on fourth down. The Bears came up empty on a zone read and the Ducks got the ball back, sucking the life out of Memorial Stadium.
End of 3rd
The Ducks started to work the clock running the ball frequently on the next drive. The Ducks were forced to punt but pinned Cal back on their own 3-yard line.
Next came a very encouraging drive as McIlwain complemented his run game with some nice passes. The drive covered the length of the field and ended in a fade touchdown pass to Jordan Duncan. At this point, Cal fans began to murmur that McIlwain might be the new starter. 35–24 Oregon.
Once again, despite nothing coming easy, Cal’s defense came to fight and forced a three-and-out to provide a glimmer of hope
The Bears once again went with McIlwain, but his inexperience and inaccuracy as a passer led to a poorly-thrown ball intercepted by Amadi and returned for Oregon’s second defensive touchdown of the night. 42–24 Oregon. McIlwain followed this with another interception after getting deep into Oregon territory with the game already out of reach.
The Bears really need to figure out the QB situation. Neither Garbers nor McIlwain demonstrated a consistent ability to make any throws beyond their first read and elected to scramble at the first sign of trouble. Garbers particularly had a rough night and there were signs that the coaching staff may begin to lean toward McIlwain. McIlwain is a very impressive runner in the open field and takes on contact like a running back. His inexperience and inaccuracy as a passer, however, makes you wonder if Ross Bowers will get an opportunity to reclaim his starting spot.
Elsewhere, Cal fans should feel pretty good about their offensive line play. This group is not stellar, but is certainly improved from 2017 and did a nice job establishing the run game. The skill players are not incredibly dynamic, but they are solid. Lack of depth at running back was once again evident given the absence of injured Marcel Dancy, but Laird played very well and the WRs made some plays. The offensive play will ultimately be determined by the quarterback play and Cal is at a crossroads of where it wants to go in that regard.
It is admirable the way the defense fought to keep them in the game, but this was not a strong performance. This was the kind of game that separates itself from the Sonny Dykes era in that the wheels did not fall off for the defense partially because the pace of play on both sides was not very fast. This means there were fewer possessions and Cal’s starters took a greater majority of the snaps. Even so, Oregon got the better of this stout Cal defense. WR Dillon Mitchell made plays against this heralded secondary and Justin Herbert is as good as any quarterback in the country. Added to that is one of the best offensive lines in the conference and plenty of other skill players who can make you pay. The Cal defense battled, but this was not a great outing.
Ultimately, it was a disappointing night for the Cal Bears that will knock them out of the Top 25. This team needs to decide on its offensive identity moving forward if it expects to compete in games like this. Cal was coming off a bye while Oregon was off a devastating overtime loss and the Bears could not take any advantage. The only bright spot from this game was that nobody appeared to be injured. Stud ILB Evan Weaver went down, but returned two plays later. That is about it in terms of bright spots. Cal has a big one in Tucson next week at Arizona. Very winnable game in a location Cal has not won at in a long time. I think these guys will get it done, but I am interested to see how they handle this QB situation.