Cal’s defense did a number on the Oregon offense last year, and we already covered how Cal did that here, so now it’s time to see if Cal will do that again. Everything starts and ends with Cal’s ability to win the battle along the line, and by extension, stopping LaMichael James.
I say that because stopping the run forces Oregon to the air, which requires Darron Thomas to execute; something he has gotten a lot better at since last year’s visit to Memorial Stadium.
Cal runs a 3-4, parallel to their DC Pendergast’s forte (duh). They boast a very talented front seven, starting with Trevor Guyton, Kendrick Payne, and Ernest Owusu along the defensive line. All three of them are upperclassmen, and adding another end in Deandre Coleman and Emmy award nominee Aaron Tipoti to the rotation only proves that this is a high motor, efficient defensive line that can plug the middle against the best of opponents.
Equally important is the linebacking corps. Lead by Sr. ILB Mychal Kendricks, this group is very dynamic and will make things tough on Thursday. D.J. Holt is the other ILB while Ryan Davis and Dan Camporeale hold down the outside. Next guy in on the outside is most likely true Freshman Cecil Whiteside who leads the team in sacks with 2. Also in the mix are David Wilkerson and Nick Forbes.
Oregon will need to face 4 elite defensive fronts this fall: LSU, Cal, ASU, and Stanford. And this time, against a defense that is 9th in the nation in rush defense at 78 YPG, Oregon will need to prove its running game in a big way.
If things go as planned for the Bears, they’ll need to rely on their defensive backs to play great man coverage.
Mirroring Darron (assuming Cal will go with their Cover 0 scheme) will be Sean Cattouse, a senior safety with fantastic ball skills and athleticism. He’ll need to cover a lot of ground against the run and pass this week much like Chris Conte did last year. Manning up the rest of the receivers will be D.J. Campbell another safety, along with Steve Williams and Marc Anthony on the corners.
Conte and Hagan left big shoes to fill last season, and with teams now shifting away from the run as Cal continues to prove it is a force in the box, the secondary has taken a big dip in numbers, ranking 78th in pass defense nationally, and was absolutely shredded by Keith Price from UW. Darron will need to be on his game, and if he is, Oregon will get into a groove quickly.
One thing that harmed Oregon last year was pressure on the QB, and Cal is equipped to put a lot of pressure on the QB with effective blitzes from the outside.
Cal’s defense is 9th in the nation in sacks, but a closer look indicates that 11 of their 13 sacks came either against an FCS team, or against Fresno State, who lost their starting center early in the game. None the less, the Cal front 7 has picked up the slack left by Cameron Jordan (currently on the Saints’ roster).
On offense, things have changed. Out goes Riley and Mansion, in comes Maynard at QB. Maynard is an efficient, athletic QB with 10 TDs and 3 INTs. Maynard threw for over 300 yards against UW (90 on one play), and came up clutch in their victory against PAC 12 bottom dweller Colorado earlier this season. In only his 5th start for Cal, Autzen Stadium will be loud, as always, and try to get him out of rhythm early, and break up a relatively inconsistent passing game. It wouldn’t be the first time a young QB got rattled by the “Zoo.”
Maynard will have a lot of solid targets to get the ball to. Keenen Allen is his favorite target, with 30 catches, 498 yards, and 3 TD’s, he’s tied for number 7 in the nation. Next is Marvin Jones with 23 catches, 375 yards and 3 TDs on the season. Both are remarkably athletic, and definite NFL candidates.
In the backfield is Iso Sofele, a deceiving, quick back that can get lost behind the offensive line. Covaugh DeBoskie-Johnson is his complement, a more powerful back. Cal’s running game is running behind a big offensive line that is one of the best in the conference, averaging over 290 pounds. Highlighting that bunch is Mitchell Schwartz, one of the elite tackles in the conference if not the nation.
Oregon will get another challenge defensively in this game. Expect their run defense to be tested, perhaps even struggle early. The key will be to use the crowd and find ways to force Cal into uncomfortable situations, like 3rd and long, and force Maynard to make the right calls and execute in a hostile environment.
On offense, the Ducks (more specifically Darron Thomas) have been waiting for a long time to prove that the Cover 0 gimmick can’t slow down the ever evolving offense. This year, Oregon is equipped with quick, jet like receivers that can outrun linebackers while in the slot. If Thomas executes, he’ll force Cal out of the Cover 0 and Oregon dominates. If he doesn’t, it may be another grinder.
My money is on Darron.