The end of the 2001-2002 Oregon season saw major changes in Eugene. Amidst the celebrations of a BCS Fiesta Bowl victory was the somewhat somber knowledge that some familiar faces would be leaving for brighter pastures; Joey Harrington on to the NFL, and offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford becoming the head coach at Cal topping the list of departures.
Tedford quickly molded Cal into a program eerily similar to the Ducks teams he had helped lead to great success, and proceeded to make life miserable for his former school almost immediately. Starting with the “Lights Out” game of 2003, to the monsoon of 2008, and other memorable battles in between, regardless of their overall record, Tedford’s Bears have usually made things tough on Oregon. Especially in Berkeley, where Cal has won three of the last four.
But today, these are programs headed in vastly different directions. Now the most tenured coach in the Pac-12, Tedford and company are limping through an ugly 3-7 season coming into Saturday, one that could very well prove to be Tedford’s last in Berkeley if the fan base is angry enough to pay the exuberantly large contract buyout to get rid of him.
Lacking a bye week all season, struggling with a string of injuries, and enigmatic play week-to-week, a cumulative 109 games had been missed by Cal players coming into Saturday; including missing their top tandem offensive weaponry in quarterback Zach Maynard and WR Keenan Allen.
It has been a year to forget for the Bears, as evidenced by the distinct lack of fan turnout by Cal fans last night, which appeared to be outnumbered slightly by Duck fans in the cold Saturday night. As one astounded local subway rider so eloquently put it while departing the Berkeley station packed with Oregon fans, “Man, Oregon always travels hella deep. It doesn’t matter where or who they’re playing, everywhere they go, they travel big.”
There would be no better signature for Tedford to save face on an otherwise dismal 2012 season, than here against mighty Oregon.
In contrast to Cal’s inconsistent performances in recent years, Oregon has all the makings of a four-peat conference champion – on pace to alter the record books with the expectation of being BCS bound. Anything short of another Pac-12 title and BCS berth would be a gross disappointment for these Ducks, now picked by nearly every pundit to play in the national title game following Alabama’s loss Saturday.
But always fear the team with nothing to lose, especially one like Cal that has proven to be a thorn in Oregon’s side under Tedford.
A massive remodel to Memorial Stadium aside, it seemed little could save Jeff Tedford from the grumbling of fans expecting more out of his program. Supposedly a quarterback guru, but lacking in any consistent play from the leadership position or his program since the days of Aaron Rodgers, Tedford needed a big performance from the Bears vs. Oregon Saturday to potentially save his job. What he got was something else, something all too familiar recently—an Oregon beatdown, but not without a twist of schadenfreude.
The final score was not unexpected, a 59-17 drubbing. Oregon, a 27-point favorite, appears to have quite possibly their most talented team ever, seemingly destined to reach Miami for the national title game. Still, they had to get past Cal, with Stanford and Oregon State remaining on the regular season docket, jockeying for position in the final polls as one of three North division teams vying for the top spot.
The last time Oregon visited Berkeley, the Bears nearly played the spoiler in another magical year with great expectations. Rolling over teams all season, Oregon escaped with a 15-13 win in Berkeley in 2010, the second lowest point total scored by Oregon in Chip Kelly’s tenure as head coach (Ducks scored 8 in his first game, at Boise State). It was a game that led much of the national media to mark Oregon with a red flag, questioning the Ducks ability to reach the title game and validity to play the traditional powers, nearly considered as bad as a loss for not winning by enough points or panache. Regardless, that team went 12-0, playing in the BCS National Championship game for the first time in school history, a feat that is expected to be repeated again this season.
While Oregon has been the far more consistent program in recent years, Memorial Stadium has not been kind. There was the heartbreaking 2004 loss on a late receiver drop, the 2006 45-24 loss, the 2008 monsoon game that resulted in a 26-16 loss, and Oregon’s 15-13 narrow victory in 2010. For a half, it appeared that once more the Berkeley curse would give Oregon fits.
If any Memorial Stadium demons were exorcised Saturday evening, with the 42-point margin of victory on a chilling night in Berkeley, the final score served as only context behind a far more important tale that perhaps leaves the joke on Oregon when all is said and done; the serious rash of injuries in the lead-up to this game and continuing Saturday night, further depleting the depth chart. If Tedford and the Bears couldn’t beat Oregon on the scoreboard, they certainly did so in the ability to field a healthy 11.
A Pyrrhic victory if ever there was one, sporting the same jersey combination as the infamous night in 2007 when Dennis Dixon tore his ACL vs. Arizona, the Ducks lost multiple starters to injury, an ominous trend if this team is to take advantage of the championship window before them.
Taylor Hart was injured on a cheap cut block early on in the game and appeared in the 2nd half on the sidelines in sweats wearing a large boot on his foot. Kenjon Barner left the game with a wrist injury (though he did return), Marcus Mariota briefly left the game with a shoulder problem, and Avery Patterson appeared to suffer a severe knee injury that leaves the Ducks reduced to yet another backup at safety after the loss of John Boyett earlier this year. By the end of the first quarter, the cold night had taken a decidedly dark turn.
The Ducks struggled to find a consistent run game against Cal’s stout defensive line, and the one team that has traditionally slowed Oregon’s ground game once more showing their ability to neutralize the Ducks attack.
What little they gave up against the run though, Mariota exploited and then some through the air, targeting receivers downfield all night in another impressive showing for the young quarterback. By night’s end, Oregon’s lethal passing attack was resetting the record books in multiple ways.
A 24-10 halftime lead should have felt par for the course, but in the wake of the injuries and an unacceptable amount of penalty yardage, the lead seemed secondary to the health of key starters. As the team regrouped for the second half, the stands and online chatter were abuzz with long-term speculation; could Oregon still compete for a national title with all these starters out? Thankfully the mood lightened somewhat, at least at the stadium, with the ref forgetting to turn his mic off during halftime, leading to an extensive on-field conversation echoed throughout the stands and press box.
By the start of the second half, Oregon was down five starting defensive linemen from the beginning of the season, true freshmen and walk-ons plugging the gaps, getting worked by Cal’s offensive line, which was content to grind out yards on the ground against a D-line getting pushed off the ball, resulting in Cal’s running backs often not even touched until five yards downfield.
Oregon’s ground game, meanwhile, was nowhere to be found, with Cal stacking the line to shut the Ducks down all night on everything except quarterback scrambles. No matter, as Cal’s sellout to the run opened up wide passing lanes all night in the secondary, and Marcus Mariota took full advantage. Mariota would have the best night of his young but stellar career, becoming only the fourth Oregon QB in history to throw for six touchdowns in a game (the first to do so as a freshman).
Cal scored to open the 2nd half, and brought the game to within a touchdown; a punishing drive that churned up yards on the ground and left Oregon’s defensive line nowhere to be found. Things looked grim, but after a stalled Oregon drive led to a punt, the game quickly turned in Oregon’s favor. Freshman defensive end Arik Armstead got into the backfield as Cal QB Allan Bridgford dropped back to try to throw a screen pass, Armstead’s pressure forcing him to throw off-balance giving Oregon LB Boseko Lokombo a chance to jump the pass and intercept it.
The Ducks took advantage, scoring on a 35-yard pass to WR Josh Huff on the next play, one of three touchdowns for Huff on the night. Just like that, Cal had gone from threatening to tie the #2 team in the country, to the game being essentially over.
In an all-too familiar performance typical of the 2012 season, the once-dominant looking Cal Bears suddenly turned inept, surrendering big yards through the air and turning the ball over to the score-happy Ducks.
The Ducks, who have collected 29 turnovers on the season, leaving them one short of the national lead, made them pay, forcing a fumble and another interception. Bridgeford would finish the game with a lowly 9-21 for 113 yards and two picks, quite the contrast to Mariota’s efficient 27-34 for 377 and 6 TDs (and keep in mind almost all of Mariota’s incompletions came when he threw the ball away to avoid a sack).
The 2nd half became the scoring bloodbath that has been typical of 1st halves for Oregon, in a blink pushing the lead from 31-17 to 59-17. In the process, the record books were re-written; the Ducks became the first team in NCAA history to score 30+ in 23 consecutive games, the first to score 42+ in 13 straight games, and 59 points scored, the most either team has ever put up against the other in the history of the series.
With the way Oregon is performing, more records are likely to fall soon, as the Ducks lead the nation in scoring, passing efficiency, and are potentially on pace to be the first school in history to score 100 touchdowns. The Oregon single-season passing records are also under threat as well from redshirt freshman phenom Marcus Mariota.
But for all the accolades today’s 10-0 season should bring, during and after the game all thoughts dwelled on the injury situation. While some injured players managed to return to the game, Avery Patterson’s injury looked very serious, a potential torn ACL (though since the UO does not release injury information this is pure speculation based on the injury and reaction).
This leaves Oregon shockingly thin at safety. Troy Hill and Dior Mathis did not make this trip, leading to speculation of injuries for both of them. It seems the Oregon secondary is as banged up now as the defensive line.
Considering that at one point last night Oregon was starting a defense comprised of all freshmen defensive linemen and almost all freshmen linebackers, the health and depth of the defense suddenly becomes a major concern going forward.
Compounded in that concern is that next week Oregon must host Stanford; a team hellbent on revenge. They bring a physically-imposing run game, among the best in the nation, and the #1 run defense coming against a Duck team that up until Saturday predicated everything on the success of the run game, and after Saturday’s game suddenly appear very porous in run defense due to attrition.
With Alabama’s loss Saturday. the Ducks are squarely in the national championship hunt. First though, comes Stanford next Saturday, a team all too willing to exploit Oregon’s new-found weaknesses, followed by rival Oregon State. If nothing else, the hope is that no other players suffer major injury in the final stretch. Regardless of how much the depth chart shrinks, expectations for the Oregon team remain high.
-It was senior day at Memorial Stadium, the Cal fans saying goodbye to 19 seniors.
-The Cal defense had forced 15 turnovers in the last 5 games coming into Saturday, but Oregon didn’t turn it over once.
-Cal also has had the injury bug bad this year, and 23 Cal players have missed time, accumulating 109 games missed.
-Cal under Tedford is 64-5 when scoring over 30, 18-51 when scoring under 30. Oregon meanwhile has scored 30+ points in 23 straight games. Cal scored 17, Ducks racked up 59.
-Cal has six players with fathers who also played football for Cal, and have three sets of brothers on the team. Oregon has one (the Amoako twins).
-Coming into the game Kenjon Barner needed only three touchdowns to surpass LaMichael James’ single season record of 21 (in 2010, when he won the Doak Walker Award). He did not score.
-Kenjon Barner also needed only 146 yards to pass Derek Loville on the all-time rushing list at Oregon, behind only LaMichael James. He did not break 100.
-Mariota’s completion percentage on the season is 71.71%, ahead of Sam Bradford’s 69.5%; the best mark for a freshman in NCAA history.
-Mariota has thrown for more TD passes (28) than any freshman quarterback in Pac-12 history.
-The Ducks are 2nd nationally in redzone defense, allowing 22 scores in 38 trips, behind only Alabama.
-Oregon has scored 76 touchdowns on the season, with the conference championship game and being bowl-eligible, they have the chance to be the first team in history to have 100 touchdowns in a season.
-Oregon captains for the game were Kiko Alonso, Michael Clay, Avery Patterson, and Jackson Rice.
-Aaron Topoti, famous for falling on the ball with a fake injury in 2010, was a team captain on senior night playing in his last game at Memorial Stadium for Cal.
-Lyerla’s TD catch on Oregon’s opening drive was his first TD since the Washington game, his 10th touchdown on only 21 career receptions. He would get a second TD later in the game.
-Jackson Rice punted in the first half (twice), the first time he had to do that since the Washington game.
-Alejandro Maldonaldo got his first field goal of the season in the 2nd quarter. Rob Beard had previous handled the kicking duties this year.
-With Josh Huff’s 2nd TD catch in the 2nd half, Oregon set a new NCAA record by scoring 30+ points in 23 consecutive games. Huff would have three TD grabs on the night.
-Marcus Mariota had the best night of his career, throwing for 377 yards and 6 TDs (3 to Huff, 2 to Lyerla, 1 to Murphy)
-Oregon’s 59 points scored is the most by either team ever in a game in the history of the series.
-In the last two games Mariota has 10 incompletions…and 10 TD passes. He leads the nation in passing efficiency (176).
-Oregon is averaging 54.8 points per game. The NCAA record is 51.1 for a 14-game season.
-Oregon is tied with Boise State for 2nd most forced turnovers in the country, with 29.