Many months ago, the Oregon-Cal game was circled by many as the most crucial Pac-12 test the Ducks would face in 2020. It remains that way now, but for completely different reasons. No one anticipated the Golden Bears being winless at this point, and no one thought the Ducks would be giving up nearly 30 points a game. While today’s game is nearly meaningless on the national landscape, it remains a crucial contest for both programs. Let’s review and discuss the Bears with crossed fingers today…
Both teams have underperformed, but the trendlines for the two teams are different. Cal has been improving on offense, while Oregon has been declining on defense. Can the Ducks turn this around today, or will Cal finally put a complete game together and “pop” against Oregon? I do not need to review the Ducks’ defensive issues as we fans have been discussing them in-depth in the comments over the past two weeks. But I do have some observations of Cal that might be amusing and could also spur discussion in the comments.
The Ducks have had trouble defending against the run, while Cal’s run blocking has been improving game-to-game. The Bears ran well against Oregon State despite having three starting offensive linemen held out. Cal did surprisingly well running between the tackles against the stout Cardinal defense. Adding to these issues is Cal’s implementation of a throw-back offense, with the QB taking the snap under center and handing off from the old “I” formation with an H-Back acting as a lead-blocking fullback.
Cal’s offensive coordinator is Bill Musgrave, Oregon’s quarterback in the 1980’s when Oregon football was beginning to heat up and turn around. The Bears now run a Pro-Style Offense with the West-Coast passing attack, and I was struck at the coincidence of it. You see, that was the offense that Mike Bellotti operated at Oregon when Musgrave was the Duck quarterback! It leads me to two questions … is Coach Musgrave really running an offense from the 1980s?
And if so, Can the Ducks stop it?
I consider Chase Garbers to be an as good or better quarterback than Tristan Gebbia of OSU, a good enough passer and mobile enough to beat anyone. Cal wideouts Makai Polk and Kekoa Crawford have the speed to get behind defenses, and another receiver Nikko Remigio is a special teams player who had a punt return TD called back due to penalty against OSU and had a tremendous kickoff return called back as well.
Cal has a tough running back in Marcel Dancy who reminds me a bit too much of the UCLA RB that went off for over 160 yards against the Ducks two weeks ago. (Does everybody have career days on the Ducks?) When Cal is not running a 1980’s offense, they’ll run an Inside Zone out of a Shotgun alignment as Oregon did so well back in 2014 and as we saw last week on occasion from Oregon State. (Those plays of Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich must still be pretty good if so many teams run them!)
What surprised me the most about the “Big Game” was how Stanford came out attacking Cal with their wide-outs, establishing an early passing attack and only later going to running plays for balance. If there is a weakness in the secondary of Cal, then that might match up well for Oregon with their veteran receivers and the return of Mycah Pittman.
While most would consider the key to the game being whether Oregon’s defense shows up, savvy analyst and writer Mike West of FishDuck has a different view that I respect and in fact wrote about a couple weeks ago. He feels Oregon’s defense is not going to improve much and that our only chance to win is to outscore teams. The recent scores of 38-35 and 41-38 are testaments to this view.
Mike feels that while there is not much more upside to the defense, there is with the offense. He asserts that to realize that upside, Coach Mario Cristobal must let loose the hounds on offense and “let-Joe-go” in order to secure victories in our final games. He feels offense is our only path to the Fiesta Bowl and has pointed out new tactics he believes can elevate Oregon’s offensive attack to an even higher level.
The question isn’t whether it can happen but whether Coach Cristobal will let it happen?
“Oh, how we love to ponder about Our Beloved Ducks!”
Charles Fischer (Mr. FishDuck)
Top Photo from Pac-12 Video
Phil Anderson, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.
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