Our Oregon Ducks football program is officially rolling.
There’s no better way to say it. Even superstar college football sports analyst (“The Voice of College Football”) Joel Klatt joined Colin Cowherd in agreement that this Oregon team is the most improved squad in the entire nation.
Overall, you can’t help but agree as a fan of Our Beloved Ducks. This is the best Oregon’s looked in years, and they aren’t slowing down anytime soon. This weekend, the focus turns to the Cal Golden Bears.
While they may seem like a middling foe, Oregon’s still gotta bring their A-game as always. Here are some key expectations I bring to this game with the momentum the Ducks have entering the holiday weekend.
Expectations for Our Oregon Ducks Against the Cal Golden Bears
Bo Nix Can Take a Back Seat in the Run Game
The power of this Oregon team so far in 2022 has been one crucial element of the offense: balance. Combine this element with a versatile quarterback in Nix, and you’ve got a really dangerous rushing attack.
However, this week, I expect to see a bit less of Nix. Particularly from a rushing perspective.
Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to enter the same territory where we were “saving” Justin Herbert from peril (as if that’s even possible with the 2022 Ducks, considering they’ve only allowed ONE SACK all year). Despite how Cal’s performed fairly well against the run this year, I don’t expect Oregon’s running back room to have any difficulty.
On the other side of that idea, there are times last week when Nix made all the difference in the run game. He absolutely crushed those fourth-down conversions early in the second half. But I don’t see us being in a position like that often against Cal. Overall: I just want to keep Nix safe and only rely on his athleticism when we absolutely need to against teams under .500 this season.
While this is a legitimate expectation of mine, it makes me smile that I can expect this and still be confident in the Ducks’ offense dominating. Expect some big numbers from the RB room tomorrow.
Neutralize the Bears’ Rushing Attack
On the other hand, the Golden Bears have a solid rushing attack of their own. Jaydn Ott has been having a really strong season with 751 total scrimmage yards and seven touchdowns, which gives reason to worry for this Oregon defense.
If you’ll recall from last week, the Ducks didn’t play particularly well against UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet. While they did a fantastic job limiting Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s rushing ability, Charbonnet had a few breakaway runs that capped off a 179-yard day against the Ducks. That can’t happen again against a far-less talented group in the Cal Golden Bears.
I expect an entirely different outcome against Cal tomorrow. Quarterback Jack Plummer is not a rushing threat and should allow the Ducks’ front seven to bounce back this week. Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell need to pin their ears back against Ott and keep him contained. Force the Golden Bears to be one-dimensional tomorrow, and I don’t see them going anywhere against the Ducks’ elite secondary.
Create Passing Opportunities With Play Action to Beat the Golden Bears’ Secondary
Speaking of secondaries, the Golden Bears’ DBs have created a ton of turnovers this season. They know how to force errors and will make you beat yourself if you’re looking to pass on them often. Even in the case of a rare Nix mistake, I’d expect the balanced attack that Kenny Dillingham has expertly crafted in weeks past to remain constant.
Overall, I expect the offense to give this Golden Bears’ secondary headaches. Just not early on. While the Ducks ground and pound against Cal, I anticipate passing lanes to open up as the game progresses.
However, if we end up boat-racing them early, they’ll have no choice but to pass a ton. Should that be the case, the Cal offense will likely turn their game to rely on J. Michael Sturdivant.
Force Sturdivant and the Cal Bears’ Passing Attack to Be a Non-Factor
Sturdivant has been having a solid freshman season thus far with five receiving touchdowns at the midseason mark for Cal. He’s been particularly effective at home as well.
Luckily for the Ducks, the secondary has been outstanding. Christian Gonzalez, Dontae Manning, and Trikweze Bridges have steadily improved to create an elite position group for Oregon’s defense to fall back on. Let’s see them have another great day and neutralize the rising star.
Continue Third and Fourth Down Success
On a combined 15 attempts for third and fourth downs against UCLA, the Ducks converted an astounding 60% of the time. The key drive I pulled from the game was the first possession of the second half. While UCLA was teetering at a 16-31 deficit, the Ducks converted on two straight fourth downs to keep their first drive of the second half alive. Later, the Ducks again had the opportunity to go for a knockout blow, and took it on fourth and four with a long Irving receiving touchdown.
Against the Golden Bears, expect more of the same.
Tight End Room Takes Pressure Off of Troy Franklin
Oregon fans: I think we finally have a legitimate deep-threat receiver. Franklin has continued his breakout in the past several outings this season, and set himself apart (literally) down the field. However, that will start translating into more attention from the secondary.
Make no mistake: the Bears are no slouches against the pass. They’re going to pay attention to Franklin regardless of how great the Oregon rushing attack is. That’s where the tight end room is going to need to make their mark.
It cannot be understated how this tight end room has evolved with Nix at the helm. Terrance Ferguson and Cam McCormick have become touchdown machines (eight total scores for the pair on the season).
Now, that domination from both the rushing attack and tight ends will hopefully take some attention off of Franklin. Getting the intermediate passing game going with the tight ends should divert the Bears’ attention in the secondary away from bracketing Franklin out of the game.
Regardless, I see it as a pick-your-poison decision for Cal. The Ducks are going to get it done in the passing game either way. It just depends on who you leave open.
In the rare case that the Ducks struggle with keeping their incredibly balanced attack, we saw against UCLA that the Ducks can just lay (not lean, LAY) on the run game. So if Nix ends up in trouble, I expect a heavy dose of Bucky Irving and Noah Whittington medicine. Then, Jordan James can come in for those goalline packages as well, and keep Nix’s workload lighter than usual.
Biggest Takeaway From Beating UCLA: These are ALL Possible!
You know what the best part of these expectations is? They ALL have a legitimate chance of happening in the same game.
After a dominant victory against UCLA, the Oregon Ducks look up to the task of beating anyone in the PAC-12. The real question is: can they go beyond that? If they CAN in fact go beyond that and make it to a big bowl game (or the College Football Playoff, dare I say), they have to handle teams like Cal soundly.
To be fair to Cal, they’ve given this Oregon team trouble in recent memory. Unfortunately, I don’t see any way that can translate to a win weekend. I expect the Ducks to handle their business and increase their shot at making a CFP push. Maybe we even see Nix resting by halftime? One can dream.
Enough from me though, Oregon fans. What do you expect of the Ducks tomorrow? How much of this game do you see Nix playing? Let our FishDuck community know in the forum with decorum. GO DUCKS!
Los Angeles, California
Top Photo By: Eric Evans of Oregon Football Twitter
Alex Heining is an Oregon alumni from the graduate class of 2021. After studying sports business and media studies, he has moved into the field of digital marketing as a copywriter and content manager in the Los Angeles area. Still, he loves his Ducks and goes to local high school games all over the Los Angeles and Orange County area to check out new recruits of the future (and a SoFi game or two with the pros). On any given Saturday, expect to find him doing martial arts, playing the guitar, or screaming at the tv over a missed holding penalty.
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