Six observations: Cal vs. Oregon

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By Ted Lee
Posted Nov 11, 2012
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2014 BearInsider.com


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Isi Sofele
photo by Michael Burns, GoldenBearSports.com
Six observations from Oregon's 59-17 win over Cal on Saturday evening.

1.† The Bear defense limited Oregon's top two rushers to 25 carries and 78 yards.

And in the end that had about as much relevance to the outcome as the quality of the art on the Titanic. The Bears were able to force Kenjon Barner (20 carries for 65 yards) and De'Anthony Thomas (5 carries for 13 yards) out wide and they weren't able to get outside and turn the corner. The longest run that either Barner or Thomas had was 10 yards.

This marked the third straight year that the Bears were able to play Oregon competitively for the first half. In 2010, #1-ranked Oregon defeated Cal 15-13 and last year the Bears led Oregon 15-14 in Eugene after the first half, and even though Oregon had a 24-10 halftime lead, the Ducks managed that due to a very late touchdown.

“The game was slower than last year because of the scheme we had,” said linebacker Chris McCain. “Oregon likes to do zone reads and cut it real tight off the tackle. Every play we had somebody in the C-gap so they had to bounce the ball outside. Ninety percent of the game, there was nowhere for the back to go, and they had to push it outside. They did what we wanted them to do.”

Still, it's not as if Thomas was a non-factor. The Ducks did a good job of finding ways to get short passes to him in open space – and he ended up being the game's leading receiver with eight catches and his 101 yards just trailed Josh Huff's 109.

2.† Marcus Mariota is going to be a big nuisance for the next three years.

If beforehand it was known that the Bears would be able to shut down the Oregon rushing attack and force Mariota to beat them with his arm, Cal might have liked their chances. Coming into the game, in six conference contests, the redshirt freshman quarterback from Honolulu, Hawaii threw for over 200 yards just twice. Yet on Saturday, against Cal, he was 27-for-34 for 377 yards and six touchdowns, in addition to running six times for 42 yards.

His accuracy and decision-making were equal to that of a quarterback with significantly more experience. While one of the questions coming into the season was whether the Ducks could find a quarterback to sufficiently replace Darron Thomas, Mariota trumps Thomas in almost every category – as a passer, as a runner, and as a quarterback who can run the offense.

After the game, he was quick to dismiss the thought that Texas A&M's 29-24 upset of #1-ranked Alabama might have helped motivate Oregon and its quest to finish in the BCS top two to earn a spot in the national championship game.

“That has no effect on how we play,” said Mariota. “That's just out of our control so we were just focused on Cal and getting this win.”

3.† It was a rough game for Allan Bridgford.

Having your first real start – with a full week to prepare – against Oregon is no easy task and though his stats (9-of-21 for 113 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions) weren't spectacular he did a good job of keeping the team in the game until an ill-fated third quarter interception.

“I thought Allan did a good job,” said Tedford. “For starting against that team, he managed it well. He kept his composure (and) he didn't panic. He tried to put some balls in places. He threw on time and anticipated. On a couple of them, the timing was a little ahead on both of the picks. He was trying to make something happen because we needed to make something happen.

Bridgford wasn't helped by the fact that the Bears were without receivers Keenan Allen and Bryce Treggs; in their place Ross Bostock and Darius Powe Jr. drew the starts, with Maurice Harris seeing plenty of playing time. He didn't have a clear go-to play or player that he could fall back upon on 3rd down plays.

Still, the Bears did have the ball down seven, 24-17 with a chance to drive for a tying score. On a 3rd-and-9 from the Cal 30, Oregon defensive lineman Arik Armstead went charging up the middle on a play where the Ducks were rushing three players. Bridgford was backing up, but Armstead was coming so quickly that he threw the ball sooner than he would have liked and the pass, which was intended for tight end Richard Rodgers, missed Rodgers by a bunch and fell into the arms of linebacker Boseko Lokombo.

On the next play, Mariota threw an out pass to Josh Huff, who took advantage of a Bear defender who slipped and raced 35 yards for a touchdown. That put Oregon up 31-17; and soon Oregon was back to being Oregon, adding three touchdowns in the next 9:37.

4.† Cal's offensive line had a decent game.

For the second consecutive week, the Bears ran over 200 yards. Isi Sofele had his best game of the year with 15 carries for 134 yards, while C.J. Anderson added 56 yards on 11 carries. Oregon's defensive line was missing starters due to injury, so they weren't the most formidable opposition that the Bears faced this season, but considering that the Bears were without right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin and used right tackle Bill Tyndall in his place.

And this wasn't a case of shameless stat-padding once the game was out of control; the Bears ran for 106 yards at halftime and 200 yards by the end of the third quarter.

“We were running the ball really well,” said Bridgford. “We started getting down a bit but we wanted to stick with the run because it worked so well. That's the tough thing about playing Oregon. If you don't score, they can get ahead. Isi had an awesome game. That one drive, we did (the same) three plays in a row and scored a touchdown.”

And while the rest of the unit – featuring Tyler Rigsbee, Jordan Rigsbee, Brian Schwenke, and Chris Adcock have had their issues, they did allow just one sack on Saturday. But that also caused other issues, such as....

5.† Penalties, penalties, penalties

Coming into the game, the Bears' margin error was small – even if they managed to have zero turnover and zero penalties, they were still going to have an uphill battle. Unfortunately, Cal had three turnovers and seven penalties for 89 yards. Two of the penalties were critical; when the Bears were down 17-10 and had a 2nd-and-1 from the Oregon 23, a personal foul penalty on Brian Schwenke gave the Bears a 2nd-and-16 from the Oregon 38, that drive resulted in a missed 48-yard field goal. The second, Cal had a 2nd-and-5 from the Oregon 30 when Tyler Rigsbee was penalized for another personal foul. This put the ball on the 45 – but the Bears had runs of 31, 10, and 4 yards, with the last one resulting in a touchdown that brought Cal within 7, 24-17.

Oregon piled up 575 yards of offense and have enough firepower so that they can easily shoulder 105 yards in penalties. For the Bears, scoring opportunities against good teams are so few and far between, that they can't afford to have those opportunities squandered by virtue of penalties.

Cal's offensive line penalty count included Brian Schwenke (personal foul – hands to face), Tyler Rigsbee (personal foul – late hit, and tripping)), Jordan Rigsbee (holding), Bill Tyndall (false start)

6. The rolling punt tactic worked.

The Bears were generally successful in limiting Thomas's damage. He was ineffective as a rusher, caused them issues as a receiver although he didn't have any of his field-flipping big gains, he gained just 26 yards on the kickoff return, and he didn't have any punt returns.

For the most part the Bears used the punt where punter Cole Leininger rolls to the right and then kicks a low, short punt into the middle of the field. With the players all running back upfield to either block or chase down the punt returner, there's a decent chance that the ball could bounce off of one of the receiving team's players and become a live ball. One one punt, the ball did hit the back of an Oregon player's leg, but a fellow Duck player fell on the ball.

With the ball bouncing around short and every scrambling to find it, it meant the chances of Thomas coming up to try to field the ball and return it were just about nil.

It's easy to want the punter to just kick the ball as high and as deep as he can, but if kicking it shorter meant sacrificing a few yards but neutralizing a plus-level returner, it's not a bad risk to take.

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