Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 9:47 AM
As the California Golden Bears visit the Oregon Ducks Thursday Night on ESPN, it's important to remember that Cal was the ONLY team to truly put a scare into Chip Kelly's bunch prior to the BCS championship game against Auburn.
It's easy to forget how dominant this Oregon offense can be. They lost their season finale last year to Auburn, in a game where a slippery surface helped mess up both offenses. They had the misfortune of opening the 2011 season against LSU...who may ultimately be this year's National Champion because they have such an amazing defense. Since then:
Oregon beat Nevada 69-20 in a game nobody paid attention to because there were better matchup on TV at the time...and because Nevada wasn't seen as a real threat with their new quarterback.
Oregon beat Missouri State 56-7 in a virtual scrimmage against a non-board team.
Oregon beat Arizona 56-31 in a late night game that wasn't worth staying up for. Arizona's been getting rocked by every good team they face in this current coaching regime.
Oregon had a bye last week.
Out of sight, out of mind. The last two times you watched Oregon...they were losing to very physical SEC teams. When off your radar, they went back to scoring in the 50-60 range (and they're capable of more when they're in the mood) against teams who have no hope of matching up against them.
And...that brings us to tonight's game against Cal. Here's a review of Oregon's scoring totals last year...
72 vs. New Mexico
48 vs. Tennessee
69 vs. Portland State
42 at Arizona State
The buzz about this offense was really starting to pick up. It's true that Oregon's offense usually creates a buzz. But...they were getting a lot of media run for their fast tempo and variety of weapons after the Arizona State game. Their supposed biggest test of the year was coming up next against Stanford.
52 vs. Stanford
43 at Washington State
60 vs. UCLA
53 at Southern Cal
This was the month that really put Oregon on the map. The Stanford game got a huge television audience...and Oregon made it interesting by falling way behind early only to storm to a blowout in the second half. The UCLA game was a Thursday Night national TV affair...just like tonight's game against Cal is. Oregon put on quite a show. That earned them a prime time Saturday spot the next week against USC...which was once again an offensive showcase. Oregon popped FIFTY in huge TV games against Stanford, UCLA, and USC.
53 vs. Washington
15 at California
48 vs. Arizona
37 at Oregon State
Yes, November brought more of the...wait a minute...what's that 15 doing there? Oregon strung together a bunch of 50's...but only managed 15 against California? Then, they went right back to scoring points again? Even kids watching "Sesame Street" can tell which of those things is not like the other.
What happened at Cal? Let's run the numbers.
OREGON 15, CALIFORNIA 13
Total Yardage: Oregon 320, California 193
Rushing Yardage: Oregon 165, California 124
Passing Stats: Oregon 15-29-0-155, California 10-28-0-69
Turnovers: Oregon 1, California 1
Third Downs: Oregon 38%, California 31%
Yards-Per-Play: Oregon 3.9, California 3.3
A typical Oregon game might be DOUBLE those numbers in every offensive category. Well, not third downs...but this is a team capable of flying into 600 yards with ease...with more than 300 in the air and on the ground. They're much more likely to be closer to 7 ypp than 4 ypp.
You may recall that California missed a 29-yard field goal that might have won the game for them (though Oregon missed two field goals themselves). It's also worth noting that BOTH teams had a non-offensive score. Oregon's first touchdown of the game came on a long punt return (no offensive TD's in the first half). California forced a fumble and recovered it for their only score in the fourth quarter.
This was a game won by Oregon's DEFENSE.
What was going on in the trenches? It's hard to talk about schematics and such without game film and a coach's clicker. Lets use the numbers to show you what WASN'T happening.
This wasn't a case where California simply kept the ball out of Oregon's hands with a ball control offense. If that was the case, Oregon would have had their normal yards-per-play performance but limited time of possession. You can see that California had NO OFFENSE! That means Oregon kept getting the ball, and not doing anything with it.
This wasn't a case where Oregon kept shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers. You'll see that sometimes...a team gets its normal high yardage total but loses the ball four or five times with sloppy play. Oregon only lost the ball once (that aforementioned fumble). So, this wasn't a wide open game with a lot of turnovers. Cal shut down Oregon clean.
This wasn't a game where Oregon built a big early lead then put things in the deep freeze to run out the clock. That's not Oregon's style anyway. But, you'll sometimes see great offenses post unimpressive stats because they were focusing on clock management rather than raw production. Oregon spent the whole game trying to move the ball and couldn't.
From our study of the game, we came away with these keys:
Oregon was flat after a string of big wins, and wasn't taking this challenge as seriously as they should have. This is actually fairly common for top BCS contenders once you get into November. The hype is a distraction, and you take your eye off the ball.
California really did have a very intelligent schematic for dealing with what the Ducks were doing. They were where they were supposed to be, and making the plays they were supposed to make. Oregon was flat...but California's defense played fantastic. It was that COMBINATION that kept the Ducks off the board.
In tonight's rematch, handicappers will have to focus on the latter of those two keys. It's hard to imagine Oregon showing up flat for this return engagement. They learned their lesson last year about taking the Cal defense too lightly. Can Cal maintain their discipline, and get the best from their defensive athletes on the road? Against a team that can't afford another off-week because of their 3-1 September?
Does California really have the antidote for Oregon's preferred style of play? Is California Oregon's Kryptonite?
Or, was last year a one-game fluke...and Oregon's going to blow and go like they usually do...in neon uniforms that dilate your eyes?
JIM HURLEY has an opinion in this game that's available for purchase right here at the website. This BIG JUICY THURSDAY WINNER is going to kick off another big football weekend for NETWORK. Be sure to check back Friday for Boise State-Fresno State. A huge conference showdown will highlight our Saturday card (possibly Texas-Oklahoma, Georgia-Tennessee, Miami-Virginia Tech, or Florida-LSU). One of our biggest pro releases of 2011 is already on tap for Sunday (with big-game BONUS action in NY Jets-New England and Green Bay-Atlanta).
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