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Matchup: California (3-1) at #9 Oregon (3-1)
Venue: Autzen Stadium – FieldTurf
Date: Thursday, Oct. 6
Time/TV: 9:00 pm ET - ESPN
Line: Oregon -24, o/u 65
Just when I thought I was streaking. South Florida and QB BJ Daniels sure didn’t look very impressive last Thursday when they traveled to Pitt and laid an egg. Sure, you have to give the Panthers credit but it’s safe to say that wasn’t the best effort by the Bulls in a game they were slight road favorites (-2.5). When the final gun sounded Pitt had 44 to South Florida’s 17 – ouch.
With a 3-2 (60%) record on Thursday nights, I’ll try to get headed in the right direction this week as we turn our attention to this week’s game out west between Cal and Oregon.
Some interesting shared history for the two coaches this Thursday as Cal’s Jeff Tedford was the offense coordinator at Oregon between 1998-2001 before heading to Berkley for his first – and so far only – top job in 2002. Oregon’s Chip Kelly took a similar path to his present position as he was the offensive coordinator for the Ducks during the 2007 and 2008 seasons before landing the head coaching position in Eugene in 2009.
Both coaches are known to be offensive masterminds and Kelly has certainly lived up to that moniker recently. Kelly, who – even as the head coach - continues to call the offensive plays for Oregon, has run a pretty prolific offense these past four seasons, averaging just over 40 points a game in that span.
Recently, they’ve been even better as the Ducks lead the nation in scoring this season with 52 points per game. The scary part for Cal is that Oregon takes it to a whole other level when playing at home – site of this Thursday's game. Since last season – a span of eight games - the Ducks have averaged 59.9 points at Autzen Stadium.
By now, it’s certainly no secret who drives the Oregon offense. Running back LaMichael James leads the nation in rushing at just over 150 yards per game. Combining with quarterback Darron Thomas, the Ducks unquestionably have the best 1-2 punch in the nation.
Yet for all of Oregon’s offensive prowess, much of the talk leading up to this week’s game centers around whether the Ducks can figure out the Cal defense – a unit that held Kelly and company to a season-low 15 points in their 2010 game. Yes, Oregon won that game 15-13 but the fact remains the Ducks have only averaged 24 points a game in the last four years against Cal – well below their average.
It appears as if Oregon – and specifically James – will again be tested this Thursday as Cal’s defense is ranked ninth in the country against the run, allowing a shade less than 80 yards a game. Thomas – who hasn’t been sacked so far in 2011 – will also be tested by a Bear’s defense ranked 18th in the nation with 13 sacks in four games.
However, if there is one soft spot in the Cal defense, it is in their secondary. Not including what basically amounted to a scrimmage vs. Presbyterian, Cal has given up an average of 305 passing yards in their three games, which is just about the worst in the Pac-12. You can be sure that weather permitting – and the forecast is calling for a 20% chance of rain – Thomas will test Cal’s secondary with weapons such as wide receiver Lavasier Tuinei.
Tedford likely knows he can’t win a shoot out with the Ducks – certainly not in Autzen Stadium – but that’s not to say the Bears don’t have some weapons of their own. Opposing teams won’t confuse Cal QB Zach Maynard and RB Isi Sofele for Thomas & James but the duo from Berkley can light up a scoreboard.
With products such as Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Tedford is known as a great QB coach and Maynard has certainly been impressive so far in 2011. Of course, it helps to have a pair of NFL ready WRs in Marvin Jones and Kennan Allen. Jones, who is 6'3", is averaging almost six catches and over 90 yards a game while Allen, who is also 6'3", averages nearly eight receptions and 124 yards a game.
For Cal to have any chance on Thursday, the Bears must have success with their passing game. Even then it may not matter as the Bears are just 1-9 in their last 10 games at Autzen Stadium. Tedford has very little experience on the Thursday night stage and this will only be his second game appearance in that spot. You have to go all the way back to 2003, when Cal – led by Rodgers – lost to Utah – led by Alex Smith – 31-24 on a Thursday night. In fact, the last time the Bears won on a Thursday night game was in 1992 when they beat Kansas, 27-23.
Both teams enter this contest 2-2 against the spread and it’s worth noting that as the coach of Cal, Tedford has only been a bigger underdog once – when the oddsmakers gave the Bears 28 points in a game against Kansas State. Cal lost that game – but was a winner for bettors – as the final score was 42-28.