Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Cal a 'maybe' against Oregon
By Ted Miller
It was a typical throw-away question to start a news conference: "Hey, California coach Jeff Tedford, how do you slow down Oregon's offense?"
But nothing is typical about Oregon's offense. "That's a good question," Tedford replied. See: The Ducks ludicrous-speed offense even transforms a mundane question into something good.
Jeff Tedford and Cal are looking to slow down the Ducks' offense and end Oregon's run to the national title.
Bears senior defensive end Cameron Jordan did a video interview this week on the team's official website. It's clear that he had just finished some extra conditioning, which most teams do before playing top-ranked Oregon, because he was winded while answering questions. His advice for some of his less-experienced teammates for when things get hectic Saturday?
"Sometimes people get a little razzled out of it," Jordan said. "Sometimes you've got to tell them, 'Just breathe.'"
Jordan wasn't channelling Anna Nalick -- "But you can't jump the track, we're like cars on a cable, And life's like an hourglass, glued to the table, No one can find the rewind button now!"
He was considering a task that few believe the Bears have any chance of doing: Slowing down the Ducks' offense, notching the upset and ending Oregon's run to the national title.
But here's the thing: There is a "maybe" here.
The Bears have a good, athletic defense, starting with Jordan, a likely first-day NFL draft pick this spring. He's coming off a 12-tackle, 1.5-sack performance at Washington State. The Bears are the only Pac-10 team yielding less than 300 yards per game. And they are stout against the run (119.9 yards per game).
Further, few teams in recent memory have been more Jekyll and Hyde than the Bears. But forget the ugliness of the Bears on the road this year because they will be safely ensconced inside Strawberry Canyon, where they are 4-0 and have outscored foes 189-34. That's an average of 47.3 to 8.5 ppg.
While some have focused on the 42-3 beatdown the Bears suffered at Oregon last year -- Cal was an unbeaten national title contender at the time and the Ducks were still associated with a humiliating opener at Boise State -- the Bears still have won four of five from the Ducks, who haven't won in Berkeley since 2001, when Cal went 1-10 in Tom Holmoe's final season.
Ergo: There's a "maybe" here. But there's also plenty of "maybe not."
A big question: How will first-year defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast contend with an offense he never saw during his long career in the NFL? His first exposure to a distinctly college offense -- Nevada's pistol -- didn't go well in a 52-31 loss. In that game, the Bears weren't losing physical matchups; they were just out of position. Over and over again.
Out of position against Oregon is very, very bad.
"I think the biggest thing is assignment defense," Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed said. "Everybody has a gap, everybody has a responsibility. And when you look at film, when Oregon busts big plays, it's because guys get tired, they get out of their gap, they start to do their own thing, and Oregon exploits that and takes advantage of that. So it's going to come down to every guy doing their individual job within the defense."
That's a critical, two-pronged observation. Oregon doesn't just force you to show assignment discipline. It forces you to do so when you are beat-tired. It's the Ducks tempo that seems to break down a defense's will as much as a complicated scheme or speedy personnel.
"It's ridiculous," Jordan said. "That's what they expect. They expect you to get tired."
Jordan leads a good defensive line. Mohamed leads an athletic corps of linebackers. Both are NFL prospects. And the supporting cast makes this front-seven as good as any the Ducks have faced. UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, whose Bruins lost badly to both teams, sees this matchup as the linchpin of the game.
"Cal has a very formidable defensive line," he said. "The question is can they withstand the pace. Can they hang in there and play at that tempo for that long? It will be interesting to watch."
The second question: If the defense slows the Ducks, can the Bears score enough with backup QB Brock Mansion, who will be making his second career start, for it to matter in the final tally?
Again, that's a "maybe" with plenty behind the "maybe not." But, really, if the upset is going to happen, it's going to start with the Bears D.
And Jordan thinks that gives them a chance. "We're pretty powerful ourselves at home," he said.