Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Oregon ready to reemerge at Cal's expense
By Ted Miller
Oregon's nailbiting 15-13 win over California last year is remembered for a number of reasons.
For one, the Bears held the Ducks to a season-low in points and yards (317). Second, many pundits would insist that it became a blueprint for how to slow down the Ducks.
Cal won the battle up front, particularly defensive end and future NFL first-round draft pick Cameron Jordan. It was able to penetrate and disrupted the Ducks rhythm. It was effective in man coverage. It had linebackers fast enough to spy Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas. It tackled well. It didn't fall for the Ducks misdirection.
It seemed to give Oregon some specific looks that caused confusion, but Ducks coach Chip Kelly said "Nope," when asked if Cal did anything special schematically.
"They executed," Kelly said. "That's what the game of college football comes down to, which team on which given day can execute better than the other team. They did a really nice job executing against us. A fundamentally sound defense. No real holes in it."
Oregon has been such an offensive juggernaut the past five seasons that every time it falls short of its ludicrous speed numbers -- 47 points, 530.7 yards in 2010 -- Kelly and his offensive players are bombarded with questions about defenses arriving at "Eureka!" moments.
How did Cal contain Oregon's offense in last season's 15-13 Ducks' victory? "They executed," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said.
Cal coach Jeff Tedford is aware of this, and he's guessing his Bears will face a team motivated by a desire to shut folks up, even though Kelly always insists he doesn't use those sorts of motivational ruses in his locker room.
"I'm sure they will be," Tedford said. "We held them to the least amount of points they had through the season, not that that means anything."
Less remembered by folks outside of Eugene is that the Ducks offense, in fact, posted perhaps its most impressive drive of the season at the most pressure-packed juncture of that game.
Clinging to a two-point lead, the Ducks took over at their 20-yard line with 9:25 left in the fourth quarter, and 18 plays later -- 17 runs; four third-down conversions -- Thomas took a knee at the Bears’ 15-yard line.
It was the Ducks’ only drive of the night of more than 46 yards, but it was an absolute thing of beauty -- brutally efficient, physical football.
And Kelly had predicted it on the sidelines, by the way: "Coach Kelly told us in the huddle before we went out there that this was going to be the drive of the year; this was going to be the drive we remember," Thomas said after the game. "Exactly what he told us was, 'This is going to be the drive you tell your family about 30 years from now.'"
We tell you about it just a year later because the Ducks seemed to have noticed few remember that impressive assertion of will. As Tedford noted, the Ducks, while not admitting it because it would fall afoul of The Zen of Chip, probably want more out of this game than just a win. They want to make sure everyone realizes last Nov. 13 in Berkeley, they merely were "out-executed" one evening, not solved.
"We know they are going to come to our stadium thinking they can knock us off because we had a close game last year," Thomas said. "We know they are going to be ready so we've got to be ready."
Oregon, by the way, has won 18 in a row inside Autzen Stadium and 13 consecutive conference games.
It also hasn't been on the national radar since it lost 40-27 to LSU in the season opener. A Thursday night game on ESPN could give the ninth-ranked Ducks an opportunity to say to the nation, "Remember us?"
An impressive performance could allow Oregon to return to at least the periphery of the discussion of national title contenders.
"We really don't know about the national title," Thomas said. "We're just trying to win this next game and keep on winning."
Oregon has been breaking in three new offensive linemen and a new crew of receivers. While things were a bit rough at times against LSU's defense -- the Ducks were only able to outgain the Tigers 335 yards to 273 -- things seemed to be rounding into shape.
Oregon ranks No. 1 in the nation in scoring (52 ppg) and No. 6 in both total (533.8 yards) and rushing offense (299.5). Running back LaMichael James leads the nation in rushing with 153.3 yards per game. And Thomas, a first-year starter in 2010, is a lot smoother in the cockpit running the show.
"I feel a lot more confident with the offense," he said. "It's really kind of slowed down for me."
Oregon's game with Cal last year was memorable for a number of reasons. But for Thomas and the Ducks, it was most memorable for just one.
Said Thomas with a laugh, "The only thing I really remember is we won."