Cal Bears Face Oregon Ducks, Looking to Get Back on Track

Oct 1, 2016; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears quarterback Davis Webb (7) passes the ball against the Utah Utes in the third quarter at Memorial Stadium. Cal won 28-23. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 1, 2016; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears quarterback Davis Webb (7) passes the ball against the Utah Utes in the third quarter at Memorial Stadium. Cal won 28-23. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cal Bears are back in action Friday night taking on the Oregon Ducks. Both teams are coming off a bye week and both coming off losses. The Bears and the Ducks will be in search of a win to get back on track.

Consistency has been an issue for coach Sonny Dykes. The Cal Bears have been alternating wins and losses, putting their record at 3-3 on the season. Part of the problem has been let down games after strong performances the previous week.

Cal appeared to make noise early after Dykes and crew scored a signature victory against then-11th-ranked Texas at home. The following week, Cal could not hold their lead on the road, losing to Arizona State. Against Utah at home, the Cal defense rose to the occasion with a goal-line stand to preserve a 28-23 victory over then-18th-ranked Utah.

In Corvallis, Oregon, three points were not enough as Oregon State scored a touchdown in overtime to win 47-44.

With the departure of Jared Goff to the NFL, Davis Webb became the quarterback to lead Cal’s “Air Raid” offense. Webb was familiar with the scheme after having a similar style offense at Texas Tech before transferring as a graduate. No learning curve was needed for Webb as he settled in. The only challenge he faced before the season was finding chemistry with his receivers.

In the wins, Webb has shown poise in leading the offense. However, his play in the pocket stands out during the losses. Late in the game against Arizona State, Webb threw two interceptions, resulting in 10 points. During both picks, Webb seemed to force the throw without reading the defense.

Pressure appears to have gotten the best of Webb in critical situations. The bye week came at a good time for the quarterback to refocus and learn from his mistakes. However, concerns are how effective Webb can be after injuring his throwing hand against the Beavers. Webb believes he will be able to start against Oregon and be better than before the injury.

For a program that was recently competing for national championships and battling Stanford for Pac-12 dominance, Oregon is in a downward spiral. Four straight losses have the Ducks (2-4) reeling. The bye week could not come at a more perfect time in hopes of salvaging the season. There will be no College Football Playoff or Pac-12 title, but now making a bowl game is in jeopardy.

When Chip Kelly took over the Oregon program, even when players departed from graduation or leaving for the NFL draft early, the next man up mentality was in place. This mentality occurred during the season as well. A notable “next man up” was LaMichael James at running back when LeGarrette Blount was suspended during the 2009 season.

So far, the next man up has not been seen under Helfrich this season.

Questions started before the season with Oregon on both offense and defense. Like Vernon Adams, Dakota Prukop came in as a graduate transfer to start at quarterback. Defensively, Brady Hoke was hired as defensive coordinator. He implemented a 4-3 scheme and is a work in progress with a young defense.

Injuries have taken a toll on Oregon this season. The loss of Olympian Devon Allen for the season has hurt team morale. Helfrich may not take the blame, but having Allen prevent a punt return on special teams against Nebraska was questionable. His loss at the receiver position has hurt the offense.

With the injuries on the offensive line, opponents have given the Ducks no time to execute effectively. Justin Herbert took over as the starter for Oregon last game in hopes to spark the offense. Only a true freshman, the Eugene native is still learning how to handling the pressure under center.

A 70-21 loss at home last game against Northwest rival Washington signaled the fall of a once rising program. The loss snapped a 12-game winning streak for Oregon over their rivals. By scoring 70 points, Washington let Oregon know another 12-game losing streak will never occur again.

The Ducks were out of the game before halftime. Although Herbert got valuable playing experience against a ranked opponent, he will learn from the experience moving forward.

Turmoil is surrounding the Oregon program. With reports of offensive guard Cameron Hunt saying the effort by some teammates is not present, adversity is affecting the team. How Oregon comes out against Cal will be closely watched.

Hoke and the defense have seen their fair share of explosive offenses this season. With a bye week, extra preparation should ready the Ducks for Cal’s “Air Raid” assault. Pressure on Webb will be crucial for Oregon as his 60.8 percent completion rate is top-three in the nation.

In order for Cal to come out on top, a complete effort has to take place. Despite a down season, Oregon can strike early and often should Cal falter from the start.

Webb’s success with the “Air Raid” has also made Cal’s running game a threat. Oregon is allowing over five yards per rush. Look for Khalfani Muhammad and Tre Watson to lead the run game.

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On the “Air Raid” offense, receivers Chad Hansen and Demetris Robertson will look to exploit the Ducks’ secondary. Oregon’s secondary has been unable to contain, allowing receivers to make plays through missed assignments and missed tackles.

Royce Freeman appears to be getting healthy after suffering a leg injury against Nebraska. The running back is averaging about eight yards per carry and will look to put up big numbers. Oregon’s up-tempo offense relies on both running and passing to be in rhythm. Freeman’s play will be critical early. Cal needs to be physical at the line of scrimmage or Freeman will be running up the field.

Darren Carrington is Oregon’s primary weapon among receivers. Although he only has three touchdowns on the season, Carrington has been a reliable receiver by making plays. Like all offensive weapons on Oregon, speed is the x-factor. Charles Nelson and Dwayne Stanford are two who look to exploit the Cal secondary in the open field after a reception.

A win for Cal will be their first win over Oregon since 2008. The win would certainly improve chances of reaching the six-win mark for bowl eligibility. With games against Stanford, the Los Angeles schools and the Washington schools still remaining, odds will not be in Cal’s favor should Oregon prevail.

Pride is at stake for Oregon. A win would briefly stop the noise surrounding the program. No doubt, Helfrich is feeling the pressure despite the support of the athletic department. The goal now is one game at a time for the Ducks. Should a loss come Friday, a bowl game is more unlikely.

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Both Cal and Oregon are in need of a win. Both programs are trending in different directions. Expect a high scoring game at Memorial Stadium with two potent offenses.