Cal Bears Face Tough Test at Home Against the Oregon Ducks

BERKELEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 01: The California Golden Bears run on to the field for their game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at California Memorial Stadium on September 1, 2018 in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
BERKELEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 01: The California Golden Bears run on to the field for their game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at California Memorial Stadium on September 1, 2018 in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

A top-25 matchup is on hand at Memorial Stadium as the Cal Bears face the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 after dark contest.

Tough, physical defense is providing the spark for the Cal Bears as they remain unbeaten this season. Results are beginning to show for second-year head coach Justin Wilcox in rebuilding the Bears to contend in the conference ultimately.

On the road against BYU, the Bears held the Cougars to only 94 yards of offense in the second half to secure a 21-18 victory. The win was a first for Cal in five meetings with BYU.

With the defense making positive strides, the offense is still finding the correct formula. The answer appears to be freshman Chase Garbers. In just two starts, he has done a better job under center over junior Ross Bowers.

Cal Golden Bears Football
Cal Golden Bears Football /

Cal Golden Bears Football

But the previous win over Idaho State draws concerns as Cal overcame a slow start put the game away. Brandon McIlwain came off the bench to help the offense get a spark.

In the three victories this season, the Bears have yet to prove any signs of competing in the Pac-12. Perhaps coach Wilcox is choosing until conference play to unleash the Bears finally. With the defense flexing their toughness, at times, the offense must find consistency.

Garbers and McIlwain appear to the tandem at quarterback as their mobility is providing a better dynamic for the Bears’ offense. As tough as the situations may seem for Bowers, he should feel confident in retaking snaps.

Bowers’ experience will provide value to his teammates with conference play now starting for the Bears. He could likely find himself back on the field as the Oregon Ducks look to avoid consecutive defeats.

Oregon dominated Stanford last week in Eugene. An identity was established as to how the Ducks will play football. Under Mario Cristobal, the Ducks are no longer going to be pushed around, bringing a physical style on both sides of the football.

After three unimpressive wins to start the season, the light bulb switched on for the Ducks, outplaying the Cardinal in every aspect. An electric atmosphere came with ESPN College GameDay in town and a chance to make a statement in primetime.

But in the end came complete heartbreak, despair, and disbelief inside a packed Autzen Stadium. Instead of an upset came a complete collapse in the final ten minutes of play.

Instead of taking a knee, CJ Verdell got stripped, allowing Stanford one last gasp to force overtime. With under a minute to play, the Cardinal moved quickly and tied the game.

Dominant in containing the rushing attack, the one weakness got exposed frequently in the Oregon defenders getting outmatched by the bigger Stanford receivers. The Cardinal took advantage of the mismatch to strike first in the overtime frame.

The Ducks could not respond as Justin Herbert’s pass on fourth and goal got intercepted in the end zone. To lose a game in such a fashion is devastating, especially when controlling the match throughout the evening.

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Unfortunately, the Ducks only played 50 minutes of football and not the entire 60 minutes. Coach Cristobal cannot be at fault for his decision of running the football and not taking a knee. Oregon wanted to make a statement and a few mistakes proved costly.

Cristobal will right the ship, and the future is bright for Oregon Football. The program is in a much better state under him than the snake, Willie Taggart, being untruthful to slither away to Florida State.

A trap game is at hand for the Ducks this week as the teams look to move on from the bitter taste of losing. Overall, the Ducks should be proud of their performance and sent a message to opponents the physicality will not let up.

Besides Verdell, the one player who will likely want to atone for his errors is Herbert. In regulation, he picked apart Stanford, going 25-for-27 in the air with one touchdown. Overtime was a different story where he went 1-for-6 passing.

Herbert not only can pass but can take off down the field. The Stanford defense had trouble in pressuring Herbert with the fear of him running. Also, the Cardinal defense did not disguise their blitz schemes as Herbert was able to read the calls and execute.

Dillon Mitchell emerged as a reliable target for Herbert against Stanford. In one of the best receiving performances in Oregon history to date, Mitchell caught 14 passes for 239 yards.

Pressure on Herbert may be a tough task for the Bears as leading pass rusher, Cameron Goode is out for the year. The focus must be on stopping the rushing attack. The Ducks’ have multiple running backs, but none has emerged as a leading threat.

For now, Cal leads the Pac-12 in forcing three-and-outs and limiting opponents to a 25 percent conversion rate on third downs. Herbert got his way against the Cardinal defenders but faces a tougher challenge with the Bears’ defenders.

Led by Jaylinn Hawkins and Ashtyn Davis, Cal is second in the nation with seven interceptions. The two must stay on the Ducks’ receivers to disrupt passes to keep Oregon’s offense from gaining traction.

In the previous meeting, Oregon defeated Cal but lost Herbert who left the game with an injury. Herbert hopes to be a factor the entire game in Berkeley.

Game time begins at 7:30 on FS1.

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With Pac-12 after dark being must-see television, both Oregon and Cal have a chance to come out on top. Expect a hungry Ducks team to come out energized and play from start to finish.