Cal Football: Bears face tall task in Eugene against Oregon Ducks

BERKELEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 29: Justin Herbert #10 of the Oregon Ducks tries to avoid being tackled by Jordan Kunaszyk #59 of the California Golden Bears at California Memorial Stadium on September 29, 2018 in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
BERKELEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 29: Justin Herbert #10 of the Oregon Ducks tries to avoid being tackled by Jordan Kunaszyk #59 of the California Golden Bears at California Memorial Stadium on September 29, 2018 in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

A disheartening loss the past week put a damper on a promising outlook for Cal Football and now the Bears must find a way to play perfect football against the No.13 Oregon Ducks in Eugene.

With their highest ranking in over a decade, the Cal Bears entered last weekend’s contest against Arizona State riding momentum. After an early statement win on the road against Washington, the Cal football program went into SEC territory to pull off a 28-20 victory over Ole Miss, vaulting up the rankings.

To their dismay, last weekend, Cal appeared to run out of steam after not only losing to Arizona State at home but also their starting quarterback.

Chase Garbers left the game in the second quarter after injuring his shoulder during a scramble. He returned on the Cal football sideline afterward in a sling. The extent of the injury was unclear until head coach, Justin Wilcox, announced Garbers would miss time.

For Garbers, he finally appeared steady in leading the Cal offense despite getting off to a slow start to start the year against UC Davis. Many did not believe Garbers could handle the duties under center, but an undefeated stretch certainly changed viewpoints on the starter.

Cal’s play undoubtedly drew attention as coach Wilcox steadily transitions the Bears into the system of playing physical both offensively and defensively.

The sudden rise provided a possibility of standing a chance this season against Stanford to potentially end a lengthy drought of reclaiming The Axe.

But now the focus is on backup quarterback Devon Modster handling the play-calling duties under the helm to lead the Bears’ offense. After replacing Garbers in the game, Modster struggled to connect with his receivers, grounding any attack to put away the Sun Devils.

Modster is likely getting plenty of snaps during practice before the game against Oregon. As a former Duck, Wilcox is probably telling Modster the loudness which will come inside Autzen Stadium. To handle the noise is just one challenge the young quarterback must handle.

Without a passing game, Cal must rely on Christopher Brown Jr. to penetrate a tenacious Oregon defensive line on the ground. He will likely have a tough night as the Ducks are only allowing about 100 yards per game.

Oregon is coming off a bye week and looking to ride the current momentum to an unbeaten record in conference play. An opening statement got made two weeks ago by Oregon after defeating Stanford on the road.

Offensively, the Ducks did not operate smoothly, often getting stalled early in the possession or receivers not making catches. Credit does go to the Cardinal defense, who were coming off a disappointing effort against Central Florida.

Defensively, the Ducks are firing on all cylinders. Oregon should be unbeaten after a stellar performance in the opener against Auburn. Unfortunately, fate did not favor the Ducks but is continuing to make positive strides.

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In the past three games, the Ducks’ defense has not allowed a touchdown (Nevada, Montana, Stanford). Under new defensive coordinator, Andy Avalos, the Ducks’ defense is stout in pressuring the quarterback, limiting big runs on the ground, and breaking up passes.

From a discipline standpoint, Oregon is bucking the trend, taking fewer penalties than last year. Expect the Oregon defense to make significant contributions in critical situations during the stretch drive.

Forget about Willie Taggart, opting to slither off to a so-called dream job with Florida State after only one season at Oregon.

Coach Mario Cristobal is forging a new identity with the Ducks to be physical and play with attitude. Two areas in which Taggart and Jim Leavitt could not preach and bring the same do-nothing approach with the Seminoles.

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Oregon is going to come away on top of the Pac-12 North Division and Cristobal is bringing the Ducks back to prominence and the national spotlight. Only Washington is the roadblock keeping Oregon from rising and that’s going to be an exciting matchup in a few weeks.

Back to the matchup with Cal as Justin Herbert is getting new weapons at the wide receiver position. Both Brenden Schooler and Mycah Pittman are healthy and are expected to play this week.

Schooler and Pittman suffered injuries before the season. The setbacks came at an unfortunate time as both were possibly difference makers if available against the Tigers in Week 1.

Juwan Johnson could also make his debut as the graduate transfer is still rehabbing from his injury. To have Pittman and Schooler back only makes the Ducks’ offense more lethal as Herbert is going to look down the field for big plays.

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He already has a reliable target in Jacob Breeland as the two found chemistry in recent contests. Herbert connected with Breeland for a touchdown against Stanford to seal away the win.

On the ground, the Ducks’ have found little success in establishing a solid rushing attack — Stanford limited Oregon to only 61 yards rushing. The offensive line must do a better job of allowing the running backs to be a factor in the game.

Autzen Stadium is going to be full of students who are back in school and getting to see the Ducks at full strength. Cal football is facing their most significant challenge with an inexperienced quarterback facing a great test on the road.

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The Bears will challenge the Ducks but ultimately come away empty in Eugene.