5 things to watch: California
The No. 8 Ducks (6-1, 4-0 Pac-12) are the only undefeated team remaining in the conference after knocking out previously undefeated UCLA at Autzen Stadium last week. Cal is 3-4 overall and 1-3 in Pac-12 play; the Golden Bears’ only conference win was at home against Arizona, a team the Ducks beat on the road. One of Cal’s losses is against WSU, the Oregon team came from behind to beat on the road in the Ducks’ Pac-12 opener.
The all-time series between the Ducks and Golden Bears is tied, 41-41-2. Oregon has won eight of the last 10 games, but both losses have come at Berkeley, where Cal has a 28-17-2 advantage in the series.
Saturday’s match is scheduled to start at 12.35pm, with TV coverage on FS1. Tim Brando will provide play-by-play, with analysis by Spencer Tillman.
Some storylines to watch on Saturday afternoon…
1. Last Saturday was a day to remember for the Ducks, with ESPN’s “College GameDay” in the morning followed by a one-sided victory over the Bruins in a battle of the top 10 teams.
The Ducks have done a solid job all year to turn in emotional results, whether it’s the disappointment of the season-opening loss to Georgia or the dramatic comeback to win at WSU. Now they have to prove they can go from the top to beat UCLA.
“Some people texted me the morning after the game and said, ‘How do you feel after this win? ‘” OU coach Dan Lanning said Monday. “I said, well, I just watched the movie. So I have some concerns. There’s a lot of things that we need to correct, a lot of things that need to be improved. The piece that excites me is that, on a regular basis every week we have really improved on every level, we have to keep improving as we go.
2. If recent history holds, the Ducks are preparing for a tough battle against the Golden Bears.
The average margin of victory in their last three meetings is one touchdown, well below some of the predictions for Saturday’s game. Oregon can’t be caught off guard if the game becomes a war of attrition.
“I think anyone who turns on the television on a Saturday night is going to realize every week that you can’t predict college football,” Lanning said. “I’m watching a movie earlier today for this game, and last year it was about the last few seconds, a fourth and two on the goal line (where Oregon made a save to secure the victory). So we have to do our best every week to be able to perform at the level we feel is necessary.”
3. Oregon has been sparked in recent weeks by big offensive plays, but big games might be hard to find against Cal on Saturday.
In conference, the Ducks lead the Pac-12 with 12 plays of 30 or more yards. Cal has licensed eight of those games.
“They’re probably one of the best-drilled, strongest defenses in our conference that we’re really going to see,” Lanning said. “I think they do a really good job of that, and because of that they don’t give up a lot of big plays.”
4. This year’s Cal team has so much talent in the skill positions like the Golden Bears have done in recent years.
Receiver J. Michael Sturdivant had eight receptions for 104 yards and two touchdowns last week against Washington. Another freshman, running back Jaydn Ott, had 274 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Arizona.
And Cal quarterback Purdue transfer Jack Plummer “probably doesn’t get enough credit,” Lanning said. “He’s got a takeaway from his last five games – he’s done a really good job of taking care of the ball. And he throws the ball very well. He’s a talented thrower.”
5. Speaking of quarterbacks, Oregon’s Bo Nix is begins to generate buzz for the Heisman Trophy after his five-touchdown performance against UCLA.
Lanning this week described Nix as “humble and hungry,” and if Nix is to stay in the Heisman race, those are exactly the traits that will do.
“He understands what we’re trying to do and execute,” Lanning said. “You never let the moment be bigger than the moment. He’s always there to play the game. He’s a smart, smart player who goes out there and performs at a high level.”