September 26, 2009
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Oregon 42, California 3. It's gotta be the clothes, I guess; Oregon goes with the classy throwback threads from the '94 Rose Bowl season, and delivered the performance of a team that's on its way back there. As perilous as the season looked after the opening night catastrophe at Boise State, it looks just as bright after this. And heaven help me if there's any logical accounting for the turnaround. They just, what, woke up on the right side of the bed?
Everything today was in direct contrast to the loss in Boise and pretty much everything else in between, down to the good vibes of a home crowd that fostered the opposite of the poisonous atmosphere in the wake of LeGarrette Blount's meltdown on the blue turf. Jeremiah Masoli, the least efficient passer in the Pac-10, careened from last week's 4-of-16 debacle against Utah to a 21-of-25, three-touchdown, zero-interception work of art; the running game, a nonentity at Boise, increased its output for the third game in a row, nearly matching last year's 280-yard average on the ground; the defense battered Jahvid Best into just 55 yards rushing, well below half his season average, on a long run of 11; and enthusiastically dynamiting the swelling reservoir of doubt that had steadily accrued about the line play on both sides and (more importantly) Chip Kelly's competence as a head coach since the opening kick on Sept. 3.
Don't get suckered into anyone questioning Cal's top-10 credentials coming in; the Bears had been more than true before today to their high preseaon expectations. As I saw it, the conventional wisdom was that Cal should overcome its chronic road woes in Eugene, solidify itself as the Pac-10 frontrunner and get USC in Berkeley next week as a solid favorite to put the Trojans on the path to the Holiday Bowl. That sequence of events is completely exploded -- the Bears remain miserable away from home, and still in search of a reliable passing game that Kevin Riley (12-of-31 today) seems increasingly incapable of delivering. If anything, it's Oregon, one of the early season's looming disappointments, that suddenly looks a really viable contender to the crown -- the Ducks get the Trojans in Eugene, too, where they beat SC the last time around. If nothing else, they're back where they started the season, as a top-15/20 dark horse with all of those possibilities in front of them, and that's a long, long way from where they seemed to be this morning.