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Cal's QB uncertainty adds to challenge against Oregon

The SportsXchange

Even before Cal quarterback Zach Maynard was injured in the Bears' Nov. 2 loss to Washington, there was little reason to believe Cal could beat No. 3 Oregon, even though that Nov. 10 game will be played in Berkeley.

If Maynard cannot play against the Ducks, the Bears' chances decrease even further.

Tests on Maynard's knee showed no ligament or structural damage, and the injury was diagnosed as a sprain. So there is a chance he could play against the Ducks. It depends on how well Maynard recovers during the week.

If Maynard cannot play, Cal's quarterback will be Allan Bridgford, who has completed just 4-of-16 passes this season and has given no indication he's capable of moving the Cal offense.

Even if Maynard plays, he will again be without the Bears' best player and top offensive weapon, wide receiver Keenan Allen, who is expected to miss his second straight game with a knee injury.

With a healthy Allen and Maynard, Cal would still be a significant underdog, even at home.

The Bears have lost three in a row and now that they are eliminated from bowl possibilities, they have no tangible motivation. Most of the discussion heading into the Oregon game is whether coach Jeff Tedford will be fired after this season, which is not an uplifting situation for the team.

Cal also has injury issues at other positions, although a number of players are expected to return to action, including wide receiver Bryce Treggs.

The bigger problem is Oregon and the Ducks' offense. The Ducks lead the nation in scoring, and no team has been close to slowing down their up-tempo, spread option attack.

Oregon blew by USC 62-51 on the Trojans' home field on Nov. 3 in what amounted to their closest game of the season, and the Ducks seemed to be in control of that one throughout as well.

The Ducks rank second in the nation in rushing, with Kenjon Barner coming off a school-record 321-yard rushing game.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota is the kind of dual-threat quarterback who has given the Bears problems, and De'Anthony Thomas is a big-play threat for which Cal has no defensive answer.

The only bit of optimism for Cal springs from the fact that it had great success against the Ducks the last time they came to Berkeley. If Cal can duplicate its performance from that 15-13 loss in 2010, Cal fans would feel pretty good about the team. Whether that would improve Tedford's job security is another question.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Game time for the Nov. 10 game against Oregon was not set until Nov. 4, and the game will be played at 7:30 p.m. It will be interesting to see how many people attend, given the Bears poor record and the relatively short time for people to plan.

--Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast may be the only person who can save the Bears against Oregon, because he devised a defensive game plan that worked magnificently against Oregon two years ago when Cal lost, 15-13, in a game Cal could have won. It was the only regular-season game that year in which the Ducks scored fewer than 37 points, and they went on to play in the national championship game. Cal would have taken a 16-15 lead in the game if usually reliable Giorgio Tavecchio hadn't missed a 29-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.

The situation in that game is similar to this year's meeting in that backup QB Brock Mansion was forced into a starting role. He did very little, passing for just 69 yards, yet the Bears had a chance to pull off the upset.

Oregon scored 43 on the Bears last season, but that was in Eugene.

--Coach Jeff Tedford said he's had no conversations with athletic director Sandy Barbour regarding his job situation and does not expect to have any such talks until after the season. Certainly a victory -- or even a strong showing -- in the Bears' final two games against ranked opponents, No. 3 Oregon and No. 11 Oregon State, could help his status. But losses in those two would leave the Bears with a five-game losing streak to end the season and a 3-9 record. That would not look good. A blowout loss to Oregon in front of the home crowd after poor offensive showings in the past two home games could be the death knell for Tedford. Cal has scored only one touchdown in its past two home games combined.

--Cal's health will be a significant factor. WR Keenan Allen (knee) is not expected to play, and QB Zach Maynard (knee) is questionable. DEs Kendrick Payne (finger) and Aaron Tipoti (knee) and WR Bryce Treggs (ankle) probably will play against Oregon, but ILBs Jalen Jefferson and J.P. Hurrell and CB Marc Anthony are all questionable as they await clearance after suffering concussions. Being banged up and thin on defense is particularly significant against the Ducks, whose hurry-up offense makes depth on defense important. Most teams wear down under the Ducks' constant assault. OT Matt Summers-Gavin (knee) is questionable as well.

SERIES HISTORY: Cal leads 39-33-2 (last meeting 2011, Oregon 43-15).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Whether QB Zach Maynard plays will go a long way toward determining Cal's capabilities. Maynard has not been great and has turned the ball over too often, but he gives the Bears a better chance to score than Allan Bridgford, who would be the starter if Maynard can't play because of his knee injury. Bridgford has completed just 4-of-16 passes this season and has given no indication he's capable of moving the team. Despite the expected absence of WR Keenan Allen, Cal has some talent on the outside, especially freshman WR Chris Harper. TB C.J. Anderson is coming off a career-best 160-yard rushing day against Washington, and Brendan Bigelow provides a big-play threat.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Despite numerous injuries, the Cal defense has played decently the past five games. It has not been great, but it has played well enough for Cal to win those games. The 49 points yielded to Utah on Oct. 27 was misleading because two touchdowns were scored on kickoff returns and another was scored by the Utes' defense. Plus, Utah had short fields for two other scores. A short field led to Washington's final touchdown in the Huskies' 21-13 victory on Nov. 2. Cal's cornerbacks -- Steve Williams, Kameron Jackson and Marc Anthony -- have played pretty well, but the Bears had trouble stopping the run against Washington, which got 189 rushing yards from Bishop Sankey. Cal yields 4.2 yards per rushing attempt, which ranks eighth in the Pac-12 and is a concern against an Oregon offense that ranks second nationally in rushing.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Unbelievably impressive. There's really no holes. To do that against USC was a real eye-opener. It's amazing how fast they can roll up the points." -- Cal coach Jeff Tedford, on Oregon's offense in its 62-51 victory over USC on Nov. 3.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Oregon at Cal, Nov. 10 -- Oregon is ranked No. 3 in the BCS standings but has a strong hold on the No. 2 spot in all three human polls. The Ducks are 9-0, lead the nation in scoring (54.6 points) and are coming off a 62-51 victory at USC. They have won the past three games against Cal. The Bears have lost three in a row, including a 21-13 defeat at home to Washington on Nov. 2, leaving them with a 2-5 conference mark and a 2-4 record at home.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The biggest key may be the health of Cal QB Zach Maynard. The Bears have a better chance to move the ball if Maynard is in there rather than Allan Bridgford, who would be the quarterback if Maynard's injured knee prevents him from playing. Cal needs to run the ball effectively to control the tempo of the game. USC had some success running the ball against the Ducks, so there is reason to believe Cal can too. The Bears also need some breaks, especially early in the game. A turnover leading to an early Cal touchdown would be a big help for the Bears' psyche. Oregon has scored more than 40 points in every game this season, and Cal is not equipped offensively to match that, so it must keep the score down.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

WR Chris Harper -- Harper, a true freshman, becomes the Bears' No. 1 receiving target with Keenan Allen out, and he has demonstrated an ability to make difficult catches. He had 101 receiving yards in the Nov. 2 game against Washington and needs to do something similar against Oregon.

QB Zach Maynard -- His mere presence on the field would be a significant accomplishment. If he plays, he has the mobility and skills to provide some big plays, although he is also apt to make a mistake that costs the team. He would need an error-free game for the Bears to stay in the contest.

OLB Chris McCain -- He played last week despite an ankle injury, and he will be a critical component of the Bears' defense against the Ducks' spread option. He leads the team in tackles for loss with eight, and needs several of those against Oregon.

RB Brendan Bigelow -- He may be Cal's best chance to stay in the game because he provides big-play potential. For Cal to score enough points to stay with the Ducks, Bigelow needs to get some big gainers -- as a runner, receiver or kick returner.

TB C.J. Anderson -- Leads the team in rushing with 673 yards and averages 6.5 yards a carry. He had a career-high 160 yards in the Nov. 2 game against Washington.

ROSTER REPORT:

--WR Keenan Allen is not expected to play against Oregon because of a knee injury.

--QB Zach Maynard is questionable for the Oregon game because of a knee injury.

--LB Jalen Jefferson is questionable for Oregon game after missing the past three games with a concussion sustained against Washington State.

--CB Marc Anthony is questionable for the Oregon game with a concussion.

--ILB J.P. Hurrell is questionable for the game against Oregon with a concussion.

--DE Kendrick Payne (finger) probably will play against Oregon after missing the previous game against Washington.

--DE Aaron Tipoti (knee) probably will play against Oregon.

--OT Matt Gavin-Summers (knee) is questionable for the Oregon game.
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