The Arizona State game showed that the Oregon rebuild might not be as complete or as quick as fans hoped. Clearly this is a process, and the Ducks are a young team that must learn discipline and preparation.
Willie Taggart and staff can recruit, an uneasy achievement given a pending FBI investigation into college sports, but can they coach? How well and how decisively they bounce back against Cal at home will provide an answer.
Duck Sports Authority's crew of analysts: Brandon Gibson, A.J. Jacobson, Dale Newton and Scott Reed take a look at how Cal and Oregon compare at this point in the season and make their predictions in this week’s Crystal Ball.
In the loss last week to ASU, Oregon players and coaches learned the hard way that they aren’t good enough to make excessive mistakes and beat a Pac-12 team. The good news? Oregon played like a very young team, which they are. Oregon currently has 12 underclassmen starters. What does that mean? Great potential for improvement.
It is now on the coaches to correct and mold the young players, and for the upperclassmen to help lead this group to future improvement. Oregon is learning to “win” games again. So too are the Duck’s opponent this week, Cal. Cal has long been a suffering program, but with a new coaching staff they appear to be turning a corner early on. How are they doing it? Discipline and focus.
I believe Cal will play well and it will be on the Ducks to step up their game. If the Ducks play well, they win this walking away. If Oregon fails to correct their mistakes, it could be a bumpy ride. I think Oregon cleans up enough.
Both 3-1 teams have plenty of unknowns heading into the game. Neither has a quality win and both have one somewhat respectable loss. The Ducks have been their own worst enemy when they off; penalties, execution breakdowns, narrow play-calling.
Oregon has better athletes and is at home. My prediction is based on how I think the Ducks will play.
During every game of the four the Oregon offense has had series during which they dominated the defense and drove easily into the end zone. If they could harness what they do when they execute like that, they could be a dominant offense.
The defense has been the steadier of the pair, with decent to very good performances in the first four games, with an overall better job of playing all of the quarters.
Saturday will be the Ducks’ time to shine as they come back home and execute.
"Cal has long been a suffering program, but with a new coaching staff they appear to be turning a corner early on. "
In Tempe the Ducks were manhandled by one of the least complete teams in the conference. A squad that came in ranked 129th in the country in stopping third downs held them to 1-11 on third downs.
From last year's 4-8 squad, Oregon retains an alarming propensity for shooting themselves in the foot. They had 14 penalties for 99 yards last Saturday, and 8 of those were on the offensive line. Disastrous.
Alarming too was how badly the Ducks were outcoached. They started slow and didn't look prepared. In the first half ASU blocked a punt and executed a successful onside kick.
In Berkeley last weekend the Bears stayed with USC and looked to be winning for most of three quarters before suffering their own rash of self-inflicted wounds. New quarterback Ross Bowers coughed up the ball, with 4 interceptions and 2 fumbles, and a 13-13 tie devolved into a comfortable 30-20 SC victory.
Even so, Justin Wilcox and his new staff have this Cal team at 3-1, with wins over UNC and Ole Miss. They're playing with more discipline and urgency.
"Oregon desperately needs one of its highly-touted young receivers, Dillon Mitchell, Alex Ofodile, Malik Lovette, Jaylon Redd, maybe Jake Breeland, to emerge as a go-to guy. "
The Bears are a much better passing team with star athlete Demetris Robertson in the lineup. He's missed their last two games with an injury. This game may come down to which team gets their playmaker back to full health. The Ducks badly missed Charles Nelson last weekend.
Without him, Justin Herbert had the worst game of his brief Oregon career. The Ducks couldn't handle the Sun Devils blitz. No one could get open on third down, and Herbert and his receivers missed connection on a dozen deep balls.
Oregon desperately needs one of its highly-touted young receivers, Dillon Mitchell, Alex Ofodile, Malik Lovette, Jaylon Redd, maybe Jake Breeland, to emerge as a go-to guy. They need the right side of the offensive line to develop a backbone.
It could very well be that neither of those things will happen.
After opening 3-0, the Ducks ran into a buzzsaw of mistakes on the road at ASU last week. Despite the tragic-comedy of errors, the Ducks still nearly pulled off the comeback win. The defense responded well to some second half adjustments and were stout against the run allowing just 2.7 yards per carry.
This week Oregon faces a revitalized Cal team also entering at 3-1. With a QB that can throw for 300 yards and a running back duo capable of big plays, the defense will have its hands full.
Former Duck Justin Wilcox has Cal trending upward early and their defense is much improved. Expect a tough battle and lower than expected score. I give the edge to Oregon here based on better offense and home field.