Matt Kartozian - USA Today Sports
Cal and Oregon went through similar teardowns during the offseason. New identities were formed under Justin Wilcox and Willie Taggart. Coaching staffs were assembled with great attention to detail, with the hires all ranging from good to excellent. Now the two youngest coaches in the Pac-12, both coming into the game leading 3-1 teams.
Cal and Oregon both come into the matchup coming off of losses, Cal falling in the fourth quarter to USC, Oregon off a 37-35 loss in the desert to Arizona State, but the Ducks have been offensively strong and defensively improved from a year ago.
By The Numbers:
13 - Tackles for loss Oregon had against ASU. Speed is the top thing that Oregon's defense brings to the table, though they're not as big as they could be in their transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4/4-2-5. Jalen Jelks was the best of these, getting 5 tackles for loss against the Sun Devil's defense
2.7 - Yards per carry allowed against the Sun Devils. Even if you take out all of the yards lost due to tackles for loss, the yards per carry metric only goes up to a little more than 4.5 yards per carry, which is still an improvement over a year ago from Oregon. Gang tackling has improved mightily for the Ducks, as they swarm to the ball better and are more disciplined defensively. Jim Leavitt has done well in turning them in a respectable direction.
14- Number of flags thrown on the Ducks in their previous game. Lots of false starts and other easily avoidable mistakes that put them behind the chains
1-11 - Conversion rate on 3rd down, a lot of that coming due to those flags to force QB Justin Herbert into 3rd and long situations. Herbert struggled with the pressure that ASU loaded up on him on those downs, something that Tim DeRuyter will look to do on those 3rd and long situations.
81 to 75.8 to 62.1 to 54.3 - Drops in Herbert's completion percentage game by game. Herbert missed Charles Nelson in the ASU game, after he went out with an ankle issue during the Wyoming game. Pressure from the ASU blitzes played a role, though Herbert was only sacked twice. He's been sacked 5 times during the year.
10 - Touchdowns for Royce Freeman on the year, and also the number of yards he gained against Cal last year. Freeman is healthy again, averaging 5.6 yards per carry and doing a ton of the work for the Ducks, who have leaned on the run game so far this season. Freeman has 97 carries so far this year, and for a comparison, Patrick Laird has 52.
27 - Pass breakups for Oregon in four games, as the Ducks are led by Arrion Springs, who has 8 of those. Oregon's corner situation has improved mightily, and the Ducks are covering better than a year ago, which opens up the rest of the front 7 to more pressure packages, since they can rely on the DBs to cover one on one more often
7 - Different receivers who have caught a TD pass. With Nelson in and out of the lineup, the Ducks have a number of different solid receiving options at their disposal. Dillon Mitchell has been the best one to this point, with 18 catches for 217 yards and 2 TDs.
(A note, safety Khalil Oliver, who started the opener against Southern Utah, left the team today)
Names to watch:
Other than Herbert or Freeman, that is
Kaulana Apelu: Former walk-on in the middle, was forced into more action due to an injury to AJ Hotchkins, where it looked like Arizona State took advanage of a size disparity
Troy Dye: Top tackler on the defense, very good on his pursuit angles, explodes through tackles
Thomas Graham Jr.: True freshman playing tight coverage already, very good athlete at corner
Austin Faoliu: Big true freshman nose tackle playing big snap counts. Touugh kid with a good getoff
Tyrell Crosby: Longest tenured OL, has 27 starts to his name, all but four of those coming under Cal OL coach Steve Greatwood
Tony Brooks-James: Speed threat from the RB spot, burned Cal quite a bit last year, not seeing as much use with Freeman healthy
Jacob Breeland - Big TE who flashed against Arizona State, tough cover over the middle
Johnny Johnson - Another true freshman seeing a bunch of playing time, got free for his first TD catch against ASU. Good speed, solid hands
Taj Griffin - Converted RB to WR, filling in for Charles Nelson, not as explosive as Nelson, though he's got some high end speed.