Cal to Face Its Highest-Ranked Opponent So Far in 2007 as Underdogs in Eugene, Ore.
BY Steffi Chan
Tailback Justin Forsett has not paid too much attention to the No. 11 Oregon football team so far this season. In fact, besides studying film this week, Forsett hasn’t seen any of the Ducks in action since last year’s 45-24 blowout victory. That is, save for one. A few months ago, Forsett and Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart both participated in the indoor 60 meter race during track and field season. “I know he’s fast—I ran against him in track indoors, so I know he can move,” Forsett said of Stewart, the Pac-10’s leading rusher. “We weren’t in the same heat but it was the same race. He had the faster time.” Saturday, Forsett will compete with Stewart on a different turf when the No. 6 Cal football team takes on the Ducks at 12:30 p.m., at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore.
Both teams are aware of the massive implications of tomorrow’s matchup, out of which only one of the two ranked teams can emerge with a still-spotless record and a probable shot at the conference title. “This will be definitely the toughest game we’ve played so far. I feel like every week is a tough game, but this game is more important because we have that rivalry with Oregon,” cornerback Brandon Hampton said. “They have a great team and they’ll be right in the running for the Pac-10 during the end of the season. We’ve got to win this game early.” After their victory over Arizona last week, the Bears players have reiterated the fact that they have yet to play a complete game. If Cal (4-0, 1-0 in the Pac-10) were ever to fulfill such a task, there may be no better time than Saturday. Meanwhile, neither history nor environment is on the Bears’ side. Cal has not won in at Autzen Stadium—an infamously hostile venue for opposing teams—since 1987. “The crowd there is unbelievably educated about when to be loud and when to calm down when they have the ball,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “It’s a very tough environment.”
On paper, the Ducks (4-0, 1-0) will undoubtedly present the Bears their greatest challenge yet. Led by dual-threat quarterback Dennis Dixon—who has improved by leaps and bounds from last season and now leads the Pac-10 in pass efficiency—Oregon is first in the conference in scoring offense, rushing offense and total offense. Dixon, a senior, has amassed 291 yards on the ground with four touchdowns, and 932 yards through the air for 11 more—already surpassing his 14 scores in 2006. “(Dixon) is in his comfort-zone right now. He has great weapons around him, a great offensive line—they’re running the ball very well—and he has great receivers. He’s such a threat because when they have the running game, they can throw the football and then he can pull it down and run,” Tedford said. “It’s a scary group.” Slowing down the Ducks offense doesn’t look as if it’ll be an easy task for Cal’s defense. The group that has shown weakness against much less dangerous offenses, and will be without defensive end Rulon Davis (foot) and linebacker Zack Follett (neck). If the Bears defense cannot stop the Ducks' attack, the game may very well turn into a highly anticipated fireworks show, as Cal is not short on offensive weapons by any means, putting up 41.5 points per game, third in the Pac-10.
“If we are going to win, it’s going to be on our offense,” said wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who has been hampered by a thumb injury but said he’s 95-percent recovered. “We are going to have to score a lot of points.” Oregon coach Mike Bellotti is quite familiar with what Jackson can do, after the wideout twice burned the Ducks for a score last season, returning a punt 65 yards to the end zone and receiving a 35-yard touchdown pass. “I would say that Cal’s receivers are the best we’ve faced, by far,” Bellotti said. “This is a very potent offense.” To combat the Bears’ offensive arsenal—which will be without fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou—Oregon will employ a mix of man and zone defenses.
“We have to be careful with what (we) do,” Bellotti said. “You also have to stop the running game. In my mind Justin Forsett is the thing that makes them go. “I think we have to be very careful when we approach this about making sure we don’t come in too much, making too many islands for our DBs versus wide receivers.”