Sunday, September 30, 2007
Saturday, September 29, 2007
10/13/07 vs. Oregon State Berkeley, Calif. TBA
10/20/07 at UCLA Pasadena, Calif. TBA
10/27/07 at Arizona State Tempe, Ariz. 7:00 p.m. PT
11/03/07 vs. Washington State Berkeley, Calif. 7:00 p.m. PT
11/10/07 vs. USC Berkeley, Calif. 5:00 p.m. PT
11/17/07 at Washington Seattle, Wash TBA
12/01/07 at Stanford Stanford, Calif. 4:00 p.m. PT
No. 6 Bears hang on, 31-24, as No. 11 Ducks come within inches of scoring with time winding down on a play that requires a review.
By Chris Dufresne
EUGENE, Ore. -- The game changed so DeSean Jackson-fast. One minute an Oregon receiver was stretching for the score-tying touchdown and a few minutes later California players were being asked about winning the national championship. There was a replay involved -- at Autzen Stadium, conducted by Pacific 10 Conference officials -- but this time they didn't pull an Oklahoma. And, in the moment the replay verdict was upheld Saturday, the entire college football landscape got hedge clipped. No. 6 California held on to outlast No. 11 Oregon, 31-24, and the jubilant Bears, after celebrating on foreign turf, made a bee-line back to Berkeley to consider their place in this year's conversation after the biggest road win of Coach Jeff Tedford's era. We're talking about inches possibly swaying a national title race one way or another. Oregon had first and goal at the Cal five with 22 seconds left. Receiver Cameron Colvin accepted a pass in the left flat and tried to sneak the ball inside the left pylon when he was hit by defensive back Marcus Ezeff.
Ezeff said he was trying to take Colvin's "head off" on the play, but actually thought he had surrendered the potential score-tying touchdown. Actually, on the tackle, the ball popped loose from Colvin and through the end zone. Side judge Bernard Samuels signaled touchback. Pending further review and plenty of anxious moments. "I was just sitting over there, kind of having a heart attack," Ezeff said of his demeanor during the replay delay. Final verdict ended a great game between mirror-like programs. Cal improved to 5-0 while Oregon fell, if you can call it that, to 4-1. The Heisman Trophy campaign of Cal receiver Jackson, who finished with 11 catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns, was resurrected while Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon's hopes took a dent when two of his passes were intercepted in the final 4 minutes 30 seconds. Before that, he hadn't had a pass intercepted this season. Dixon still finished with 306 yards passing and nearly redeemed himself on the Ducks' last-minute drive, conducted without any timeouts. But it all ended when touchdown turned into touchback. "He was trying to make a play," Dixon said of Colvin's end-zone stretch. "I don't judge him for nothing."
Colvin said he thought he'd crossed the goal and "that's the way it goes." Cal earned a victory in one of the most ear-throbbing venues in the country and escaped Autzen without committing a turnover while getting three from Oregon. Cal had lost seven straight games at Autzen dating back 20 years. This time, though, the Bears rallied for 28 second-half points after trailing, 10-3, at the half. The score was 24-24 with 4:23 left when linebacker Anthony Felderintercepted a Dixon pass at the Oregon 21. Three plays later, Justin Forsett scored on a one-yard run and Cal made the lead stand. Jackson, who had only three catches the previous week against Arizona, came up big, his speed affecting Oregon's entire game plan. "All year I've been waiting for the opportunity to make plays for my teammates," Jackson said. It was the kind of road win Cal needed to spruce up its national resume. Maybe these Bears have been hardened by lessons learned last year at Tennessee, and Arizona and USC, and are now ready to make a serious run to the top. "It's so early," Tedford said, "this is one game. I don't know about all that national stuff."
Yet, after a day in which four top-10 schools lost, Cal figures up to be No. 3 in today's polls. And the last time Cal was ranked No. 3 was Oct. 18, 1952. Remember, this year USC comes to Berkeley, on Nov. 10. Maybe this is the year it all breaks Cal's way -- or doesn't break. Quarterback Nate Longshore hobbled off the field in the fourth quarter because of a right ankle injury. Longshore returned after having his ankle heavily wrapped, but he limped out of Autzen under the gaze of watchful eyes. "We have our fingers crossed," Tedford said. Later, it was revealed that X-rays on Longshore's ankle were negative, which could not have been more positive news for Cal. The Bears have a bye this week before playing host to Oregon State on Oct. 13. Cal has been highly regarded before, only to get tripped up in unlikely places such as Tucson. "It's not over," linebacker Worrell Williams said of the season. "It's just getting started." With all the losing that went on Saturday, Oregon may not even be in for that much of a poll fall. How far do you drop No. 11 after it loses in the final seconds against No. 6? "It's a long, long season," Dixon said. "Anything can happen in college football. You never know."
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) -- The road to the national title took a detour through the scenic Willamette Valley on Saturday. A string of upsets raised the stakes in a stirring showdown between No. 6 California and 11th-ranked Oregon. It had already been big enough to draw the largest football crowd in the state's history, 59,273. But a roar swept through the packed Autzen Stadium grandstand when the public-address announcer read a stunning score from Boulder.
Colorado 27, No. 3 Oklahoma 24. The Sooners' loss, coupled with fifth-ranked West Virginia's upset at South Florida on Friday night, had opened an express lane to national title contention. The only question: would Cal or Oregon take it? California, here they come. The Golden Bears' pulsating 31-24 victory should leave them No. 3, at worst, when The Associated Press Top 25 comes out on Sunday. "Thank God we've got a bye (next weekend) so we can dwell on it a little bit," Cal linebacker Worrell Williams said. "We don't want to even think about the national championship right now." Williams paused and smiled, the sweat rolling off his face. "I mean, it's on our minds," Williams said. "Definitely, we knew coming into this game that if we didn't win this game, there wasn't going to be a chance for it."
And the Bears control their own destiny because top-ranked Southern California visits Berkeley on Nov. 10. Cal still has to take care of business until then, against Oregon State, at UCLA, at No. 23 Arizona State and against Washington State. This game, however, sent a loud message about Cal's grit -- and about the caliber of play in the Pac-10, often portrayed as Southern California and the Nine Dwarves. At halftime, with Oregon ahead 10-3, it looked as if a Big Ten game had broken out. The only thing missing was a silo behind the stadium. The second half was more like it, with the teams combining for six touchdowns. It looked like there would be a seventh until Oregon's Cameron Colvin fumbled trying to stretch the ball over the goal line with 16 seconds to go, a play that was upheld on a lengthy video review. Because the game took place in daylight, fans in the East didn't have to stay up until the middle of the night to see it, and ESPN's GameDay crew was here to spread the word. "You can never tell with people watching us on the East Coast," said tailback Justin Forsett, who ran for 101 tough yards. "But I hope they saw this one." It began to rain moments after the game ended, but that didn't stop wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Lavelle Hawkins, along with tailback Jahvid Best, from leaping a low restraining wall and diving into the Cal band.
"I saw West Virginia lose last night," said Jackson, who revved up his Heisman Trophy candidacy with 11 catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns. "I know it was a big thing for us to come in here and get this victory. It's crucial for us." The Bears had already served notice they were serious about contending for a national title in a decisive 45-31 victory over Tennessee on Sept. 1. That result lost a little luster when the Volunteers got steamrolled by Florida a few weeks later. It will take a while for this win to lose luster. Autzen Stadium is one of the West Coast's most intimidating venues, a place so tough the mascot was suspended for one game after beating up the Houston Cougar earlier this month.
This is the same howling den where Oklahoma lost last season, albeit with a little help from the refs. Cal marched in and, after enduring some early bumps, marched out with its championship aspirations intact. Coach Jeff Tedford beat his former boss, Mike Bellotti, in Eugene for the first time in three tries. "This place is so difficult; it's a great crowd, and the noise," Tedford said. "It's just real gratifying to win here." Even though Cal conceded 497 yards, it showed a toughness not normally associated with Pac-10 teams. Cal harassed Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon into his first two interceptions of the season. The Golden Bears defense was without playmaking linebacker Zack Follett, sidelined with a neck injury. Meanwhile, defensive line anchor Matt Malele, who has a foot injury, was limited to one assist.
"This win lets the world know that Cal can play some football," Hawkins said. "This win proved to our team that we can do it." For Oregon, the loss stung, but it's hard to imagine Oregon plummeting in the polls after taking the No. 6 team down to the final seconds, especially after No. 7 Texas and No. 10 Rutgers lost to unrated foes. "It's a long season," Dixon said. "Anything can happen in college football. You never know." Said Best, "Oregon is a good team too. They deserve to be high in the rankings." Just not as high as Cal, the newest national title contender on the West Coast. "No team can beat Cal," Williams said. "Except for Cal."
The Oregon Ducks nearly bailed themselves out of two late turnovers, but in the end it was just that -- another turnover -- that doomed the 11th-ranked Ducks in a 31-24 loss to No. 6 California on Saturday. It was a frustrating fourth quarter for the Ducks. Quarterback Dennis Dixon threw his first interception of the season, and after Cal took a 31-24 lead, another Dixon pass bounced into the hands of a Cal defender. Oregon's defense held the Golden Bears after that, however, and with 1 minute, 45 seconds to play, Dixon began to drive the Ducks down the field. With 22 seconds left, Dixon had Oregon with a first-and-goal at the Cal 5-yard line. Then, disaster struck.
Dixon found receiver Cameron Colvin on the left sideline. As Colvin headed toward the goal line, he took a hit from Cal's Marcus Ezeff at the 1-yard line that jarred the ball loose. It bounced into the end zone, then out of bounds. A hush fell over the stadium as a replay confirmed Oregon fans' worst fears: The ruling on the field of a Cal touchback stood.
Cal took over with 16 seconds to play, Bears quarterback Nate Longshore took a knee and most of Autzen Stadium tried to figure out what had just happened. It was eerily similar to last season's game against Oklahoma, when a controversial pass interference penalty helped Oregon to a 34-33 victory over the Sooners. This time, the Ducks came away with the loss.
And the Cal game ball goes to … Dennis Dixon.
Cal 31, Oregon 24 – and you just knew it would go down to the wire, with the refs confused and the game hanging in the balance. I mean, it’s Eugene, after all. (The refs made the right call, but be honest, Cal fans: You had to be thinking: “Are we gonna get the Oklahoma treatment?”)
Cal 31, Oregon 24 – the biggest win of Jeff Tedford’s tenure, and when you consider the stakes, there really isn’t anything close. A conference road win over a ranked team that keeps Cal alive in the Rose Bowl and BCS races … the Bears haven’t had a win like that since … since … since forever. Of course, it’s only the biggest win for the next two weeks.
The moment the soon-to-be-No. 4-ranked Bears take the field against Oregon State on Oct. 13, that becomes the biggest game, and hence the biggest win or loss. Cal has entered what amounts to a single-elimination tournament, with the Pac-10 title on the line each week. With USC out there, the Bears cannot afford to lose to anyone, anytime, anywhere. What struck me most about the victory was this: Cal did to Oregon what USC has done to Cal, and everyone else, so many times over the years. When it came to winning time — the second half of a tight game, with plays out there to be made — the Bears’ playmakers made all the big plays … just like Booty and Leinart and Jarrett and Bush and White have done:
* Quarterback Nate Longshore stood strong in the pocket and completed a slew of third-down passes in the second half. He finished 28-of-43 for 285 yards and two touchdown and no interceptions. (Which reminds me: Oregon had 4 turnovers, Cal had NONE — more USC-ness from the Bears.)
* Tailback Justin Forsett set the second-half tone with tough running that helped open up the passing lanes. He finished with 101 yards and two touchdowns.
* And receiver DeSean Jackson kept his Heisman hopes alive with a sensational second half, a handful of big catches, third down catches, touchdown catches. His 31-yard TD reception, including a juke-the-cornerback move on the right sideline, was one of the best plays of the week nationally (and it was quite a week, by the way). Jackson finished with 11 catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns — the best game of his career considering the stakes.
* And the defense, for all its bend-bend-bend didn’t actually break. In fact, the Bears had three takeaways down the stretch, two of them gift-wrapped by Dixon. Watching the riveting second half, I couldn’t help thinking of Cal’s loss at USC last season, a game with Rose Bowl implications that was tight late in the third quarter … until Booty and Jarrett and friends made all the big play. Big game, ranked opponent, winning time — and Cal’s playmakers came through. When was the last time that happened?
Marcus Ezeff knew he was doomed when he felt the Oregon wide receiver bump him and separate him from Duck Cameron Colvin at about the 3-yard line. There are ways to avoid or adjust to pick plays, true, but they are very difficult to react to, especially when the game-tying touchdown and the national rankings picture are about to be defined in a six-second interval. So Ezeff - Cal's sophomore rover, who had already been flagged for a late hit that set up Oregon's first touchdown and knew he would be fingered for this one as well, did the only thing he could do - ran as hard as he could to catch and hit Colvin before he reached the end zone with what surely would have been Oregon's 30th and 31st points. And he delivered a hit on Colvin that jarred the ball loose at the 1-yard line and bounced out of bounds in the end zone to seal Cal's nail-bitingest win in the Jeff Tedford era, a 31-24 win over 11th-ranked Oregon that (a) surely elevated Cal to no lower than fourth in today's polls, and quite possibly to third, (b) put them squarely in the national championship debate that has been reserved for LSU and USC, (c) allowed Tedford to unclench his jaw after days of what he called "being on edge, absolutely" ... and (d) saved Ezeff from a sort-of myocardial infarction.
"Yeah, when they (the officials) were reviewing it, I was having kind of a heart attack," he said with a smile. "I thought he'd scored, or they'd have it on the 1-yard line, but then I saw our coaches yelling and making the touchback signal. But the review was taking forever." We'll get back to the quasi-MI in a moment, but Ezeff's hit deserves a proper set-up. It came at the end of a second half that looked like what America had been promised by these two teams - an absolute offensive punch-out, to be decided by the last fist. True, it came after a first half that looked like Wisconsin-Iowa in a snowstorm, but you can't always get what you want from your bookie. It came at the end of a nine-play, 77-yard Oregon drive that was going to negate the two fourth-quarter interceptions Ducks quarterback Dennis Dixon had thrown, as well as the fumbled punt by Andre Crenshaw. It came at the end of a drive that took only a minute, 29 seconds despite Oregon having no time outs. And it came with the entire nation watching, a fact which was lost on nobody in the Cal camp, even though they are hesitant to make much of what will surely be their high ranking.
"Honestly, I don't think we'll have to talk to them much about the national picture stuff," Tedford said as he held dinner in the handy take-home box for him and his wife Donna. "I think this group knows how to handle it." But? "But we will talk to them about it, sure." Of course. The old football coach's creed - never a let a message go delivered fewer than three or four times. That, though, is tomorrow's problem, along with an injury list that includes quarterback Nate Longshore (sprained ankle, X-rays negative, no need to go for the cutlery).
Today is a day for the Bears to celebrate with a canceled practice, and to wait for the polls to validate one of their finest efforts in years. And for Ezeff, the Santa Rosa Montgomery High product whose elevation from scout team wizard to starter was swift enough to give most folks the bends, it is a day to reflect on what must be his most momentous athletic deed ever. "It was a totally illegal play," he said. "I got picked, and all I was trying to do was get back to him and make a play. That's my job. That's what I do. That's how I make my living." In other words: "I was trying to knock his head off."
Instead, as Colvin tried to stretch the ball to the goal line, Ezeff hit his right arm and knocked the ball loose, where it bounced in the end zone just inside the sideline, and then out completely. Line judge Manuel Alonzo threw his bean bag where the fumble occurred, but only started to give a touchback signal (an extended arm waved up and down several times) before running to confer with side judge Bernard Samuels, who gave sort of a dolphin-armed touchback signal before they both ran to confer with referee Jack Wood, who in turn conferred with the replay booth for what seemed like no more than an hour and a half before announcing that yes, the fumble did occur in the field of play, yes it was a touchback, yes Cal would be given the ball, and yes they would survive.
"It was pretty clear to all of us that it had to be a touchback," Tedford said as director of football operations Mike McHugh stood nearby nodding. "But the longer it took, the more you start to wonder if they're going to make the right call. There must have been a TV time out or something, but you start thinking about what happened here last year (where a notoriously bad call and bad replay work cost Oklahoma a win over the Ducks and created a national firestorm of sorts). But fortunately they got it right."
Fortunately for Tedford, to be sure. He tries to keep his keel even, to the point of sometimes coming off as an insurance adjuster in doubleknit shorts, but he was clearly off his feed this week. He wanted this game because he had never beaten his former employers in his former place of employment, because Oregon was the other candidate for prince regent in what is known as USC's kingdom, and because it represented the truest test yet for a team with a national reputation for playing in the Holiday Bowl. Test passed, with a few teeth ground down to the nerve on the side. And the defense, Cal's much-advertised weakness, bent without breaking, took Oregon's best shots and forced the fourth quarter interceptions that kept the Ducks at arms' length, literally as it turns out. Put another way, there is not another team in the nation whose leading interceptor (Tyson Alualu) is a 6-4, 288-pound defensive tackle.
Ultimately, though, this was Marcus Ezeff's moment. One hard hit at the last possible useful moment that changed the national college football landscape, kept his team undefeated, allowed him to atone for the late hit and the pick, and freed Tedford's jaw for re-clenching when the USC game comes up in November. As he said, "It's my job." As he also said, "I was having kind of a heart attack." Man, that's one lousy job ... and one strong heart.
By PETE THAMEL
EUGENE, Ore., Sept. 29 — On a weekend when college football’s national championship landscape changed drastically, it took a game on an overcast day in the Pacific Northwest to add some clarity to the national title and Heisman Trophy races. Sixth-ranked California’s thrilling 31-24 victory at No. 11 Oregon legitimized the Golden Bears (5-0, 2-0 Pacific-10 Conference) as national contenders. It also placed Cal’s star receiver, DeSean Jackson, in the thick of the Heisman Trophy race, thanks to his 161 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. But the Bears were only a yard from being possible upset victims themselves. Defensive back Marcus Ezeff forced Oregon receiver Cameron Colvin to fumble through the end zone with 16 seconds left to seal the victory for Cal. The Bears’ victory means that the road to the Pac-10 title and perhaps the national championship game will go through Berkeley, where Cal will play host to No. 1 Southern California on Nov. 10. “It kind of lets everyone know across the world that Cal can play some football,” Cal receiver Lavelle Hawkins said. “A lot of guys don’t think we’re as good as we are. This is a great, great game for us.”
The Ducks (4-1, 1-1) were inches from having the road to the national title run through Eugene. Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon recovered from throwing his first two interceptions of the season in the game’s final five minutes to lead Oregon on a hair-raising final drive. Starting with 1 minute 54 seconds remaining and no timeouts, he completed 7 of 9 passes on the drive, putting the Ducks at first-and-goal from the 5-yard line with 22 seconds left. “I was getting ready for overtime,” Cal Coach Jeff Tedford said. “From the 5? They’re too good from there.” But it ended in heartbreak instead of a Heisman moment for Dixon, who finished the day 31 of 44 for 306 yards and a touchdown. He completed a pass in the flat to Colvin, who was wide open because of a pick play, and Colvin appeared to have a clear path to the end zone. But Ezeff closed fast and knocked the ball loose as Colvin reached for the pylon instead of securing the ball and barreling forward. “I was trying to reach in,” Colvin said. “No doubt about it.”
Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti said: “You can’t do that. You have to hang on to the football and break the plane.” Colvin did not know if he had scored or fumbled until he looked down and saw a referee’s marker. The play went to review. But the call stood, giving Oregon its fourth turnover of a wild fourth quarter, in which Cal scored 21 points and nearly squandered two 7-point leads. “I was sitting over there kind of having a heart attack,” Ezeff said of the wait. That final fumble shifted the game’s star to Jackson, who had 11 catches over all and scored both his touchdowns in the fourth quarter. His defining moment came on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Nate Longshore that gave Cal a 24-17 lead early in the fourth quarter. Jackson caught the ball at the 25-yard line and juked Oregon defensive back Jairus Byrd so violently that Byrd fell to the turf. Jackson high-stepped into the end zone untouched from there, even raising his arm slightly in what appeared to be a pose emulating the Heisman Trophy’s stiff-arm position.
Jackson had broken free on the game’s first play, then waved his arms in frustration when he did not get the ball. After that, it seemed as if Longshore did not miss him for the rest of the game. Longshore finished 28 of 43 for 285 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. Longshore injured his ankle and missed part of a series in the fourth quarter. X-rays were negative, and he should be healthy when the Bears play host to Oregon State after a bye week.
The schedule stacks up well for Cal from this point. Their toughest game, against Southern California, is at home, and the Bears will probably be favored in all of their road games: at U.C.L.A., Arizona State, Washington and Stanford. “We’re not really going to worry about that,” Jackson said of Cal’s position as one of the teams to beat in the Pac-10. “We’re going to just keep winning football games. If it happens to be like that, we’re glad about it.” And thanks to a timely fumble and perhaps a pinch of luck, the Bears and their fans in Berkeley can dream big. “It’s crazy,” Colvin said. “That’s the game of football. It comes down to small things.”
Cameron Colvin's stretch for the end zone was just short, as the Oregon wide receiver fumbled out of the California end zone for a touchback with 16 seconds left, and the sixth-ranked Golden Bears held on for a 31-24 win over the 11th-ranked Ducks in a crucial Pac-10 showdown. DeSean Jackson had 11 catches for 161 yards and two scores for California (5-0, 2-0 Pac-10), and Justin Forsett gained 106 yards on 23 carries with two TDs. Nate Longshore, who missed a series late in the game with an apparent ankle injury, completed 28-of-43 passes for 285 yards and two scores. Dennis Dixon went 31-of-44 passing for 306 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted twice for Oregon (4-1, 1-1). Dixon also added a TD run for the Ducks, who got 120 yards on 21 carries and a score from Jonathan Stewart. Colvin finished with 74 yards on seven catches with a score for Oregon, but couldn't break the plane for the tying score in the final minute.
Longshore took a late hit to his leg late in the final quarter, twisting his ankle, and he left for a possession while the ankle was wrapped. Freshman Kevin Riley came in for Longshore, handing off a few times before Cal punted. Longshore was back on the field on the following Cal possession, but was obviously hindered by the injury, and the Bears offense could not sustain a drive to run off the clock. The Ducks took over at their own 23 with 1:45 left, looking for the game-tying touchdown. Dixon found Jeremiah Johnson for 26 yards, putting the Ducks at the Cal 40, and two plays later hooked up with Colvin on 14-yard gain to the 20. A 15-yard pass to Jaison Williams set the Ducks up at the Cal 5 with 22 seconds left. On the following play, Dixon threw left to Colvin, who took the ball to the outside and stretched out, trying to put the ball over the pylon, but it was punched out of his hands and through the end zone. The officials gathered for a few seconds before signaling for the game-ending touchback, which stood up after official review, handing the Bears the win. "You can't do that," said Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti of Colvin's fumble. "You have to hang on to the football and break the plane."
The only score in the first quarter was Matt Evensen's 32-yard field goal with 47 seconds left, giving Oregon a 3-0 lead. The defenses held the offenses in check in the second quarter as well. Cal evened the score on Jordan Kay's 34-yard field goal with 6:20 left in the half. The Ducks were able to answer, though, finally piecing together a drive late in the half. Stewart capped the 16-play, 80-yard drive with his five-yard burst up the middle, and the Ducks took a 10-3 lead with 1:44 left in the half. Cal knotted the game at 10-10 late in the third quarter, with Longshore hooking up with Jackson on a 25-yard scoring toss, capping a six-play, 58-yard drive with 4:44 left in the quarter. The Ducks went to the big play on their next drive to again take the lead, on a 42-yard connection from Dixon to Colvin, giving Oregon a 17-10 lead with 2:39 left in the third quarter. The Bears opened the fourth quarter by closing their eight-play, 59-yard drive with a one-yard dive by Forsett, tying the game at 17-17 with 14:20 left in regulation. Cal took over at midfield on their next drive, thanks to a shanked punt, and capitalized quickly, with Longshore finding Jackson for a 31-yard score, and the Bears jumped on top 24-17 with 11:52 left.
Dixon led the Ducks back, though, marching them 91 yards on 10 plays, and pushing in the end zone himself on a one-yard dive that again tied things, this time at 24-24 with 7:06 left. Dixon threw a crucial pick to Anthony Felder, though, giving the Bears possession deep in Oregon territory. They moved 21 yards on three plays, with Forsett's one-yard TD run giving Cal the seven point edge with 3:11 left. "I don't know if I can put into words how proud I am of these guys," said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. "I'm just so proud of them and I think today was an all-around great team effort and we came up with some big plays."
Oregon outgained Cal, 497-400...Forsett's TD extended his streak to six consecutive games with a rushing touchdown...California leads the all-time series with Oregon by a count of 38-30-2, but the Ducks had won eight of the last 10.
EUGENE, Ore. -- As California's Marcus Ezeff lay on the turf in the west end zone of Autzen Stadium on Saturday, his legs aching and his lungs burning, the hard-hitting safety expected the worst. Ezeff already was mentally preparing for overtime, which meant at least one more possession against Oregon's high-octane offense. At the time, Ezeff believed the Ducks had just driven 77 yards in 89 seconds to score the game-tying touchdown in a thrilling Pac-10 shootout. With the No. 6-ranked Bears leading No. 11-ranked Oregon 31-24, Ducks quarterback Dennis Dixon had driven his team right down the field in the final two minutes. Oregon reached the California 40 with 53 seconds to play. The Ducks were on the Bears' 20 with 29 seconds to go, then the 5 with only 22 seconds left. "They did a nice job of making it down the field," California coach Jeff Tedford said. "I was getting ready for overtime. From the 5? They're too good from there."
After Tedford called timeout to let his defense catch its breath, the Ducks lined up to try to tie the game. Dixon took the snap and threw to the left side for senior receiver Cameron Colvin, who caught the pass around the 4. Ezeff had to fight through a block -- which he described as an illegal pick by a different Ducks receiver -- before he chased down Colvin near the end zone. Ezeff leveled Colvin near the 1-yard line, but the Ducks receiver tried to stretch his right arm and the football around the pylon at the end zone. The football fell out of his hand. It bounced into the end zone and rolled out of bounds. "In my mind, I thought he scored," Ezeff said. "I was like, 'Damn, I'm going to be in trouble with my coaches.' But then I looked up and saw [cornerback] Brandon Hampton going after the football. I saw my coaches running at me making the signal for a touchback."
Ezeff's game-saving tackle also saved California's improbable national championship hopes, which had been buoyed Friday night when fifth-ranked West Virginia lost at South Florida and again Saturday when third-ranked Oklahoma lost at unranked Colorado. But first the Bears had to survive an instant replay review in the stadium where the Sooners were jobbed a year ago. "It was pretty conclusive," California defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said. "It was very evident the ball went into the end zone and out of bounds. We would have been very surprised if they'd turned it the other way. It was just so obvious it couldn't have gone the other way." It didn't go the other way, and the Bears took possession at their 20-yard line. They took a knee to run out the final 16 seconds and preserve a 31-24 victory, which stunned much of the sold-out crowd of 59,273, the largest crowd to ever watch a football game in the state of Oregon. It was California's first win here since 1987, after having lost seven games in a row in Eugene.
"It's a huge win for us," said Bears receiver DeSean Jackson, who had a career-high 11 catches for 161 yards, including two touchdowns in the second half. "To come out here in Eugene and win as an underdog, it really is a big step for us. I saw West Virginia lose last night, and I knew it was important for us to come in here and play big. We've just got to keep winning football games." When the Bears play again, they might be ranked higher in the national polls than they have been in 55 years. California, which was ranked No. 4 in 1952, doesn't play next weekend. And at least one team currently ranked ahead of Cal will lose before the Bears play Oregon State on Oct. 13 in Berkeley, Calif. Second-ranked LSU hosts No. 4 Florida on Oct. 6 in Baton Rouge, La.
So five games into the season, California seems like a national championship contender like never before. "We knew coming into this game that our season was on the line," Cal linebacker Worrell Williams said. "This game was our season. West Virginia fell off. Oklahoma fell off. I heard Texas even fell off. All we had to do was win. It was tough, but we got it done." The Bears nearly fell more than once Saturday. Defenses dominated the first half of a game that was expected to be a track meet. The Ducks led 10-3 at the half, after the Bears were limited to only 119 yards of offense in the first two quarters. Oregon shut down tailback Justin Forsett and prevented quarterback Nate Longshore from throwing down field.
Finally, Jackson broke the game open late in the third quarter. Jackson caught a 25-yard touchdown from Longshore to tie the score at 10 with 4:44 to go in the third. Later, Jackson put the Bears ahead 24-17 with a 31-yard touchdown catch. On that play, Jackson caught the pass, shuffled his feet to make cornerback Jairus Byrd miss, then ran down the right sideline for the go-ahead touchdown. "All ya'll been waiting for me to make some plays to help my team, and this was an opportunity to do it," said Jackson, who hadn't caught a touchdown pass in the previous four games and hadn't had more than 45 receiving yards in a game this season. "Oregon had a great defense and they play a lot of man-to-man coverage. Sometimes they had a safety roll over the top. Coach Tedford and the coaches did a great job of calling my number."
The Bears finally got Dixon's number in the final 4½ minutes. After the Ducks tied the score at 24 on Dixon's 1-yard sneak for a touchdown with 7:06 to play, California was forced to punt from midfield. The crowd stood and cheered as it anticipated watching Dixon lead the Ducks down the field again. On first-and-10 from the Oregon 11, Dixon dropped back and tried to throw over the middle to receiver Jaison Williams. But linebacker Anthony Felder stepped in front of the pass and intercepted it. "I don't think he was expecting me," Felder said. "I picked up on that route earlier in the game and thought he might go back to it. I snuck back inside and jumped the route."
The Bears took over at the Oregon 21, and it took them only three plays to score the go-ahead touchdown. Forsett ran for 8 yards on first down and 12 on second. On first-and-goal from the 1, Forsett scored off left guard to put Cal ahead 31-24 with 3:11 to go. Oregon still had plenty of time left, and Dixon took the Ducks right back down the field. He completed two quick passes, and then Jonathan Stewart broke a 23-yard run with less than 2½ minutes to play. But on first-and-10 from the Cal 17, defensive tackle Mika Kane deflected Dixon's pass to Stewart and it was intercepted by end Tyson Alualu. "The turnovers were huge," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. "That's what we talk about all year long, but that's the undoing of a good football team." But the Bears were the better football team, at least on this crisp, blustery day in the great Northwest. And if the Bears don't stumble during the next five weeks and prove they're the best team in California when they play No. 1 USC on Nov. 10 in Berkeley, they might eventually get an opportunity to prove they're the best team in the country.
"I think we're contenders and I know Southern Cal is going there [to Berkeley]," Forsett said. "But that's far away right now. We've got a lot of big games and we don't need any upsets." Just one or two more of the teams ahead of the Bears.
UGENE, Ore. – Sophomore safety Marcus Ezeff was the last person to realize he'd made the biggest play of California's season. The Bears were clinging to a 31-24 lead over Oregon in the final minute when Ezeff arrived late to tackle Ducks wide receiver Cameron Colvin near the end zone. Ezeff assumed Colvin's catch had tied the game or given the Ducks the ball at California's 1. Just when Ezeff started imagining the scolding he would receive from his coaches, he noticed they were in a surprisingly cheerful mood. "When I saw my coaches running up and giving the touchback sign," Ezeff said, "that's when I knew it was a fumble." zeff reached Colvin just as the receiver was trying to move the ball from one hand to the other in an attempt to stretch it across the goal line. Ezeff's hit caused the ball to roll into the end zone and head out of bounds with 16 seconds left.
"I thought it was across (the plane)," Colvin said after the Ducks' heartbreaking 31-24 loss. "I was looking at the refs for the touchdown, but that's how it goes." It was the kind of play that can help create a season of destiny. California has been overlooked in the national-title discussion, perhaps for good reason. The Golden Bears never have played in a BCS bowl and haven't reached the Rose Bowl since 1959. But this Cal team just might be different. This marked the first time the Golden Bears had won at Autzen Stadium in two decades. And losses this weekend by No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 4 Florida and No. 5 West Virginia should allow the Bears to enter their bye week as at least the third-ranked team in the nation. "Everybody knows across the world now that Cal can play some football," said wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins, who grabbed a baton and joined teammate Robert Jordan in conducting the California band during a wild postgame celebration. "A lot of people didn't know we're as good as we are." Cal wide receiver DeSean Jackson recaptured his 2006 form by catching 11 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns. Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon reverted to his 2006 form by throwing two interceptions in the last five minutes, but he still drove the Ducks into position for a game-tying touchdown in the final seconds. Oregon's Jonathan Stewart and California's Justin Forsett – the two leading rushers in the Pac-10 – both gained more than 100 yards.
Read the entire article here.
Friday, September 28, 2007
Cal players, coaches set for loud crowd at Autzen
By GREG BEACHAM
BERKELEY, Calif. — Brandon Hampton has a grudging respect for the Oregon students who pack Autzen Stadium, even while he grits his teeth at the incessant yelling and the mean jeering — and those confounded, nonstop duck calls. "Those students are just behind you, all the time, right on your back," the California safety said. "They're great. It's like they're almost on the sideline with you." Hampton didn't even know that the real Oregon student section is over behind the Ducks' own sideline, near the west end zone of that remarkably boisterous field. Those noisemakers behind the visiting bench are mostly just regular quacks — and they'll be out in force Saturday for a big chapter in one of college football's most underrated rivalries.
When No. 6 Cal (4-0, 1-0 Pac-10) visits 11th-ranked Oregon (4-0, 1-0), it's more than a conference showdown that will set the early tone in the annual race to dethrone USC.
It's another meeting of two strikingly similar programs with intertwined histories, coaching staffs and recruiting pools — and a 2-2 record against each other since former Oregon offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford flew away and went south for the fall. Though they're separated by 500 miles, the schools feel a lot closer together during football season. It starts with the students, since Oregon has such a sizable population of Northern California kids — who couldn't get into Cal, the Bears' wiseacre fans say — that some call it the University of California at Eugene. And the programs' connections are even more labyrinthine. Ducks quarterback Dennis Dixon and receiver Cameron Colvin are East Bay natives, as is Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, who also employed Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory before he left with Tedford to revive the Golden Bears' slumbering program with strategies and management skills honed in Eugene. For example, Tedford immediately redesigned the Bears' uniforms when he arrived in Berkeley. Last season, the Bears debuted their garish yellow jerseys — just like something the fashion-forward Ducks would wear — for their 45-24 win over Oregon.
Most of the key players on both teams were recruited by both schools, with Cal gradually denting Bellotti's long-standing pipeline to the East Bay's richest talent. Tedford and Bellotti are still perfectly friendly, but both would love to gain a decisive edge in a rivalry that's featured two wins apiece for the home team since Tedford defected in 2002 (the schools didn't play that year). All the players that Tedford recruited to Oregon finally have left the school, making this meeting a bit less personal — but still just as tough in front of the crazy Autzen fans. "The crowd there is unbelievably educated about when to be loud and when to calm down when they have the ball," Tedford said. "It's a very, very tough environment with the noise and communicating. It was kind of different my first year back there, to be on the other side." Tedford lost in his first two trips to Oregon with Cal, but both games were frenetic, high-scoring affairs that went down to the final minute. The Bears haven't won at Autzen since 1987 — a fact that Oregon's fans won't hesitate to cite for them.
"Twenty-year streaks have nothing do with these guys," Tedford said. "Some of them weren't even born 20 years ago, so it has nothing to do with them. It's about this year. That's what counts. That's all that matters." There's no shortage of motivation this season, however. Oregon could be jealous of the national attention and higher ranking bestowed on Cal, while the Bears were surprised to hear they're a point-spread underdog despite their lofty poll spot. "We're not really worrying about it," Oregon linebacker Jerome Boyd said. "We're just worrying about ourselves. We like the fact that they're coming to our stadium, and we like the fact that (ESPN) Gameday is coming, but who wouldn't like that, you know?"
Though both schools are ranked going into their meeting for the third straight season, the hype and the connections won't obscure a meeting between two schools with exceptional offenses and still-evolving defenses. "It's one of the loudest, if not the loudest, stadium in the Pac-10," Cal right guard Noris Malele said. "It's always a fun place to play, because they get on you from the start for everything. It's a tough atmosphere, but that makes it fun as well. The noise is out there, so we've got to do what we can to stay together."
Cal’s strategy for stopping Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon? Rattle him. It worked last year when the Golden Bears intercepted Dixon's first pass in Berkeley and went on to a 45-24 victory. Perhaps the same will succeed Saturday when the No. 11 Ducks host sixth-ranked Cal (4-0, 1-0 Pac-10). "I feel like we're already in his head before we even started. Any quarterback, you can always get into his head if you try," said Bears safety Brandon Hampton, who intercepted that first pass. Cal picked off Dixon three times in the game a season ago. Oregon (4-0, 1-0) went on to lose five of its next eight games, and Dixon was benched in favor of Brady Leaf in the final regular season game against Oregon State. Then Dixon took off to play baseball with the Atlanta Braves organization during the summer, leaving some to question his commitment to the team. But the talented senior rejoined the Ducks this fall and embraced new offensive coordinator Chip Kelly's speedy, no-huddle, spread-option schemes.
Now four victories into the season, Dixon has thrown for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. He's run for four more scores, including a faked Statue of Liberty play against Michigan at the Big House. He ranks fourth in the nation in passing efficiency and leads the league in total offense, with an average of nearly 306 yards. "His running and his confidence is impressive. He gives them a chance to win every game, even more so than last year, I think. They spread the offense, and then Dixon gets his rushes," Hampton said. "It's kind of sneaky." That said, California's defense will turn up the pressure on Dixon. "You put enough hits on a guy, he'll get rattled, no matter who he is. That's not to say he's soft, because he gets up from every hit I've seen, but you can rattle any guy," linebacker Worrell Williams said.
The Golden Bears are ranked fourth in the Pac-10 in total defense (361 yards), with the linebackers leading the way. They've combined for 132 tackles, 5.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception. However, they will be without Zack Follett, who has a neck stinger. Cal's defense has scored twice on fumble recoveries. Dixon is well aware of Cal's defense -- it did sting him last year, after all. "They're a great team and you can never underestimate a defense, to tell you the truth. You never know what they're going to throw at you," he said. "You have to anticipate the hard and react to the easy."
The Ducks have a seven-game winning streak against Cal at Autzen Stadium. Cal coach Jeff Tedford, former offensive coordinator for Oregon, has yet to win in Eugene with the Bears. The last Cal road win against the Ducks came in 1987. "This will be definitely the toughest game we've played so far," Hampton said. "I feel that every week is a tough game, but this game is more important because we have that rivalry with Oregon. They have a great team, and I'm sure they will be in the running for the Pac-10 towards the end of the season."
By JULIAN DICKINSON
This isn’t just another Pac-10 game. Tell me when was the last time ESPN’s College Gameday made the trip to Eugene, Oregon? And how long has it been since serious national title talk about the Oregon Ducks made its way beyond the Cascade Mountains? Funny enough, it was back in 2000 when Joey Harrington was the quarterback and … who was that guy calling the plays for the Ducks? Oh yeah. Jeff Tedford, the current coach of the California Golden Bears and arch nemesis of Mike Bellotti. Any college coach will tell you that you can’t ask for better exposure than what Oregon and Cal will receive as the centerpiece of ESPN’s all-day coverage, but there’s pressure that comes with it, too.
It’s not just because the entire country will be watching, but also because of the implications of winning and losing. This game is injected with the same kind of juice that fueled Michigan-Ohio State last year, and the winner will be set up to compete with USC for the Pac-10 crown and a realistic shot at the BCS title. The loser might as well start thinking about next year. So with all that on the line, Autzen Stadium will be a pressure cooker on Saturday afternoon – and pressure is not something that the Ducks, who are 5-point favorites in the game, have handled well since Bellotti has been on his own at the Oregon helm. If you listened to the rumblings around Eugene over the last few years, you’d know that Tedford gets much of the credit for the Ducks’ success in those winning years and since his defection, Bellotti hasn’t been able to win the big games.
Oregon has had good teams, but since Tedford left after 2001, the Ducks have not won a bowl game – and don’t think that Bellotti isn’t painfully aware of that fact. The Oregonian ran a column this week in which columnist John Canzano shed some light on the effect that Tedford’s legacy at Oregon has had on Bellotti. The article claims the Ducks coach feels slighted by the accolades and recognition given to Tedford and desperately wants some glory for himself. The situation, Canzano claims, has driven Bellotti to thrust himself into the limelight at inopportune times, often meddling with coordinators and play-calling much to the detriment of the team. “In case you've ever sat watching an Oregon football game,” Canzano writes, “where the Ducks were winning, and everything was working, and suddenly, Bellotti inserted himself into the game by calling a trick play, or onside kicking, or changing quarterbacks, or doing something so strikingly absurd that you couldn't help notice him, well, maybe you understand now what that's all about.”
None of this bodes will for Oregon in a game that holds all the pressure and atmosphere of a bowl game. This is a situation where Tedford holds the trump card, not just because of Bellotti's failures in big games, but also because of the memory of last year's 45-24 win over Oregon in which the Bears ran out to an early lead and never let go.
To look at the rosters, the talent level is almost identical. Both teams are stacked with enough playmakers to run up the score on any team and weaknesses are few and far between. All of which indicates that this game could come down to coaching. With the eyes of the college football world focused on Eugene, things could very likely get personal for these two coaches, especially on Bellotti’s end considering his purported complex regarding Tedford and his legacy. Expect this game to be a high-scoring affair with highlights galore. It should also be a close one, but when the pressure is on and the game is on the line, I wouldn’t trust Bellotti to make the right decisions for his team.
Oregon’s dream season could turn into a nightmare this weekend.
Bellotti expects Stewart to be more patient and Duck fans hope Colvin can repeat last week's performance
By: Kevin Hudson
Normally, when a team's top receiver goes down with a season-ending injury, that team's offensive production can be expected to decrease. For No. 11 Oregon, which stands poised to vault into conference and Bowl Championship Series contention with a win over No. 6 California Saturday, expectations remain unchanged despite losing senior Brian Paysinger to a season-ending knee injury last week. In his debut as Paysinger's replacement in Oregon's 55-31 win at Stanford, senior wide receiver Cameron Colvin led all receivers with a career high eight receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown. His 71-yard touchdown catch on the game's first play from scrimmage helped assure his teammates and coaches that there would be no drop-off in the passing game. "Cam scoring on the first play was great to kind of ease our worries about that a little bit," said senior right tackle Geoff Schwartz. "He had a great game, so we know we have guys that can step in." Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti was equally encouraged by the senior receiver's performance. "(Paysinger) is a great player and we're going to miss him," he said. "But obviously Cameron Colvin stepped up last week which is really awesome for him and awesome for us."
Last season's loss
Last season the Ducks went to Berkeley in much the same situation as they find themselves this season: Undefeated and looking to make a case for themselves in the conference race and the BCS bowl hunt. After defeating the Ducks soundly 45-24, Cal went on to a 10-win season. The Ducks lost five of their next eight games to slide to a 7-6 finish. Bellotti said in his weekly press conference that he doesn't envision the same kind of downward slide for this season's team in the event of a loss. "To me it was a combination of a lot of things that maybe started in the Cal game, but in reality to me this team has learned from that," he said. "They are aware of what occurred last year, why it occurred, and how it occurred, and I think regardless of the outcome of this game we're a good football team. We're going to compete every single game."
One factor in last season's one-sided contest was what Cal was able to do to shut down Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart, who was held to 25 yards on 18 rushing attempts. This season, Bellotti expects to see different results based on the increased maturity Stewart has shown in his running style. "He's a very, very talented guy that each day is getting better as a running back," said Bellotti. "He's utilizing not just his speed but some subtle change of pace, setting the blocks up, seeing the field much, much better. He's a much, much improved running back from last year's Cal game."
New transfer Jamere Holland started classes and came to his first Duck football practice this week. Holland comes to Oregon from Southern California, where the SuperPrep All-American redshirted the 2006 football season and competed for the Trojan track team. NCAA rules prohibit him from taking part in this season but he will be eligible for 2008 as a sophomore.
This is it for Cal quarterback Nate Longshore. This is his chance to win a big road game, to become an elite quarterback, to take the Bears where they haven't been since 1959.
Starting with Saturday's showdown at Oregon and stretching into November, Cal plays four huge games that will determine its fate in the Pacific-10 Conference title race. Longshore, the junior from Canyon Country, is in charge. Is he up to the challenge of beating No. 11 Oregon, UCLA, No. 23 Arizona State and No. 1 USC? In similar situations last year, he was not. Longshore struggled in the season-shaping games at Tennessee and USC, completing just 48 percent of his passes, with one touchdown and three interceptions. (In the other 11 games, he hit on 62 percent of his throws, with 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.) Granted, those were the toughest environments he has faced, against nasty, physical defenses. And he wasn't the only Cal player who wilted. But what Longshore will experience Saturday in Eugene is much closer to what he experienced in Knoxville and L.A. than to his other 16 starts.
The Ducks might not have the defensive ferocity that USC and Tennessee did, but they have a good secondary that will force Longshore to be precise. Autzen Stadium will be bedlam, requiring Longshore to communicate flawlessly at the line of scrimmage. And the pressure will be enormous, with ESPN's "Game Day" on hand, ABC broadcasting the game regionally and Rose Bowl positioning in the balance. It's a huge game for the Bears - the kind of game that will require Longshore to make big plays in the fourth quarter and avoid killer mistakes in all quarters. "I've got so many talented guys around me, my job is to get them the ball in open space and let them do their thing," he said. "There isn't any extra pressure on me. I just have to get the ball to them and stay out of the way." If Longshore can do it at Oregon, you figure he can do it next month at UCLA and Arizona State and possibly against USC in November in what could be the biggest game in the modern era of Cal football. If he can do it in Eugene, the Bears have a chance for a special season, a Rose Bowl season. If he can't, then book those Holiday (or Sun) bowl flights now. Old and Young Blues have reason to be concerned - not only because of how Longshore played in big road games last season, but because of how he has played in several games this season. His decisions have been sound and his numbers aren't bad (63.3 completion percentage, only two interceptions). But he has thrown just five touchdown passes, and his longest completion to a receiver is 27 yards.
It's not like DeSean Jackson & Co. haven't been open. Cal's offense is all about space: using Justin Forsett and the running game to open up passing lanes. So far, Forsett has run well and the lanes have opened. But something's not quite right with the downfield passing game, and that something is the quarterback. "We've just missed some opportunities in games," Longshore said. "There have been some overthrows. I missed a few times." Those misfires haven't hurt the Bears so far. But they will hurt at Oregon, and at UCLA, and at Arizona State, and they will hurt the Bears against USC. For Cal to play on Jan. 1, Longshore must get sharp, and he must get sharp in a hurry.
EUGENE, Ore. - Saturday’s kickoff between No. 11 Oregon and No. 6 California at Autzen Stadium is set for 12:30 p.m. PDT. The game will be televised by ESPN on ABC. Oregon leads the Pac-10 in rushing offense at 299.8 yards per game, more than 50 yards per game better than runnerup USC (244.7). TB Jonathan Stewart is the Pac-10 individual leader at 125.8 yards per game. Stewart rushed for 160 yards in win at Stanford last week and added 150 yards on four kickoff returns to account for 310 all-purpose yards. In addition to leading the league in rushing, Stewart also leads in kickoff returns with a 31.9-yard average. California coach Jeff Tedford served four years (1998-2001) as Oregon's offensive coordinator before taking over the helm at Berkeley. Golden Bears' six-game winning streak is longest among Pac-10 teams.
WR Lavelle Hawkins is tied for second in Pac-10 in receptions and fellow WR Robert Jordan has caught at least one pass in 34 consecutive games. TB Justin Forsett is second in the Pac-10 in rushing at 121.0 yards per game and has topped the 100-yard mark in three of four games. He has scored touchdowns in five straight games. Cal has scored 40 or more points in nine of its last 16 games, and are averaging 41.5 points per game this year. The Bears have lost only four turnovers in four games, fewest in the Pac-10.
Cal's 28 first-quarter points in a 45-27 win against Arizona last week tied the school record for most points in a quarter against a Pac-10 team. In Arizona game, QB Nate Longshore surpassed 4,000 career passing yards. He now stands a 4,004.
California leads the all-time series, 37-30-2, but the Ducks have had the edge in recent years, taking eight of the last 10 meetings dating to 1994. Oregon has a seven-game winning streak against Cal at Autzen Stadium, where the Bears last tasted victory (20-6) in 1987. Last season, California capitalized on four UO turnovers and won 45-24 in Berkeley.
• ESPN College GameDay makes its second ever visit to Autzen Stadium, having last traveled to Eugene in 2000.
• Oregon ranks fourth nationally in rushing at 299.75 yards per game.
• JR RB Jonathan Stewart is seventh in the country in all-purpose yards (205.75 ypg) and 11th in rushing (125.75).
• Stewart’s first-half touchdown at Stanford was the 20th rushing TD of his career.
• The Ducks are 4-0 for the second consecutive season and sixth time in Mike Bellotti’s 13 seasons as head coach.
• Oregon has had at least one scoring play of 70 yards or more in all four games this season.
• SR QB Dennis Dixon has at least one passing AND rushing touchdown in every game in 2007.
• The Ducks have scored 11 or more points in the 1st quarter of every game this season.
• Oregon (48.5 ppg) and Cal (41.5 ppg) are the No. 1 and No. 3 scoring teams in the Pac-10, respectively.
DIXON NAMED PLAYER OF THE WEEK AGAIN
For the second time this season, SR QB Dennis Dixon has been named the Pac-10’s offensive Player of the Week. Dixon accounted for career-highs of five touchdowns (4 pass, 1 rush), 367 passing yards and 27 completions in leading Oregon to a 55-31 road win against Stanford on Sept. 22. The senior from San Leandro, Calif., also took home the award in Week 2, following his four-touchdown performance in the Ducks’ 39-7 victory at Michigan. Dixon is the first Duck to earn multiple offensive POTW awards in the same season since quarterback Joey Harrington in 2001 (Oct. 6 & Nov. 3).
ESPN COLLEGE GAMEDAY RETURNS TO EUGENE
ESPN College GameDay will produce its weekly college football preview show from the University of Oregon on Saturday morning preceding the Ducks’ home game vs. California.
The premier college football pre-game show, which has aired weekly on ESPN since its inception in 1989, features hosts Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit, and will air live from 7 a.m. - 9 a.m. (PDT). The show began producing the telecast from college campuses around the country in 1993. Details surrounding the exact site of the production will be released early this week, with the general public encouraged to be part of the production free of charge. It will mark the second Eugene appearance for the show, which includes features, predictions and highlights of some of this week’s top games from around the country, and the third time the Ducks have played a role in the network’s award-winning college football preview show. The production’s last Oregon appearance occurred in 2000 when it made its first-ever appearance in the Pacific Northwest on Sept. 23 prior to the Oregon-UCLA game.
Of Oregon’s 24 total drives resulting in touchdowns this season, six have taken 18 seconds or less, nine have occured in less than one minute and 15 have lasted fewer than 120 seconds.
Oregon’s 41-year old facility has earned the reputation as one of the nation’s toughest college football venues for visiting teams. The Ducks have produced a 58-16 record (.784) in Autzen Stadium in the 13th season under the direction of Mike Bellotti. Since encountering an uncharacteristic 3-3 record at home in 2004, Oregon has bounced back to win 12 of its last 14 games on its home turf. Since California’s last win in Eugene in 1987, the Ducks have prevailed in the last seven Autzen Stadium meetings between the two schools.
VS. THE TOP 25
Although Mike Bellotti-coached teams have accumulated a 21-22 record against Top 25-ranked opponents, the Ducks are 10-7 in Autzen Stadium since 1995 and 3-1 vs. the Top-10 at home during that same span. The only setback was dealt by then No. 1 ranked USC in 2005, 45-13.
Oregon has hosted an opponent ranked among the nation’s Top-10 on 20 occasions since Autzen Stadium opened in 1967, with the Ducks accumulating an 8-11-1 ledger. USC’s 2005 win in Eugene snapped a five-game winning streak at home against elite visitors, with their 31-27 victory over Michigan in 2003 marking their last home win over a Top 10-ranked foe. The Ducks have played 24 games under Bellotti where both Oregon and its opponent were ranked among the nation’s Top 25, with the Ducks accumulating a 14-10 mark on those occasions.
RUNNING IT UP
The Ducks have surpassed the 300-yard rushing mark in three of their four games this season, totaling 339 vs. Houston, 331 at Michigan and 307 vs. Fresno State. That string of three straight marked the first time in the Mike Bellotti era that the Ducks put up more rushing yards than passing yards in three consecutive games. Oregon has five games of 300-plus since the start of 2006 and the game against the Houston Cougars marked the highest total since setting the school record of 446 yards at Washington State Oct. 27, 2001.
In the first three games of the season the Ducks had a player recover a fumble AND record an interception. SO CB Jairus Byrd did it in back-to-back games to start the year and SO CB Walter Thurmond III accomplished the feat Sept. 15 vs. Fresno State. Thurmond returned his fumble recovery 25 yards for his first career touchdown.
Oregon’s 42 first-half points vs. Fresno State were the most in a half by the Ducks since scoring 49 in the opening half of a 72-10 home victory over Nevada on Sept. 18, 1999.
JR RB Jonathan Stewart set an Autzen Stadium record for the longest run in the venue’s history with his 88-yard touchdown vs. Fresno State on Sept. 15. The carry was also the second longest in school history behind a 92-yard gallop by Bob Smith in 1938.
A year ago, the Ducks turned the football over 32 times (including 25 times in the last nine games) to finish 109th in the country (out of 119 schools) in turnover margin. Through the first four games this year, the Ducks have benefited from 12 opponents’ turnovers while coughing the ball up themselves only five times to rank tied for sixth in the country in turnover margin (1.75).
Not since 2002 has Oregon climbed out of the bottom half of the Pac-10 rankings in net punting. Yet the Ducks hope to change that. Ranking 15th in the country as a team, Oregon is currently tops in the conference (39.0-yard average) while junior newcomer Josh Syria finds himself tied for 30th nationally (42.8-yard avg.) and second in the Pac-10.
CENTURY MARK PROVES KEY
The Ducks are 9-0 since the start of 2006 when they have a 100-yard rusher. JR RB Jonathan Stewart has managed the feat eight times - most recently at Stanford - while SR QB Dennis Dixon accounts for the other. In the eight other games, UO is 2-6.
By Ted Miller
Oregon coach Mike Bellotti has been asked to explain what most worries him about California's offense, and he almost breaks out into a Woody Allen routine. Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch. Who can blame him? A few minutes of watching film of the Golden Bears' offense makes even a hard-nosed football coach wring his hands like a Manhattan intellectual ritualistically reviewing a litany of worries. Oy vey! It's not just DeSean Jackson, is it coach? "We're just as concerned about [running back] Justin Forsett," Bellotti said. "He's the guy who makes that offense go." Fair enough. Forsett is second in the Pac-10 with 121 yards rushing per game and is tied for the lead with seven touchdowns. Not to take anything away from Jackson. "DeSean is the most explosive player in Division I football," Bellotti said.
But he's not the only one. There are also receivers Lavelle Hawkins, who leads the team in receptions with 25, and Robert Jordan, who's caught a pass in 34 consecutive games. And don't forget speedster freshman tailback Jahvid Best, who averages 12.4 yards per carry. "They've all got great speed and are playmakers," Bellotti said. What about the quarterback, junior Nate Longshore, who's already surpassed 4,000 career yards passing. "Nate Longshore is the triggerman," Bellotti said. The sum total is nearly 42 points per game and a lot of kvetching from opposing coaches and their defensive coordinators. So many things to fret about. What's a defense to do? Of course, Bellotti might be playing a little possum. His offense, after all, averages 49 points per game, and his 11th-ranked team will be playing inside the friendly confines of frenzied Autzen Stadium when the No. 6 Bears come calling Saturday (ABC, 3:30 ET). Cal hasn't won in Eugene since 1987.
The consensus is the winner becomes the leading potential foil for top-ranked USC in the conference, stakes that are big enough to attract ESPN's "GameDay" troika for a rare West Coast swing. Jackson began the year as The Show. He was a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, a 1,000-yard receiver in 2006 who'd already returned five punts for touchdowns. He took a sixth to the house in the season-opening pounding of Tennessee, a highlight-reel, lickety-split number that left the Volunteers -- and a national television audience -- gaping.
But Jackson also hurt his thumb during Cal's 45-31 victory, and that has limited his production. Remember: Without an opposable thumb, humans would just have paws, which are not conducive for gripping a football when opponents are pummeling you. That's how Cal's offense ended up more like the "X-Men" instead of Batman and a handful of Robins.
It starts with Longshore, the wisecracking, loosey-goosey quarterback who dyed his hair blue during the preseason, though he breezily dismisses his primacy in the offense. "I've got so many talented guys that my responsibility is to get them the ball in open space and let them do their thing," he said. "I don't think there's much pressure on me. It's more I get it to them and stay out of the way." He got in Oregon's way a bit last year, throwing three touchdowns passes and running for another in a 45-24 blowout victory, a game that started the then-unbeaten Ducks downward spiral from a No. 11 ranking to a 7-6 finish, capped by a humiliating 38-8 defeat to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Longshore keeps everyone loose. For example, he enjoys entertaining his huddled teammates during lengthy television timeouts. During the Tennessee game, he related to them how he'd run into a gaggle of Vols fans, clad head-to-toe in orange, who started jawing when they spied his Cal hat at a Berkeley restaurant two days before the game. "They didn't know who I was," Longshore recalled. "They were just busy telling me how they were going to stomp all over us. I asked them if they wore those [orange] shirts on the weekends to go hunting, but they didn't think that was too funny."
Forsett knows all about on-field humor. Opposing defensive players tend to find his size -- 5-foot-8, 196 pounds -- amusing. They call him "5-3", a knock on his height, or "little man." Until he starts gashing them. Oregon knows all about Forsett, who's rushed for more than 2,000 yards at Cal, despite spending the previous two seasons backing up Marshawn Lynch. He contributed 163 of the Bears' 235 yards on the ground against the Ducks last year. The most improved player of the bunch is surely Hawkins, whose 25 receptions ranks second in the conference. His summer work with Longshore ensured he wouldn't merely become Jackson's sidekick. Jordan is the steady one. Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 a year ago, he leads the Bears with 30 starts and 121 career receptions. Oh, and the freshman? Best is only one of the nation's fastest players, see his 10.31 100 meters that won the California state championship last spring, though Longshore uses another measure to note Best's raw speed. "His face jiggles funny when he runs," Longshore said. "Anytime your face is moving like that when you run, you've got to be moving."
Most teams have tried to roll their coverages toward Jackson, using a safety or linebacker to provide help "over the top," as coaches are wont to say. It hasn't worked, a fact that Arizona coach Mike Stoops bemoaned after losing 45-27 at Cal. The Wildcats muted Jackson, but that left gaps for the other guys to slip through. Or, as Hawkins said, "DeSean, he can go the distance. Every time Forsett touches the ball, he can go the distance. Robert Jordan, he can go the distance. Jahvid? Any of those guys. We all can go the distance." For an opposing coach, to paraphrase Woody Allen, that can divide a game between the horrible and the miserable.
With his offensive scheme, Chip Kelly is hoping to take Oregon's quarterback to Heisman-like levels
EUGENE -- Chip Kelly knew the knock. It was noon, and his quarterbacks meeting was scheduled for 1:40 p.m. It could only be one guy. "Hey, D, couple minutes," Oregon's offensive coordinator said to his prized pupil, quarterback Dennis Dixon. "You going to be in the film room?" Yes, Dixon was going to the film room. Without the film room and without Kelly, Oregon's quarterback would not be a Heisman Trophy candidate or among the nation's leaders in passer rating or about to play his fifth game of the season without having thrown an interception. And, yes, this is Cal week -- the showdown of unbeatens, the sixth-ranked California Golden Bears and the No. 11 Ducks is Saturday, complete with ESPN "College GameDay" coverage -- but it could be any week. Dixon, the formerly maligned quarterback, is eager to learn from Kelly, the coach from the Football Championship Subdivision who has quickly proved himself eager to teach. To most, Kelly is Oregon's offensive coordinator, but the part of his job title that usually is left off is perhaps the most important part: quarterbacks coach. In the two months since he returned from playing professional baseball, Dixon has formed a bond with Kelly. Together, they have lifted the Ducks to No. 7 in the nation in total offense heading into Saturday's game, which promises to be a celebration of offense (the teams are combining to average 90 points a game).
"I don't know if people have the right perception of him," Kelly said of Dixon, who has earned his degree and is taking graduate classes. "He studies as hard as anybody I've ever coached. He really works at the Xs and Os aspect of the game." Just as he helped interview Kelly before coach Mike Bellotti hired him in the offseason, Dixon has a say in what plays Kelly calls. "It really doesn't matter what I like, because I'm not throwing the ball," Kelly said. "It's what does he feel comfortable doing, or what does he like? He's the one who's going to execute it. "You can be a great scheme guy and call these great plays, but if the guy throws the ball in the dirt, you can't just say, 'Well, the guy was open.' You figure out why he's throwing the ball in the dirt." From the day he was hired away from the University of New Hampshire, Kelly has evaded questions about any confidence Dixon lost after losing the starting job last season. Kelly's stock response: "I wasn't here last year."
Part of it was that Kelly wanted to form his own opinion and part of it was that he knew what he had, after talking to Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, a good friend and fellow native of Manchester, N.H. While at Utah under current Gators coach Urban Meyer, Mullen recruited Dixon to be the Utes' next quarterback after Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft. "We recruited him hard," Mullen said of Dixon. "I told Chip he's the guy we really wanted at Utah. He's perfect for the system." To label Kelly's and Mullen's systems as spread-option might be a little simplistic. They are creative, attacking offenses that are fun to watch. "I think we both enjoy trying to do things a little different from the ordinary," Mullen said. "We run sound offenses, traditional offenses schematically, but with outside-the-box thinking. They might spread it to run, pack it in tight to pass -- heck, they might try a Statue of Liberty play and fake another on national television against Michigan.
"It's kind of staying ahead of the curve," Mullen said. "Both of us have kind of found the path. This way of doing things has been successful for both of us." Kelly's offenses at New Hampshire, where he played and then had served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach since 1999, averaged more than 400 yards per game in seven of his eight seasons. It was all spread-option and no-huddle. "I don't think you're necessarily married to a system," said Kelly, 43, who is single but whose fiancee is due in town soon. "It's just about moving the football, and there's a lot of different ways to do it." Take California coach Jeff Tedford, for example. Tedford, an offensive coordinator under Bellotti from 1998-2001 who calls his own plays now, flirted with the spread offense last season before sticking with basically the same offense the Ducks used to run. Spread or no, Kelly admires Tedford's work. "If you don't look and study those guys, then you're probably hindering yourself, because there are always things to learn," Kelly said.
Kelly's offense is fast-paced, unpredictable, at times flashy, but stubbornly dedicated to establishing the run. The Ducks are fourth in the nation in rushing (300 yards per game), and Saturday's game features not only the top two threats to USC in the Pacific-10 Conference, but also the conference's top two rushers in Oregon's Jonathan Stewart (126 yards per game) and Cal's Justin Forsett (121). Tedford, too, is well-grounded -- Forsett is on pace to put up the 10th 1,000-yard season by a Cal running back in Tedford's six seasons. In off-field personality, there are few similarities. Kelly is the fast-talking East Coaster; Tedford, the laid-back Californian. But the common thread as coaches -- one that Tedford has proved through the years and Kelly appears likely to share -- is the ability to coach quarterbacks. "They are capable of not only directing an offensive scheme but coaching up the quarterback in that scheme and making it something that those young men understand," Bellotti said. "The quarterbacks become one with the offense. I think that's what happened to Dennis, and certainly Jeff has had great success." In his 15 years at Cal, Oregon and Fresno State (1992-97), Tedford has developed six NFL first-round draft picks: Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, David Carr, Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers. Under Kelly at New Hampshire last season, Ricky Santos won the Walter Payton Award, given to the top offensive player in -the Football Championship Subdivision. And the strides so far with Dixon, in his senior season, have been remarkable -- although, as Bellotti points out, Dixon was just as impressive last year before the Ducks' debacle at Cal.
Dixon's defining moment so far this season -- even more than his 80-yard touchdown run against Houston -- was his nine-yard scoring run at Michigan off of the fake Statue of Liberty play. Kelly denied that the national television audience had anything to do with that play call. "If you saw the Towson game in 2004 versus the University of New Hampshire with 4,000 people in the stands, you would have seen the same play," he said. Oregon borrowed a play -- a quarterback keeper off a fake handoff to a receiver -- from Kelly's New Hampshire offense last season, before Kelly was hired. Mullen borrows from Kelly, and vice versa. Kelly and his Oregon predecessor, Gary Crowton, exchanged ideas throughout last season. The term "guru" might be a little cliche when used about offensive coordinators, but "junkie" might not, Bellotti said. "They have to be junkies, football junkies," Bellotti said. "They have to really eat, live, sleep football, because they are the guys that are creative within the box and also have to think outside the box. Chip does that."
The spread-option thinking might be outside the box, but it's also inside a close circle, not that Kelly is afraid to share. At times in open practices early in the week, Kelly breaks out some creative plays that have not made it into any game. "I call them high-maintenance plays," Kelly said. "If you've got to run it three, four, five times, you probably should just get rid of it and call something else." For Dixon's lesson plan on this day, Kelly is preparing "cut-ups," video of plays broken down by any situation imaginable -- third downs, blitzes, plays from the left hash, etc. -- that come as rapid-fire as they do in Kelly's real-life, no-huddle offense. Bellotti said this computer literacy was one reason behind Kelly's hiring. "Hey, I still type with two fingers," Kelly said, as he prepared to join Dixon in the film room. It is time to become more at one with the offense. "The thing about football that I've always loved is that you get out of it what you put into it," Kelly said. "Dennis' success is not a surprise to me, because I've seen how hard he's worked at it. He's getting out of it on Saturdays exactly what he's put into it."
The halftime sledgehammer - that tool that Oregon coach Mike Bellotti used so successfully two years ago to urge his players to pound the opponent into submission - certainly did its job. This year, maybe the coaches are using a brick - as in, a brick wall - because compared to the first half, the Ducks defense has been positively impenetrable in the second. Consider this... Oregon's rush defense has been porous in the first half. That rubber band defense? Oh snap.
Teams vs. Oregon in first half: 92 rushes, 493 yards (5.36 ypc), 5 TDs.
Teams vs. Oregon in second half: 69 rushes, 166 yards (2.41 ypc), 1 TD.
"Sometimes a good talking to changes things,'' defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said. "Sometimes an opportunity to settle down and go over things helps.''
Conversations about great cornerback tandems in the last two decades at Oregon usually start with Alex Molden and Kenny Wheaton in 1994, and end with Rashad Bauman and Steve Smith in 2001. Go ahead and add another duo to the discussion. This year's starting twosome of Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond III, each just a sophomore, is earning itself a place among Oregon's great cornerback crews. Through four games this season, neither has allowed a passing touchdown. Opposing wide receivers have just two touchdown receptions against the No. 11 Ducks this fall, both against safeties. Only one was by the great receiver combination at Michigan that included Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. Until this week, that was the best receiving corps Oregon has faced this season. That will change at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, when the Ducks (4-0) are visited by No. 6 California (4-0) and its trio of DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan.
"They pose a lot of challenges with their speed and ability to stretch the field," Byrd said. "It'll be a test, but I think we're up for it." They've been game for everything else thrown at them the past two years. Byrd joined Thurmond in the starting lineup for the third game last fall, and they're on track to start their 15th game together against the Bears. They go about their jobs in different ways. Byrd, at 6-foot and 208 pounds, is the more physical of the two, favoring press coverage so he can chuck his man at the line and bump him off his route. Thurmond, 6-foot and 185 pounds, is smaller and faster, preferring to play off his man and use his closing speed to make up open space. "They both kind of know their strengths and weaknesses and play to them," UO defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said. "And they're both real confident. Confident guys that have short-term memories can be great corners." Added UO coach Mike Bellotti: "They look different on the field, but the results are very similar. ... I think they have the abilities to give them a chance to go to the next level.
"What you look for in a corner is a person that can cover, a person that understands where the ball is, a person who will make a tackle and a person that has the confidence to play regardless of what happened on the last play. Those guys have that." For both Byrd and Thurmond, their devotion to the mental side of the game sets them apart in the eyes of coaches. Bellotti, Aliotti and UO defensive backs coach John Neal all spoke of intelligence, pride, competitiveness and toughness when describing their cornerbacks.
And, Neal said, "They have that little magic about whatever it is that makes them a good football player or good athlete on the field. They have all the ingredients." What neither has is the kind of bravado typical of players in their position, like Bauman. Thurmond is a bit more outgoing than Byrd, but neither wastes much energy talking trash or clowning with teammates. Rather, they spend time analyzing film together, and trading tips on opposing receivers. Byrd sticks to the left side of the field and Thurmond to the right against a typical offensive formation, so they're switching among different receivers throughout most games.
"We're pretty similar, like to joke around and have fun," Thurmond said. "We know that, when it's time to work, we're both ready to go to work. But when you're not having fun, it takes away from the game." Thurmond pointed out that "fun" in their terms involves competition. In particular, they seem to relish physical contact more than most corners.
Through four games, Thurmond is third on the team with 33 tackles, and Byrd is sixth with 19. They've also combined for three interceptions and three fumble recoveries. "A lot of corners don't like to get their hands dirty," Thurmond said. "We like to be like safeties and go make tackles. We love it." They should have ample chances to test those tackling abilities this week. Besides a stable of talented wideouts, the Bears boast the Pac-10's second-leading rusher, Justin Forsett. Byrd and Thurmond will surely be asked to help stop runs to the outside. And the Ducks need to decide whether they can afford to drop their safeties into run coverage, and leave their cornerbacks alone on the outside against the pass.
Of the two, Thurmond seems to have drawn more attention from opposing offenses this fall. By playing off receivers, he has been susceptible to underneath routes, though he has responded with eight pass breakups and an interception. His per-game average of 2.25 passes defended is third in the nation. Neal doesn't think the opposition had necessarily been picking on Thurmond over Byrd so far this season. And if that changes this week, he said, so be it. "Maybe Cal will go after one of them," Neal said. "We'll see. Let them come. We've got to accept the challenge, no matter which one gets the opportunity."
The junior wideout is still a threat to break the big one on any play
By: Doug Bonham
"DeSean Jackson, when healthy, is the best offensive weapon in the world." Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti's strong statement this week is warranted given the permanent threat that Jackson - California's 6-foot, 172-pound junior wide receiver from Los Angeles - poses opponents, both on offense and as a returner on special teams. Even with relatively modest statistics, the preseason Heisman Trophy candidate Jackson still is the game-changer for Cal. Jackson has, in a backward way, helped out the rest of the Bears' offense by taking a lot of the focus. This has allowed senior wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins to lead the team in receiving (Jackson is second), and, combined with Cal's strong offensive line, made senior running back Justin Forsett the Pacific-10 Conference's second-leading rusher behind Oregon's Jonathan Stewart. "I'm sure that people are aware of where he (Jackson) is and try to keep help to that side, to a degree," Bellotti said.
That goes double for special teams. Jackson is an electrifying punt and kickoff returner, with six career punt returns for touchdowns. His return for a touchdown in the opening day 45-31 victory over Tennessee is still one of the best highlights of the season and looks like something straight out of NCAA 08. Jackson's decline in production hasn't hurt the Bears too much, though - California is still averaging 41.5 points per game, third in the Pac-10 behind the Ducks and USC, and winning by an average margin of 17 points per game. For that, Forsett can be thanked - he is second in total yards and average yards per game this season, and leads the conference in rushing touchdowns. Hawkins and Forsett are third and fourth in all-purpose yards in the conference as well. "You have to stop the running game," Bellotti said. "To my mind, Justin Forsett is the thing that makes that thing go. He's the cog that is always there - you always have to guard against him because he's a tough runner that is small enough to hide behind things, so you don't see him." The Ducks couldn't stop Forsett last year. In their matchup in Berkeley, Calif., last season, Forsett ran for 163 yards and one touchdown in the then-No. 16 Bears' blowout 45-24 win over the then-No. 11 Ducks. He is vital to the Bears; when he was rested in Cal's game last week against Arizona, a 25-point early lead evaporated down to a gap of just nine points. Forsett returned to the game to score a touchdown, and finished with 117 rushing yards.
Keeping all of those options in check is going to be a large task for the Ducks and Bellotti. "Their offensive line forces you to stop the run, and that opens up the throwing lanes," Bellotti said. "So I think we have to be very careful in how we approach this, about making sure we don't commit too much and create too many islands." "We're just trying to slow them down," said cornerback Walter Thurmond III, "and try to get a hand on them." That sort of attitude may seem defeatist to Oregon fans, but considering the size and skills of Cal's receivers, slowing them down for at least one drive may prove decisive. In a matchup between two high-powered offenses that may prove to be a basketball-style race to 50 points, one stop could prove to be the difference between a win and a loss - for either side.
And with all of the offensive talent on hand between both teams - three of the conference's best rushers in Stewart, Jeremiah Johnson and Forsett, two of the conference's more poised passers in Dennis Dixon and Nate Longshore, and a bundle of the best receivers - those lucky enough to get tickets to Autzen Stadium for Saturday's game are likely to see a high scoring contest. Jackson may even get his first receiving touchdown of the season to justify the double teams and punts to the sidelines.