Friday, September 28, 2007

Oregon Daily Emerald: Oregon hosts California in a marquee matchup that has attracted the national spotlight

By: Kevin Hudson | Sports Reporter

Saturday's game between No. 6 California and No. 11 Oregon is the biggest game for the Ducks so far this season and possibly the biggest in the last several seasons in terms of national media attention and early conference title implications.  "We are undefeated as is Cal and certainly this is a big game for a lot of reasons," said Oregon coach Mike Bellotti. Oregon (4-0, 1-0 Pacific-10 Conference) went to Cal (4-0, 1-0 Pac-10) undefeated through four games last season and were beaten convincingly, 45-24. With that in mind, and the national spotlight on Eugene this weekend, players have said that a lack of focus shouldn't be a factor for them this week. The game, set to start at 12:30 p.m. at Autzen Stadium, is being broadcast regionally on ABC.  "It's another big game and this is why we came to Oregon is to play big games like this," said senior linebacker Kwame Agyeman. "I think everyone understands what kind of a practice week we need to have and what kind of effort we need to put in after practice as far as studying film and stuff like that."

As for any lingering effects of last weekend's second quarter, Agyeman said the team will use it as a learning experience. "At the moment it wasn't a good thing at all, but it was a good thing I guess if you look at it at the end," he said. "We just have to know that we can't let up on anybody. We know that we are capable of killing ourselves but we're also capable of doing things like the third and the fourth quarter and just dominating a team."  And while this is the kind of marquee matchup college football junkies love, it may not be the typical high-scoring, field-stretching affair that many have come to expect from Pacific-10 Conference football, as both teams have shown a penchant for running the ball. The Ducks have been more effective on the ground, averaging about 80 yards more per game than the Bears, and Cal coach Jeff Tedford believes that the best way to defend against Oregon's offense is to run the football, control the clock, and keep the ball away from them.

"They really haven't been slowed down," said Tedford. "I don't know that you're going to stop them but hopefully we can contain them a little bit. We're going to have to do a good job on offense to help keep our defense off the field."  This is a significant strategic adjustment for a team that, much like Oregon, tends to score quickly. This season, the Bears have 11 scoring drives of two minutes or less, along with seven drives that lasted less than one minute. A punt return touchdown, a kickoff return touchdown and two fumbles returned for scores added to the quick drives gives Cal 15 scores in less than two minutes.  But despite periods of solid play shown by the Oregon run defense, Tedford believes that it can be exploited.  "I think people have had some good runs against them," he said. "Some of it happens late in the game when they make some substitutions because they've had big leads and given up some big plays."  Tedford's faith in the Cal running game centers around senior tailback Justin Forsett, who hung 163 yards and a touchdown on the Ducks last year in Berkeley.  Forsett comes into this weekend with seven touchdowns and an average of 121 rushing yards per game. "He has taken some hits and he's bouncing up," said Tedford of Forsett. "He doesn't go down very easily, you're going to have to bring him to the ground. You're not just going to be able to bump into him and bring him down."

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