Wednesday, September 26, 2007

SF Chronicle: No love for Bears in rowdy Autzen

The last time former Cal quarterback Steve Levy was in Eugene, Ore., a fan tried to steal his helmet.    "Their fans are out of control," Levy said Tuesday, recalling the aftermath of the Ducks' 27-20 overtime win in 2005. "Oregon fans are the funniest, most ruthless fans. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one fan trying to grab my helmet, and I ran over there and knocked him right out (with a shoulder shiver)."   That's about Cal's only success story from Oregon's Autzen Stadium in the last two decades. The No. 6 Bears, who play at No. 11 Oregon on Saturday, haven't won in Eugene since 1987, when coach Bruce Snyder recorded his first road win with a 20-6 victory.  "That has nothing to do with us," current Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "All we can control is what has happened in the last five years. Twenty-year streaks have nothing to do with these guys; they weren't even born then."

In so many ways, however, it does have a lot to do with this year's team. Cal plays four of its five most talented conference opponents on the road this season, and struggling in Oregon is symptomatic of the Bears' road play in general.   Tedford has ended the school's long losing streaks against a number Pac-10 foes, and he has won 79.4 percent of his home games against 58.6 away from Memorial Stadium. The Bears haven't won against a hosting, ranked team since 2002, when they beat three such teams.   Cal averaged 14.8 less points in away games than it did at home last year and is averaging 44 points in Berkeley and scored 34 points in its one road game this season. Quarterback Nate Longshore completes nearly 10 percent fewer passes, throws for 45.5 less yards and has a 6-to-9 vs. 17-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio when playing away from the friendly confines of Strawberry Canyon.  "The main thing toward succeeding as a quarterback on the road is communication," said Troy Taylor, a commentator for KGO (810 AM) and the quarterback of the Bears' 1987 win in Eugene. "Crowd noise is almost an unfair advantage. You can't check plays, you seemingly have less time on the play clock and everything starts to feel really rushed."   That's ever apparent at Autzen Stadium, where 54,000 fans scream and yell at all the right times. The front rows almost jut up against the sidelines, and the bleachers are built nearly perpendicular to the field so the noise has nowhere to escape.

"You can hear a pin drop when their offense is on the field, and when our offense is out there, it's like being in a thunderstorm," Cal safety Thomas DeCoud said.  "I like to think that the players make the difference, but certainly, the environment helps us," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. "Our stadium is the best place to play a game in college football. It's the loudest. Our fans are unbelievable in terms of their excitement and energy that they pass on to the team."   Tedford knows all about it. He was Oregon's offensive coordinator from 1998 to 2001 and has come close to solving the Autzen riddle since, losing twice by a combined score of 11 points.   "The crowd there is unbelievably educated on when to be loud and when to calm down," he said. "It's just a very, very tough environment."   Like most successful coaches, Tedford compares road games to business trips. Although Taylor said he didn't remember many details from the 1987 win, he does recall how his team went about its business.   "We were in control the whole time," Taylor said. "I think you can take any crowd out of the game. Anytime you can get on top, the crowd will hang in there a little while, but eventually, they quiet down or leave."  Seats probably won't empty too early for this go-around. For the first time this season, Cal is the underdog with Oregon favored by a mere 4 1/2 points.  "Why are we the underdog?" Cal cornerback Brandon Hampton asked before answering his own question. "Maybe it's because we haven't won there in 20 years."


Briefly: Tedford said fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou partially tore the PCL in his left knee, but he still could play Saturday. "He's a tough, tough guy," Tedford said about Ta'ufo'ou, who earlier this season returned to practice only 11 days after spraining the MCL in the same knee. "If it's just a pain issue, I imagine he'll play." ... Tedford listed linebacker Zack Follett (neck) as day-to-day, defensive tackle Matt Malele (foot) as probable, and defensive end Rulon Davis (foot) as doubtful.

Road rage

During coach Jeff Tedford's five-plus seasons, Cal has won 70.2 percent of its games and almost 80 percent at Memorial Stadium. The Bears have won 58.6 percent on the road.

Travel guide

Cal hasn't beaten Oregon in Eugene since a 20-6 win in 1987, including an 0-2 record under coach Jeff Tedford. Here are some other notable travel trends:

-- The Bears are 9-8 against ranked teams under Tedford, but only 3-6 against ranked teams on the road.

-- Quarterback Nate Longshore completes almost 10 percent fewer of his passes on the road and averages 45.5 less yards. His touchdown-to-interception ratio drops from 17-3 to 6-9 when he leaves Strawberry Canyon.

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