It was a match-up most fans and media were anxious to see.
Could Oregon’s talented and experienced secondary slow the pace of Cal’s up-tempo ‘Bear-Raid’ spread offense?
It was a resounding yes as the No. 2 Ducks ( 4-0 / 1-0 ) mauled the Golden Bears ( 1-3 / 0-1 ) by a score of 55-16 in front of a drenched sold out Autzen Stadium crowd of 56,987.
In probably the worst weather conditions Autzen Stadium has seen in its recent history, the Ducks took control from the very beginning scoring on its opening possession – a 6 play, 58 yard drive that ended with a 14 yard touchdown run by Byron Marshall.
Oregon needed just 93 seconds to take a 6-0 lead after the PAT failed.
But, as the Autzen Stadium crowd celebrated in the downpour, trainers on the Oregon sideline were giving their full attention to junior tailback De’Anthony Thomas who injured his right ankle on the opening kickoff.
Thomas, who darted to an opening in the center of the field after fielding the kick, made a quick cut to the left and looked to be heading to the end zone but suddenly went down hard after taking a booming hit.
At first glance it looked to be a serious injury, however after the game, Thomas confirmed he just twisted his right ankle after planting his foot in the turf to elude defenders.
“I just rolled it” Thomas said after the game.
“I’m going to get some treatment in the morning and see how things go.”
Thomas wasn’t the only casualty of the evening.
As hard as the rain pounded the stadium turf, so did the Oregon defense on Cal’s freshman quarterback Jared Goff.
Goff entered the game as the country’s best passer throwing for 435 yards per game while also tossing 7 touchdowns in his young California career.
No doubt the Oregon defense was paying attention.
Midway through the 1st quarter after fumbling twice – one of those coming on a sack by defensive end DeForest Buckner, Goff was pulled from the game by head coach Sonny Dykes and replaced by redshirt freshman Zack Kline.
From the beginning, Oregon’s defensive front made it their mission to attack Goff with different looks and not allow him to find open receivers in the flat and in the secondary.
“It really didn’t change much at all” explained Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti after the game when asked about the different looks they wanted to give the Bear offense.”
“We had all sorts of disguises but we never even used any of them because the weather was so horrible and they got off to about as bad as start as you can. They really didn’t give themselves a chance which was probably more of a function of them than us.”
And while most coordinators would be dancing on the wet Autzen Stadium turf after the game, Aliotti again felt his defensive squad could do better.
“It is funny how when you win 55-16 you should be jumping up and down but I wasn’t happy at the end of the game with the substitutions” Aliotti said.
“At the end there we didn’t have the right people in. I know in a blow out it doesn’t matter that much but those things come back to bite you. Remember, we are trying to run away from good to be great.”
While the harsh weather conditions looked to have a considerable impact on the Golden Bear offense, it was much different with the Ducks offense.
After scoring on the opening kickoff, the Ducks would go on to score 35 consecutive points to go into the halftime break with a commanding 41-3 lead.
“Defense was awesome, it set the tempo in every regard” said Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich after the game.
“We got a couple lucky bounces with the ball handling conditions that didn’t turn into turnovers but one that did. Can’t say enough about our effort, especially in the first half.”
In total, Oregon would go on to score 8 touchdowns – 4 rushing, 2 through the air and 2 additional scores on punt returns by Bralon Addison.
Continuing his push to New York City as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate, Duck QB Marcus Mariota again played solid.
Mariota was 11 of 25 for 114 yards and 2 touchdowns. More importantly, Mariota remained turnover free especially considering the conditions he was forced to play in.
GAME CHANGING MOMENT
It wasn’t necessarily a game changing moment, but it certainly was electric – twice!
Oregon Wide receiver Bralon Addison returned not one, but two punt returns in spectacular fashion and provided the standing room only crowd a flashback to 2010 when cornerback Cliff Harris returned two against New Mexico.
In the first half with 6:08 to play before the break, Addison took a high kick and raced up the sideline 75 yards for the score to give Oregon a commanding 41-0 lead.
Then, in the 3rd quarter, Addison dropped back for another high punt and weaved his way through the Bear punt team for a 67 yard touchdown pushing the score to 48-3.
If the first one didn’t take the air out of the Cal special teams, this one certainly did.
“As a team you can see we were happy we finally got a touchdown on a punt return” said Addison in his post game briefing.
“Coach Osbourne has been talking about it for the past three weeks. We’ve been one block away, and tonight everyone finished their jobs. We did a great job of staying focused all week and working hard on special teams. Those guys did their job and I did mine and we just celebrated as a team.”
Not a bad day for the young sophomore. Addison not only collected 142 return yards and two scores, he also caught 3 passes for 13 yards.
“Really set the tone in the second-half in a big way there” said Helfrich when asked about Addison’s break out game.
“That one in the 3rd quarter was awesome, we covered huge blocks down the field. It was a team effort and that was something we really hammered home last week.”
QUESTION & ANSWER
The biggest question coming into Saturday’s game was could the passing attack of Cal’s ‘Bear-Raid’ offense exploit Oregon’s secondary.
It was certainly an area of the game that Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti was concerned with.
Midweek when asked about Cal’s freshman phenom quarterback Jared Goff and his 435 yard per game passing average, Aliotti told the media this would by far be the biggest test for the Oregon defense in this young season.
After the game, Aliotti gave high praise to his entire squad.
“I really was happy with the effort” said Aliotti.
“,…but looking back, there’s still things we need to clean up. We’re still making mistakes that could come back and haunt us in the future.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Passing - Oregon 117 / Cal 176
Rushing - Oregon 264 / Cal 149
Total Yards - Oregon 381 / Cal 325