(Written by Ken Crawford)
(Sorry for the lack of posts. I briefly considered temporarily turning this blog into an America’s Cup blog for the two weeks in between the games, but I didn’t. Yet that’s where my focus has been, so no Cal posts.)
Bad news… I’ve been all too accurate in predicting doom for the Bears in the right games this season and my DOOOOOOM meter is off the charts today.
Traditionally the Bears have played Oregon tough. In the early Tedford years Cal beat Oregon more often than anyone else and even when they didn’t, always played them close. The victories in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008 drove Duck fans nuts because overall they were the better team. In 2010, despite losing, Cal held Oregon to their lowest total in the Kelly era outside of his very first game. Think about that… in 4 years, nobody, not even the national champions, held them to a lower score.
So there is a temptation to think the Bears might just find some mojo tonight.
But the fundamental problem is the defense. And in this instance, the problem I’m going to highlight isn’t even the technique and experience/talent weaknesses that have plagued the Bears on defense in 2013.
See, the reason Cal did so well against Oregon is that it’s defense in years past, was built to beat teams like Oregon. It was a forward looking defense, even back when it was a 4-3, it had the newest spread offenses in mind at it’s most fundamental level.
This years defense is fundamentally built to beat a power Big-10 team.
So here’s my prediction on defense: The Bears will actually be vastly improved over weeks past. We’re not going to give up 21 points, just for giggles, to start the game. For those looking at the details, the defense will be far more fundamentally sound. Tackling will be better. Gap assignments will be better. Movement to the ball will be better. The bye week will have worked magic both in terms of who’s on the field and how well they’re playing. If you watch closely, there will be lots of reasons for hope.
But it won’t make a lick of difference in the final score.
This defense is going to be run ragged all over the field. They’ll be able to get some (and I emphasize only some) stops early, but by the mid-2nd quarter will be completely gassed and this game will get away from them. The big plays will start to pile up after an early game where Oregon’s offense is effective, marching the ball down the field most of the time, but not running wild and somewhat held in check.
And to make matters worse for the defense, when the offense fails, it’ll be putting them back on the field so fast they won’t know what hit them… or should I say what ran by them.
If there’s some good news, I expect the offense to execute fairly well today. I was tempted to think that Oregon will be all too used to seeing a spread offense and thus will shut Cal down. After further reflection, the differences between the Oregon spread and the Bear raid are so significant, that I don’t see any meaningful advantage for Oregon in this regard.
Since the bye week will have been very good for this young offense as well, I expect to see them executing well in Autzen tonight, particularly considering their fast paced offense should be mostly immune to the noise in Autzen that paralyzes so many teams. In fact, I’ve got my hopes that the offense might just be good enough early to give us some hope that Cal might win this in a shoot out.
But in the end, Oregon’s offense will operate at a far higher level and our defense will get really tired. Bears lose again: 31-55