Oregon and California meet in Friday night melee

Santa Clara, CA (SportsNetwork.com) – On Friday night, the sixth-ranked Oregon
Ducks will put the California Golden Bears to the test in a Pac-12 Conference
clash at the brand new Levi’s Stadium, home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.

After falling to Arizona (31-24) at the beginning of the month, Oregon has
rallied with convincing wins over UCLA (42-30) and Washington (45-20). Last
weekend’s victory over the Huskies propelled the Ducks to No. 6 in the
national rankings, and has many slotting them back into the College Football
Playoff picture. They are also right in the mix for the Pac-12 title, with a
3-1 mark against league foes.

California is headed in the opposite direction, with losses in its last two
games. The Golden Bears nearly upset UCLA last weekend, but fell short in a
36-34 final. It was a much better showing than the previous week, when they
were routed, 31-7, by Washington at home. Cal is 4-3 overall, but only 2-3 in
conference.

If California is going to complete an upset it will need to buck recent
history. Oregon has won each of the last five matchups with the Golden Bears
by a combined score of 214-64, including a 55-16 beatdown last season. Cal
still leads the all-time series however, 39-35-2.

The tradition of Oregon being at the top of the Pac-12 in total offense has
not come to fruition this season. That’s not to say the Ducks have not been
potent on offense, as they are still putting up 527 yards of total offense
each week, while leading the league in scoring (43.6 ppg).

What more can be said about Marcus Mariota? The Ducks’ signal caller has been
easily the best all-around quarterback in the Pac-12, if not the country. He
has thrown for 1,957 yards and 19 touchdowns on 70.2 percent passing, all
while avoiding a single interception in 188 pass attempts.

Of course, he can also make moves on the ground, with 289 yards and five
scores this season, although he did not manage a single positive rushing yard
against Washington.

There was no reason to panic, however, as Royce Freeman was able to keep the
Ducks moving in the running game, finishing with a season-high 169 yards and
four touchdowns on 29 carries. Freeman leads the team in rushing yards (636)
and touchdowns (11). In fact, the rest of the team has only nine rushing
scores combined.

“We saw some of his elusiveness that was legendary during fall camp, as far as
being able to run through guys and make people miss a little better than you
think. He’s starting to play free of thought and is letting his natural gifts
take over,” Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said of Freeman’s effort against
Washington. “When you can run the ball, you can do anything. The offensive
staff did a great job of creating match-ups and seams in the run game.”

While Freeman provides Oregon with a more traditional running back, Byron
Marshall continues to be a back who can do a little bit of everything. He has
249 yards and a score on the ground and also leads the team in receptions
(34), while ranking second in receiving yards (388).

The rest of the receiving corps is deep, with Devon Allen (23 receptions, 440
yards, six TDs) and Pharaoh Brown (18 receptions, 314 yards, three TDs) the
top options.

On defense, Oregon is allowing 23.7 points and 448.4 yards per game. The Ducks
rank next-to-last in the Pac-12 in total defense, but they have been able to
overcome by forcing the second-most turnovers in the conference (14).

Cal’s offense may give the Ducks some problems, if the Golden Bears can shake
off the inconsistencies that plagued them against UCLA. Although they scored
34 points in the loss, they only finished with 366 yards. It was the second
straight week they had been held below 400 yards, following a streak of four
games over 500.

Jared Goff threw for 303 of the yards Cal tallied against UCLA. The pressure
to move the ball largely falls on his shoulders, and he usually lives up to
the task. On the season, he has thrown for 2,482 yards and 24 touchdowns,
compared to only four interceptions. He has also completed 64.8 percent of his
273 attempts, although he has been sacked 15 times.

Goff will be without one of his favorite receivers this weekend, as Trevor
Davis is listed as doubtful after taking a brutal hit to the head in the loss
to UCLA. Davis is third on the team in receiving yards (360).

“That was kind of scary to see there for a second. From what I’ve heard though
he seems to be doing alright and is going to be OK,” Goff said. “Everything
I’ve heard about that is positive so far, but it was tough having to see
that.”

With Davis likely out of commission, there will be added pressure on Bryce
Treggs (33 receptions, 401 yards, five TDs) and Kenny Lawler (28 receptions,
387 yards, six TDs), although there is plenty of depth on the roster, with
five players posting at least 300 yards.

The Golden Bears would also benefit from solid play out of the backfield,
which is where Daniel Lasco (523 yards, six TDs) and Khalfani Muhammad (174
yards, four TDs) come in.

Of course, all that would be for naught if the Golden Bears can’t improve on
defense. They rank last in the conference in total defense (525.1 ypg) and
next-to-last in scoring defense (38.4 ppg).