This week, DuckSportsAuthority.com publisher A.J. Jacobson joins BearTerritory.net publisher Ryan Gorcey to break down Saturday's match-up between California and No. 2 Oregon, unit-by-unit, and we predict the final outcome in this week's edition of The EDGE.
The Cal defense ranks eighth in the league against the pass, but over the past five games, the Bears have allowed more than 21 points just once. While the Bears have allowed an average of 6.4 yards per passing attempt over the past five games, they've also tallied nine picks over that span, including three each by Michael Lowe and Kameron Jackson.
The Oregon air game has been very efficient with Marcus Mariota at the helm. Targets such as Josh Huff and De'Anthony Thomas have been effective when called upon, but so far this season the Ducks have had big leads in most games and have passed very little in the second halves of games.
The ground attack is the bread and butter of the Oregon offense, led by senior Kenjon Barner who scorched the USC Trojans last week for more than 300 yards on the ground. The Ducks have been giving increasing snaps to freshman Byron Marshall as the season has progressed.
Mustafa Jalil is out for the year, Keni Kaufusi has a broken kneecap, Kendrick Payne is recovering from painful finger surgery and Aaron Tipoti has been slowed with knee pain. This unit is bruised and battered, and without depth to rotate against Oregon's speed, they're going to get tired quickly.
The offensive line has been solid for the Ducks this year, and had their best game of the season last week against UCS. In the Oregon ground romp in Los Angeles, Duck backs gained more than 250 of their 426 rushing yards before the ball-carrier was touched.
With senior starting quarterback Zach Maynard on the shelf, along with his brother -- all-time program receptions leader Keenan Allen -- the pressure will be on a very talented -- but inexperienced -- corps of receivers and redshirt junior signal-caller Allan Bridgford. While Bridgford has yet to throw a pick in college, he's only thrown 48 passes in eight career games of action.
Last time out against the Ducks, the Bears completely abandoned the run after going down by one score in the second half, rushing just nine times after the break. They can't do that again this week, especially with a more traditional pocket quarterback in Bridgford. Cal's best bet will be to counter speed with speed, and that means more carries for Brendan Bigelow.
Oregon linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso are as good a pair as the Ducks have fielded at the position, including some tandems now in the NFL. The Ducks want more productivity out of the group overall but the starters have generally played only half a game.
Over the first five games, this bunch accounted for 23.8 percent of all of Cal's penalties. Over the past five games, they've only accounted for 17.1 percent of all fouls. They're finally gelling, and maturing. Wouldn't discount this unit having its best game yet, though the 39 sacks allowed on the year can't be ignored.
The defensive line has been very good for the Ducks this year, although they are a bit banged up at the moment. The two standouts have been DT Taylor Hart and DE Dion Jordan, though the quality of the depth is what has allowed the defensive front to perform well even given injuries.
With no Keenan Allen to return punts, and teams more often kicking away from Brendan Bigelow, the field position battle hasn't really been going Cal's way. Freshman punter Cole Leininger has been solid in his first season, and junior kicker Vince D'Amato is coming off a streak of 11 straight field goals made, but the Bears are at the bottom of the conference in kickoff coverage.
The Oregon special teams have been adequate and at times explosive. The Duck punting game has been all but unused and teams do everything they can to kick away from De'Anthony Thomas. The only mark against the various special teams groups has been uneven placekicking, but it has been most all extra points with a few field goals mixed in.
RYAN GORCEY'S PREDICTION
A.J. JACOBSON'S PREDICTION
Cal DC Clancy Pendergast may be able to dial up the right defense to slow Oregon down, but with an inexperienced QB, offensive line and wide receiving corps, I just don't see the Bears offense sustaining long enough drives to give the defense enough of a rest, and the Ducks will pull away in the second half. 54-21, Oregon.
The Oregon coaching staff under Chip Kelly has been stable and successful. Kelly is considered one of the top offensive coaches in the country, and Nick Aliotti is a savvy veteran defensive coordinator whose units are generally much better than given credit for. Oregon 49 - California 23.