EUGENE, Ore. -- California tried its best to create national buzz on Thursday by breaking out the long-rumored white helmets. But Oregon -- countering with a revival of cartoon mascot Puddles -- did its best global warming impression, as the Ducks heated up the northwest night to the tune of 29 unanswered second-half points to polish off a 43-15 win over the 'Polar' Bears.
"It was good, it was competitive and we were looking forward to coming out and competing hard in the second half, and then, they got on a roll and we couldn't respond," said head coach Jeff Tedford. "Once they get going like that, you've got to be able to respond to it, and we couldn't do it. We couldn't score enough points."
Oregon (4-1, 2-0 in Pac-12) ran off 10 plays of 20 or more yards, including four touchdowns and three plays that set up touchdowns. The Ducks compiled 563 yards of total offense, highlighted by tailback LaMichael James, who -- before leaving in the third quarter with a right elbow injury -- rushed 30 times for 239 yards, breaking the double-century mark for the third straight game.
"He just ran the ball well," said Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. "They blocked well and he's a very talented player, a great back, and he had the big run off tackle and he had big runs on the perimeter, too, so it's a double-edged sword with him, because he can hit you in a lot of different spots."
The Bears (3-2, 0-2) kept things close through the first half with senior placekicker Giorgio Tavecchio nailing three field goal tries -- including a career-long 54-yarder -- to put the Bears ahead 15-14 at the break, but that was about all the offense Cal could muster, as the Ducks showed signs of stirring, beginning with a 53-yard touchdown run by James.
Junior Bears quarterback Zach Maynard was as inconsistent as he's been all season, going 20-for-41 for 218 yards and one touchdown before he was removed midway through the fourth quarter in favor of sophomore Allan Bridgford.
"It was very frustrating for me," said Maynard, who overthrew one receiver in the end zone and under-threw another inside the five on the Bears' first two drives of the game. "I was off on my throws, the ball was coming out of my hands a little weird at times, and I should have converted on third down a lot more. We shouldn't have even been in those situations at all. I should have made a lot more throws today."
Maynard faced a total of 11 situations of second down and 10 yards or more to go, and four third-and-longs. On third-and-long, Maynard went 3-for-4 for 48 yards, but he only moved the chains once out of those four times.
"I feel that if we would have scored and executed our plays, we could have turned the game around," said sophomore wide receiver Keenan Allen, who finished the day with a game-highs in catches (9) and receiving yards (170). "They had their fans in the game, and that would have taken them out of it, too."
Cal was just 5-of-17 on third down conversions overall, and was 0-for-3 on fourth down. Even with younger brother Allen catching five balls for 91 yards in the first half alone, Maynard and the Bears could once again get nothing done inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
"I thought in the first half, we were pretty much moving it up and down, had a lot of success, it seemed like, offensively, and running it, throwing it, mixing it up, and we got to come away with touchdowns down there," Tedford said. "When you're going to get in a game like this, where they have the potential to score points, you want to come away with touchdowns, and this is two weeks in a row that we've come away with too many field goals, not touchdowns."
Cal scored on three of four red-zone trips -- with all but one of those trips coming before the half -- but two of those scores were Tavecchio field goals.
"We've got to make sure that we're playing better down there," Tedford said. "We've got to not get penalized down there, take sacks, we're putting ourselves into some long-yardage situations down in there and it ends up hurting us in the long run."
Maynard was sacked twice on the day, and saw his 'escapability dimension' exposed, rushing for just eight positive yards on three designed run plays. When he dropped back to pass -- mainly out of the shotgun -- Maynard's feet were always moving and even Allen thought his big brother appeared more nervous than usual.
"Everybody has a bad day, and he just got a little rattled out there," Allen said. "It's a good thing he has a chance to redeem himself next week [at home against USC]. I know he wasn't feeling like himself, so I just tried to help him get his confidence back, but he just couldn't get into a rhythm out there."
Tedford, too, said that his starting quarterback was not mechanically sound.
"I thought that he wasn't able to set his feet," Tedford said. "Sometimes his feet were still moving and he missed some guys early because his feet were not set. Each time out, it's a different challenge. He's on the field, he's out there competing, and each time out's a learning experience and we'll go to the tape, take a look at it and see where we can improve and what we can help with as coaches, put people in positions to know what's going on and like I told the team, this is a shared - we all share responsibility in this. We need to coach better and put them in good positions to be successful. Everybody's responsible for it."
Oregon signal-caller Darron Thomas wasn't much better -- going 13-for-25 for 198 yards and three touchdowns -- but he was much more comfortable throwing in the run, picking on true freshman defensive back Stefan McClure early and often after veteran Marc Anthony went down with a dislocated shoulder in the second quarter.
After Anthony went down, Thomas hooked up with Josh Huff three times on that side of the field for 54 yards, but McClure made some plays of his own, recording two tackles and one pass break-up.
"He went out once and then he came back in and hurt it again, so he was finished," Tedford said. "It looked like they went to that side a few times, but it wasn't every one. I mean, other guys got stuck in man. There was a lot of speed."
Most of that speed belonged to James, who rushed seven times for 99 yards in the first quarter alone, finding paydirt on a 53-yard run up the left sideline five minutes into the game. That scoring scamper was James' third rushing touchdown of the season to go for 50 yards or more -- James later hit runs of 47, 39 and 30 yards before the half -- and there were plenty more big plays in store for Oregon, who exploited defensive weaknesses on the edges.
"We were trying to stop the perimeter," said Pendergast. "On offense, they hit you inside and outside, off tackle and on the perimeter, and their back can hit all those areas of the field, and they got outside of us a couple times, and we didn't get off blocks to make plays."
As Cal went dark after the break, the Ducks lit up the scoreboard, hitching their wagon to James and true freshman De'Anthony Thomas, who chalked up 169 all-purpose yards (18 rushing, 114 receiving, 37 on kickoff return), including what wound up to be the death knell for Pendergast's defense.
"His play has picked up more in the last couple weeks, and obviously we know what kind of player he is, and he made some critical plays tonight that allowed them to keep drives alive," Pendergast said of De'Anthony Thomas. "They hit some big runs in the second half, and they came out the first series and nickel and dimed us a little bit, worked their way down the field and the bottom line is, they made a couple plays and we didn't. We gave up too many plays in the running game tonight to give ourselves a chance."
After holding Oregon to 271 yards and 14 points in the first half, Cal surrendered 292 yards and 29 points after the midpoint.
Oregon opened up the third quarter with a punishing 13-play, 88-yard, 5:01 drive, grinding James four straight times before turning to Kenjon Barner three times in a row to push the ball up to their own 39. A pass interference call on Cal brought the Ducks across the 50, where James and Thomas traded rushes down to the Bears' 23. It was then that the first Thomas-to-Thomas hook-up of the night went down, as Darron Thomas found himself with all day to throw and fired a zinger over Josh Hill's left shoulder in the front left corner of the end zone to find De'Anthony Thomas for a 23-yard score, putting Oregon up for good, 21-15.
"We wanted to get a stop there, which was obviously very important, but they came out and they moved the ball down and converted, got points and that gave them some juice, then," Pendergast said.
The Bears looked to have gained at least some momentum back on the first play of their next drive, as junior tailback Isi Sofele took the handoff from Maynard at the six-yard line, made a big jump-back cut to avoid a defender and scampered up the right sideline for a 22-yard gain. But on the next play, tight end Anthony Miller missed a block, as Maynard ran out of bounds for no gain. A thread-the-needle 18-yard completion to Marvin Jones was then followed by an underthrow to the senior wide out, an ineffectual four-yard run Maynard undone by an unfinished block from Matt Summers-Gavin and a low and late throw to Miller at midfield.
"It's frustrating when you have a fast scoring team, because once they get the momentum going, it's kind of hard to stop them," Maynard said. "Our defense did a great job today, it just got away from us a little later on towards the end of the game. We just had to keep momentum going, keep a drive alive and the defense was doing well. They would come out and make a stop for us, we just need to get the ball in the end zone."
Less than a minute later, Oregon was on the board again, thanks to a 68-yard touchdown by Barner -- who finished with 88 yards on 10 carries -- and the route was on. De'Anthony Thomas caught a two-point conversion pass from Darron Thomas, and the pair hooked up yet again one drive later on a 21-yard touchdown strike with 2:18 left in the third quarter.
"When they open up a lead on you, they get it going and it really takes you out of your game plan, as far as being able to run the ball and be methodical," Tedford said. "You've got to really start trying to throw it every down and trying to get back in the game."
After rushing 20 times as a team in the first half, the Bears ran the ball just seven times in the second as the deficit grew and grew, which was bad news for Sofele, who finished with a career-high 119 yards on 12 carries.
"We started having to throw it all the time and had to abandon the run in the second half," Tedford said. "You'll take some good things away, but we didn't win the football game, and so there's always some good things, and you always have to recognize good things. Guys played hard. Guys competed hard, so it's not lack of effort or anything like that. I don't know what Isi's numbers were, but he played well. I thought he played hard, played well, but in the second half, once they get going, you kind of get away from running."
Even with more plays dedicated to the pass, Maynard threw the ball just 17 times after the half, completing nine attempts for 87 yards as the Bears played catch-up.
Asked if Oregon posed any specific challenge different from previous opponents this year, Allen said, flatly, "No."
"I feel like it was our execution. They executed their plays better than we did, offensively. They scored," Allen said. "We kicked field goals."