As the Oregon Ducks take on the Cal Bears at Levi Stadium this week, here are 7 key things to pay attention to:
In addition to its flashy and ever-changing fashion on the gridiron, Oregon Football has become most known for its very fast and furious, “blur offense”. With its no huddle, spread style of play, Oregon has been incredibly successful moving quickly between plays and wearing down defenses by halftime allowing the Ducks to heavily dominate the scoreboard. At this point, it’s safe to say Ducks fans have become spoiled and increasingly more sensitive to this season’s slower play. With a pieced-together offensive line playing throughout much of this season, it’s been difficult to really get things communicated quickly which has removed the “blur” in many ways.
With the return of key injured players, including Offensive Tackle, Jake Fisher, that blur may be slowly returning. In last weekend’s game against Washington, the offense seemed to be firing on all cylinders and tempo we’ve all grown so proud of seemed to be making its way back. It seems improved communication deserves much of the credited.
After the win against UCLA (Jake Fisher’s official return from Injury), Oregon Center, Hronis Grasu talked about the ability of Marcus and the veteran offensive line to communicate with so much ease, often times with just a look.
With solid wins the past two weeks, Oregon has proved it still deserves to be in the playoff discussion as they have looked more and more like the team the nation has grown to respect. Keeping that signature up-tempo style will definitely help them make an even stronger case. Yes, style points will matter.
2. Potential Trip-ups
As Oregon heads through the second half of the season, every game is big and every game is a must win. As Oregon sits in the top 10, it has become every other Pac-12 school’s number one target. As has been the case all season, every opponent has come onto the field fired up and ready to go, making it absolutely necessary for the Oregon Ducks to match that fire. With the exception of Arizona, Oregon has done that but for anyone, keeping the fire burning week after week is very difficult. If the Ducks’ flame is at all burning out, the Bears could capitalize and albeit very unlikely, they could hand send the Ducks spiraling down the polls.
A second potential trip up could be another lack-luster performance by the Oregon Secondary. Now that the offensive line has made its way back to good graces, Oregon’s pass defense has become the negative focal point. Although there have been some incredible plays by players like, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Eric Dargan, overall the pass defense has allowed opponents to pass like crazy, ranking them 107th in the nation- not good for a top 10 team. Much like Washington State, Cal runs its own “Bear-Raid” offense, headed up by under-rated Quarterback, Jared Goff, who on paper looks even better than Mariota in some areas. Again, it’s unlikely but if the secondary falls asleep or is out-played by the Cal receivers, things could turn ugly for the Ducks.
3. Interception free Marcus
In case you needed a reminder, Marcus Mariota is STILL interception free this season, an incredible accomplishment in anyone’s book. That being said, there have been some very close calls and each week has the potential to derail the streak. If nothing else, this is something to keep your eye on this week. Will Cal’s secondary be able to work its magic and find the ball?
4. Devon Allen
Last week, the run game dominated Oregon’s offense, but more so than in years passed, there are a number of receivers showing consistency and incredible talent, especially in light of last year’s star, Bralon Addison being out with a knee injury. Last week, Pharoah Brown was the stand out, but for the first several games, it was freshman Wide Receiver, Devon Allen, leading the way. If late exits out of practice are signs of things to come, Allen could again pave the way this week. As The Oregonian’s, Molly Blue, pointed out this week, Mariota and Allen were consistently late coming out of practice, usually exiting together. When asked about it, Mariota politely kept the cards close but said,
“We wanted to kind of go over some routes and kind of fine tune some things.” Will that added practice make way for a Mariota-Allen show in Levi-Stadium?
5. The Crowd
The good news is the Oregon vs. Cal match up will be the first college football show down in Levi Stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers. The bad news? Tickets are being sold on Groupon in order to fill the stands. With a likely less-than-full stadium, the atmosphere may be a little unusual and perhaps a bit quieter than both teams are used to. That being said, each team will have to be ready regardless of how involved the crowd may or may not be. As Mariota said on Tuesday,
“If you’re not motivated to play in a college game, then you’ve got to find it in yourself to be ready…Guys will be ready.”
He went on to say the team was excited for the experience. “It’ll be fun for us,” Mariota said on Tuesday. “It’s a different experience. It’s an opportunity for us to experience an NFL Stadium. . .We’re very excited to play in it.”
6. Rollin’ Royce Freeman
It’s no secret Oregon’s offense thrives on a solid run game as it opens the door for Mariota and his receivers to work their magic. Each season, running backs like LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas have helped carry the run game load. Last week, freshman phenom, Royce Freeman, showed why he’s following in their footsteps as he found the end zone 4 times. With the added bonus of duel-position player, Byron Marshall, the backfield could light it up in Santa Clara.
7. Mariota Break Out Plays
Thought Mariota would say he isn’t worried about it, Ducks fans desperately want to see him win that Heisman. Already this season, Mariota has shown why he should absolutely be a front-runner from somersaulting into the end zone to pitching the ball for a touchdown mid-tackle. Like it or not, it’s big plays that make an impression on voters and each game provides a new canvas for Mariota to showcase his incredible improv. Watch for Super Mariota to put on a show in his father’s favorite NFL team’s stadium.
Despite Cal’s record this year, they have been very competitive in most games and should not be looked over. Here’s to hopin’ we see the same, or even better, Oregon team we saw last week. If we do, it might just be Bear hunting season in Levi Stadium. Go Ducks!
Make sure to tune in to Fox Sports 1 at 7pm to watch all the action.
Follow Nichole Brown on Twitter @UOgridirongirl as she live Tweets from Levi Stadium.