A bevy of injuries and a disastrous closing stretch at Stanford put a damper on the College Football Playoff hopes Oregon ignited with a Week 2 win at Ohio State. But while the Ducks (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) enjoyed a welcomed bye week, the rest of the national landscape was thrown into chaos.
Previously undefeated teams Alabama, Penn State, and BYU losing kept Oregon in the top 10 and in striking distance of that all-important top four. The Ducks return to action against a Cal (1-4, 0-2) team also coming off its bye, and in search of its win over an FBS opponent.
Losses by five points to Nevada, two at TCU, and seven in overtime at Washington preceded an anemic offensive showing against Washington State. A Golden Bears program that for the previous few seasons looked to be on the rise in the Pac-12 is now in search of answers.
California at No. 9 Oregon
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 15 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Oregon -13.5
When California Has the Ball
After a dismal second half in the season-opening loss to Nevada, Cal appeared to be on track at TCU. Chase Garbers connected with Trevon Clark on a long touchdown, and the Golden Bears mounted scoring drives of 68, 75 (twice), and 80 yards in the loss.
Since putting up 42 points against FCS Sacramento State, however, Cal was only able to turn 457 yards against Washington into 24 points and was a complete non-factor for three quarters against Washington State.
In both instances, Cal rushed for less than four yards per carry. The Oregon defense, meanwhile, has held opponents to 3.6 yards per rush attempt through the first four games.
Turnovers have plagued the Golden Bears, as well. Garbers has thrown at least one pick in every game but one and accumulated almost as many picks (five) as touchdowns (seven). Oregon's secondary will be without one of its playmakers, Bennett Williams, who sustained a season-ending injury on Sept. 25 against Arizona. But with Verone McKinley III on the field, the Ducks have a consistent threat to garner takeaways.
When Oregon Has the Ball
Bitter news for Oregon during its bye week came with running back CJ Verdell ruled out for the rest of the season. Verdell punished Ohio State's defense in the Ducks' Week 2 win, and Oregon was clearly a less consistent offense with him struggling through injuries last season.
Travis Dye should see more carries, and one of the promising freshmen figure to play a role in the offense. Celebrated prospect Seven McGee's usage will be an interesting development Friday and beyond.
But the primary focus on the Oregon offense coming out of the bye week is quarterback Anthony Brown's response to the Stanford loss. Brown went just 14-of-26 with an interception against the Cardinal.
Defense has been a hallmark of Justin Wilcox-coached teams at Cal, and despite their struggles getting in the win column, the 2021 Golden Bears are no exception. Oregon likely cannot lean too much on the run against a Cal defense holding opponents to 3.7 yards per carry — and much of that, TCU was responsible for.
The veteran pass-rush presence of Cameron Goode, Luc Bequette, and JH Tevis will have Brown under some duress.
Cal's backslide this season has been one of the more surprising developments in an all-around bizarre Pac-12 season. The Golden Bears have the talent and experience on defense to contend with any opponent in the league, including Oregon.
That defense should keep Cal competitive for a stretch, but an offense that's already struggling faced with Oregon's athletic and physical defense will be hard-pressed to keep pace for 60 minutes.
Prediction: Oregon 28, California 14
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