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California Golden Bears vs. Oregon Ducks Preview and Prediction

Vernon Adams

Vernon Adams

Since falling to .500 with back-to-back home, Pac-12 losses, defending conference champion Oregon has gone through a mini-surge. 

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The Ducks outlasted Arizona State in a 61-55, triple-overtime thriller last week for their first winning streak of the season. Oregon can make it three in a row, and stay alive in the chase for the Pac-12 North, against suddenly sputtering Cal

Since breaking into the Top 25, Cal dropped three straight against Utah, UCLA and USC. 

To get the bad taste of losing out of his teammates' mouths, Cal defensive lineman Jalil Mustafa brought roasted duck to a press conference. 

Oregon offensive tackle Tyler Johnstone fired back. 

"We've always trashed Cal, pretty much embarrassed them every time we've played them," Johnstone said, via Comcast Sportsnet Northwest's Briana Amaranthus.

The food fight plays out on the field Saturday at Autzen Stadium. 

Cal at Oregon 

Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV: ESPN2

Spread: Oregon -4.5 

Three Things to Watch 

1. Vernon Adams Taking Flight

A fully healthy Vernon Adams quarterbacking the Oregon offense proved worth the wait. Adams was electric in the Ducks' 61-55 win at Arizona State, passing for 315 yards and four touchdowns — both highs since joining the program. 

Adams showed off the big arm and uncanny ability to escape that made him a star at Eastern Washington. With the ill effects of a broken finger seemingly gone, Adams has the ability to take the Oregon offense back into a direction more reflective of recent Duck teams. 

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The Ducks had struggled to balance a consistent passing game with the Pac-12-leading rushing pace of running back Royce Freeman. Now, expect a more balanced — and thus, more dangerous — look from Oregon. 

2. Getting to Goff

Cal's star quarterback, junior Jared Goff, has just two multiple-interception games this season. No coincidence that both were in losses. 

Goff threw five against Utah and two last week against USC. 

The Utes and Trojans both successfully bottled up Cal's run game, while also applying pressure to Goff. While Oregon hasn't been the turnover-generating machine this season like past Duck defenses, it does have a pass-rush threat in DeForest Buckner. 

Buckner has at least one sack in each of Oregon's last three games, and two tackles for loss each contest in that same stretch. Buckner's ability to wreak havoc in the backfield will set the tone for the Oregon defense. 

3. Big Pass Plays

Despite the mini-resurgence Oregon's enjoying, its most glaring issue remained problematic at Arizona State. The Ducks' secondary, bearing some of the responsibility for a No. 126 national ranking against the pass, gave up 398 yards and five touchdowns to Sun Devil quarterback Mike Bercovici. 

Oregon was just one game removed from yielding 505 yards to Washington State's Luke Falk. 

At 2,537 yards, Goff is the Pac-12's second-most prolific passer behind Falk. Cal's recent struggles to establish the run might not matter if Goff starts cooking against an oftentimes porous Ducks secondary. 

Final Analysis 

Cal and Oregon are both case-studies in how quickly a season can turn. The Golden Bears looked like viable Pac-12 championship candidates midway through October, but are now struggling just to gain bowl eligibility. 

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Oregon faced down a possible sub-.500 record and the end of its reign atop the conference a few weeks ago. The Ducks now harbor slim, albeit still realistic North division title aspirations after winning two straight. 

The theme Saturday in Autzen Stadium is growing confidence vs. growing desperation. Look for both to swell by night's end. 

Prediction: Oregon 45, Cal 38

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of CFBHuddle.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.