"Whatcha gonna do! When Chip-amania runs all over you!"
It’s been a bit difficult to come out with the keyboard blazing to pump out a “Keys to the Game” post for this game. Everyone knows the challenge at hand. The Bears who have been hot and cold all season, square off against a visiting top ranked Oregon team. And the Ducks look good. Real good.
Call me one of the skeptics who wondered how strong the Ducks would be entering this season as they broke in a new quarterback Darren Thomas. But Thomas has been brilliant, and the offensive machine that Kelly has constructed in Oregon has been downright scary. The Ducks’ no-huddle spread offense is the top in the nation in most statistical categories, including points (1st – 54.7 ppg!), total offense (1st – 567.2 ypg), and rushing ypg (4th - 307.44). The Ducks have gone over 50 points six times this season, and no team have held the Ducks under 40 points. I can’t remember an offense that has looked as prolific as this one, and it’s been the top scoring offense in all of college football in at least the last eight years. It’s not just the number of points they put up. It’s the blistering speed and efficiency at which they score.
“They just have so many weapons and they spread you over the field so much and they’re so fast. With the running back that they have, it starts with being able to try to slow the run down. They wear you down. They play at such a fast tempo and if (James) finds a crease, he can make such big plays. They make huge plays in the run game.” -Jeff Tedford
And don’t sleep on Oregon’s defense. In my opinion, the biggest difference with this Oregon team with ones in years past, has been the complementary solid defense. The Ducks are 17th in the nation in scoring defense, giving up just under 18 points per game.
Everywhere you look along this roster, this team looks about as solid as you come, with all-conference players at some of the most critical positions including defensive tackles Brandon Bair and Kenny Rowe, WR Jeff Maehl, an outstanding offensive line, and oh, Heisman candidate La Michael James.
So what’s a Bear team to do?
A lot is likely to be made about how the Bears defense will handle the Oregon offense. In all likelihood, even keeping the Ducks under 50 points will be a challenge. Even at the Bears’ best, trying to slow down Oregon’s speed offense will be a tough deal.
However, the more and more I think about it, I maintain that so much of the Bears’ success today will be dependent on well its offense performs. Oregon’s offense moves at such a blazing pace, that ball control when Cal is on offense will be critical. The Bears can’t afford early three and outs and let the Ducks score two or more touchdowns in the first five to ten minutes of the game. The game will be over before we know it. This Cal team hasn’t shown it has the mental toughness yet this season to bounce back from that type of point deficit.
On offense, the Bears need to sustain longer, drawn-out drives. This will be the Bears’ best defense. This will keep the Cal defense on the bench, allowing them enough time to rest and recharge both mentally and physically, as well as keep the Oregon off the field where they can quickly put games out of reach.
Now, nearly every team that has faced Oregon this season has tried this approach in their gameplans, and have failed. No team will win in a shootout against the Ducks, and most teams simply have a difficult time executing on offense as efficiently as the Ducks do. What makes the task even more difficult for the Bears is that new starter Brock Mansion simply hasn’t had enough time to get comfortable enough with the offense and its personnel to be expected to execute at the necessary proficiency to stage the upset. It will be a tough to near impossible challenge.
Contain, Contain, Contain
There’s a bit to Oregon’s offense. They don’t have the most complicated playbook, and really just work out of a few basic looks. But they execute it to such perfection that it takes flawless execution to stop them.
Avinash at California Golden Blogs has a pretty detailed look at Oregon’s offense.
I’ll leave the coaches with the task of trying slow down Oregon’s offense. I will say however that they take extra care in containing the edges. In the games where the Bears have been hurt most on the ground this season (Nevada 316 yards, USC 211 yards, OSU 197 yards), they have lost containment off the edges.
The Ducks are going to continue to pound the middle, and are going to be productive regardless of where they run the ball. However, if the Bears struggle again with defending the edges and allow James or Thomas to get open field if they bounce outside, then forget about it. I’m ok if the Bears give up some yardage with runs up the middle, with the occasional big play. I’m not too happy if the Bears leave the edges free for James and Thomas to play around in.
Force Some Turnovers and Hope for the Best
When you’re expected to lose 3 or more scores, let’s face it, you need the ball to bounce your way on a few occasions. The Bears have played pretty disciplined ball at home, and have typically been pretty good over with their turnover margin at +3 on the season. The bigger issue though is that the Ducks have been +11.
All we can hope is that the Bears will be fired up, be smart with the football, and see if they can capitalize on some turnovers.
Again, it isn’t good. There are too many cards stacked against the Bears in this one. But I’m looking for the Bears to play as they had nothing to lose. Regardless of the overall score, I’m hoping the Bears can get whatever they can from this one, which may include a confidence boost in being able to hang with Ducks, even if it’s just for select spots of the game.
I’m sure the Bears aren’t seeing it this way, with hopes and aspirations of doing what no one has this season and take down the number one team in the nation.
“There’s nothing daunting about it at all. It’s a great opportunity. Everybody on this team is excited.”
Saturday, November 13, 2010
"Whatcha gonna do! When Chip-amania runs all over you!"