I’m giving myself a brain-break from reading, and thought I’d weigh in on tonight’s Cal-Oregon game. Of course, if you get cable, swing over to ESPN, and enjoy it.
Right now, all of the pundits and Vegas have Oregon in a romp over the Bears. And, those guys and gals get paid big bucks to be right on these matters, and alumni like myself don’t really matter unless I’m among those paying the big bucks to the above…which I’m not…however, I am going to take the contrarian position on tonight’s game, and if for no other reason, you’ll either get to rub this one in my face, or you’ll say to yourself: I know at least one guy who predicted this upset.
So far, Cal is 3-1, and really, they haven’t played any team of real strength…or at least that was the thinking until Washington steam-rollered Utah last Saturday: and the Utes gave USC a game before that…well, you know how this kind of thinking goes: “so, Cal is better than everyone expects…” Maybe.
What I think we do come against here regards the preparation of Cal, the history of last year’s game in Berkeley, and what the Ducks think is coming…
This week, for the first time in a very long time: Cal practices were closed to the media and visitors. Yikes. Either there are injuries that no one wants to have disclosed, or the Bears are preparing for both sides of the ball in ways that they do not want disclosed. More on that in a moment. Normally, even with Big Game preparation, Coach Tedford has practices open the first day or two of the week. Nothing to see or hear this time around with Oregon.
In case you missed it, last year’s game with Oregon was the one game you should not have missed. Even if you don’t like football: this game was exciting. David (Cal) against Goliath (Oregon): except the Philistines ran out the clock at the end of the game to make sure shepherd boy didn’t pick up another rock: final score, Oregon wins, 15-13. Customarily, Oregon puts about 50 points on the scoreboard before the end of the first half in all of their other games. In short: Cal did two unexpected things: 1) they executed in ways that simply stymied the hurry-up, no-huddle offense of Oregon, and 2) they missed a field goal that would have put them into the lead in the 2nd half: it was a chip shot. Cal tackled, and put down the Ducks in ways that, well, you could hear the excitement in the voices of the broadcasters, as in, “Wow! We got us a game, and Cal might upset Oregon!” Which, unfortunately, did not happen. Even though they won, even if you read the interviews of Oregon coaches and players, they sound and read like they lost the game.
Which brings me to what is going on inside the heads of Oregon. One of the consistent remarks from post-game a year ago to yesterday was, “Cal executed better than we did.” Now, you can take those remarks as subtle bulletin board material to rah-rah your team, or…you can take that as: those Berkeley boys are a pain in our asses, and they won’t go away.
Seems like in the Pac-10, err, Pac-12, there is always another team- not your rival- that gives your school fits in football. Oregon State is like that for Cal; Washington State is like that for USC: and I wonder if now, Cal is like that for Oregon. And, here’s where the closed practices in Berkeley come into play.
Lots of people near and far have wondered, “Why don’t they let Zach Maynard run the ball more?” In the first four games, the guy really hasn’t: but everyone everywhere knows he has track speed and is tough as nails. No plays have been designed for him to run or for any kind of option stuff to be unveiled…so, I wonder if tonight, if from this summer until the present, Tedford has waited to unveil some new offense for Oregon, practiced it in private, and it includes Maynard running. If so, expect some Ducks to get gassed early and often. And, my best guess is that the Ducks know it is coming, and don’t have the personnel to stop Maynard.
To be sure, when you compare the maturity of the two teams that explains why the Ducks are a 24-point favorite over the Bears. But, given what I’ve suggested above, “that’s why they play the game.”