No. 1 Ducks Bring High-Flying Offense to Cal

Photo: Junior wide receiver Marvin Jones leads the team with 75 yards receiving per game. Jones has also reeled in three touchdown grabs.
Anna Vignet/File
Junior wide receiver Marvin Jones leads the team with 75 yards receiving per game. Jones has also reeled in three touchdown grabs.

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Football beat writers Jack Wang, Katie Dowd and Ed Yevelev break down Cal's match-up with No. 1 Oregon.

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Understandably, Cal football coach Jeff Tedford had nothing but nice things to say about No. 1 Oregon's offense this week.

"They just have so many weapons," Tedford said. "They make huge plays in the run game ...

"I have great respect for (Jeremiah) Masoli - Masoli was a tough, hard runner - but (quarterback Darron) Thomas I think even brings more to that offense because he's so elusive and so fast in the open field."

One state north, Ducks coach Chip Kelly wasn't quite as impressed with the Bears' signal caller, Brock Mansion.

"For the first time starting a college football game, I thought he did a decent job," Kelly said.

At 4:30 p.m., at Memorial Stadium this Saturday, Mansion and the Bears will have a chance to show Kelly that they're capable of something better than just decent.

But, at least on paper, that seems like it could be a nearly insurmountable task.

Undefeated Oregon's 54.7 points per game ranks first in the conference and first in the nation. Their quick-strike, no-huddle offense, helmed by Thomas and kept rolling by running back LaMichael James, averages 567.2 total yards per game. They haven't been held under 40 points yet this season.

They've scored often, and they've scored quickly. Twenty-nine of their 58 touchdown drives have taken five plays or fewer to complete. They're outscoring the competition 87-7 in the fourth quarter alone.

Which begs the question: Can Cal, or anyone, stop them?

"We're going to find out," Tedford said. "The thing is, they average over 50 points a game. That would be a huge feat for us to do that. I think we need to keep the score low and keep the game close to be there to win the game."

The Bears (5-4, 3-3 in the Pac-10) have statistically the best defense in the Pac-10 and they haven't given up more than 17 points at home all season.

But the offense that gave them the most trouble was Nevada's pistol. And if they thought the Wolf Pack had athletic options, they ain't seen nothing yet.

Thomas can pass and run; he has 22 touchdown passes to six picks and averages 44.4 yards rushing per game. Seven players are averaging double-digit receiving yards, the most prominent being wide receiver Jeff Maehl.

In the backfield, James already has 1,331 yards on the ground this season. The Heisman candidate is 420 yards away from become the program's all-time leading rusher. He's a sophomore.

"I'm not sure if you can really slow them down," senior linebacker Mike Mohamed said. "They really pride themselves on fast tempo. But what we can try to do is try to hang with them."

That task also falls on Cal's offense and much of that depends on how Mansion plays in just his second career start. Last week in the Bears' 20-13 win against Washington State, Mansion went 14-of-24 for 171 yards. He'll have to do a lot better if Cal hopes to keep pace with the Ducks (9-0, 6-0).

Mansion, for one, seems confident he can.

"There's nothing daunting about it at all. It's a great opportunity," Mansion said. "Everybody on this team is excited. We haven't come out and practiced with this much enthusiasm since probably the first week of fall camp, so I was really excited."

The odds are not in their favor - quite literally. Las Vegas has Cal as the 20-point underdog going into the contest which, some might say, is a generous margin of defeat.

The Bears have played a No. 1-ranked team 11 times in their history.

They've never won.

"We're the only team playing the number one team in the country this week," Mohamed said. "This is basically our BCS game. It's going to be awesome to just go out there and play them."


Katie Dowd covers football. Contact her at [email protected]

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