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Oregon football begins preparations for Thursday night's meeting with Cal

The No. 9 Oregon football team returned to its regular practice schedule over the weekend as it began preparations for the California Golden Bears Thursday night at Autzen Stadium.@@http://www.ncaa.com/rankings/football/fbs@@

Oregon (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) used the bye week to improve on offensive and defensive fundamentals, holding organized workouts on Tuesday and Thursday and film sessions Monday, Wednesday and Friday. With many of the Ducks’ assistant coaches on the road recruiting, third-year head coach Chip Kelly and a handful of graduate assistants ran practices in what Kelly likes to call an “improvement week.”@@http://pac-12.org/SPORTS/Football/Standings.aspx@@

“Really just get back to fundamentals,” Kelly said on Saturday. “Because we weren’t preparing for a game. We were just preparing for — how do we get better as a group?”

When the Ducks went to Berkeley last November, Cal was the only conference opponent that successfully slowed the nation’s leading offense. The Bears held Oregon to just 317 yards of total offense (162 rushing and 155 passing) and one touchdown on the offensive side of the ball — a 29-yard reception by Jeff Maehl just 31 seconds into the third quarter.@@http://www.goducks.com/downloads2/392526.htm?ATCLID=205030773&SPSID=3383&SPID=233&DB_LANG=C&DB_OEM_ID=500@@

Cornerback Cliff Harris provided Oregon’s only other points on a 64-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first half, and it was the Ducks’ 18-play, 65-yard drive that ate up the final 9 minutes and 25 seconds of the fourth quarter that secured the 15-13 victory.

“Darron (Thomas) did a really good job of managing the clock in that situation,” Kelly said. “We didn’t do anything new; they didn’t do anything new. It was just a matter of who could execute the best down the stretch.”

From a personnel standpoint, the week off came at relatively good time for Oregon. Junior linebacker Michael Clay appears to be getting closer to game-ready and was seen leaving Oregon’s practice on Saturday in shells with his ankle only taped; it had been in a protective boot for most of the last three weeks.

Thomas also had some time to nurse a banged-up left knee, a minor injury he likely suffered on Oregon’s first possession at Arizona. Thomas unsuccessfully tried to hide the knee brace from reporters following Saturday’s practice, but he appeared to be moving without a problem.

Junior kicker Rob Beard was also seen in pads over the weekend after missing the past few games due to injury.

Oregon will need to be at full strength on Thursday when they host a Cal team (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) that was handed its first loss of the season at Washington Sept. 24. For the second straight game, Oregon’s secondary will be put to the test against some of the Pac-12’s best receivers in Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones.@@http://www.calbears.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/cal-m-footbl-mtt.html@@

So far this season, Allen has pulled in 30 receptions for 498 yards (124.5 per game) and three touchdowns. For his part, Jones has contributed 23 catches for 375 yards and three scores of his own. By comparison, Lavasier Tuinei, Oregon’s leading pass-catcher, has just 15 catches for 177 yards (44.2 per game) and three scores on the season.@@http://www.calbears.com/sports/m-footbl/stats/2011-2012/teamcume.html@@@@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?&DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=205266631@@

“They’re outstanding,” Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. “I thought last year they were the most talented team in the conference on offense and defense. They’re really good.”

Thursday night will be the Pac-12 home opener for the Ducks, as well as the first home game since school began last Monday. Oregon welcomes in the ESPN crew for a 6 p.m. kickoff for the second year in a row, after hosting UCLA in a Thursday night game last season — a 60-13 win as Oregon made its debut as the No. 1-ranked team in the country.@@http://www.goducks.com/SportSelect.dbml?SPSID=3377&SPID=233&DB_OEM_ID=500&Q_SEASON=2010@@

Oregon junior Carson York said the Ducks had a strong improvement week and are more than ready for Cal.

“When you have a week to just practice and get better, I think some places maybe take it for granted,” York said. “A lot of the guys put out some really good effort this week.”

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