Points of debate
The following is an excerpt from an email debate between Emerald Sports Editor Ben Schorzman and Daily Californian Sports Reporter Jimmy Tran.
Ben Schorzman: This Saturday Oregon will face its stiffest test. Opening on the road in Boise was indeed tough, but opening conference play with a nationally ranked No. 6 rival coming to Autzen is a whole different level. The Ducks haven’t beat the Golden Bears since 2005, and with Heisman front runner Jahvid Best leading the way for Cal, this is a huge game for both teams.
First for the Bears. If they win, they will be one step closer to perhaps gaining a Rose Bowl berth. They haven’t proven in recent years that they have been able to sustain a full conference schedule without getting tripped up, but this year they play Oregon, then USC in successive weeks. If they get through that unscathed, they will be favored in the remaining games on their schedule.
But while the game for Cal is a big one in terms of gaining a Pac-10 crown, it’s an even bigger one for the Ducks because they will finally have beaten the Bears. It will also go further in clearing away the last remnants of the opening week loss to BSU. With the start of conference play brings a new slate, and there’s no better way for Oregon to start anew than to knock off a top-10 team.
Jimmy Tran: After a win on the road that can be best described as gritty, the Cal football team faces an even more difficult test this weekend when it heads up to Eugene. The Bears may have won the last three in the series, but recall that this game is taking place in Autzen Stadium. Before 2007’s 31-24 win, Cal hadn’t beat Oregon on the road since 1987. Still, almost everything appears to be in the Bears’ favor for this game. While LaMichael James’ career-high 152 yards in Oregon’s win against Utah last week was impressive, he will have to face a run defense that is ranked tenth in the nation.
Many have labeled this as a “trap game” for the Bears, but head coach Jeff Tedford knows as well as anyone the difficulty of playing the Ducks at their home. Tedford, who was the offensive coordinator for Oregon from 1998-2001, will have his team prepared for what is perhaps the Ducks’ biggest strength: noise. Besides, the Bears have plenty of weapons on both sides of the ball to extend their winning streak to seven games. Jahvid Best is coming off a game in which he rushed for a program-record five touchdowns. Quarterback Kevin Riley showed great poise in the latter stages of last week’s victory. Finally, cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson bounced back from a mediocre game the previous week to lead Cal in tackles against Minnesota. Also, the Bears looked sharp on the road for the first time in a long time. The last time I recall a Cal team pulling out a road win in the late stages of the game was — well, let me just say, Marcus Ezeff.
BS: I agree that this year’s Cal team is different than in years past. I watched every second of the Minnesota game and I was very impressed with the team’s poise and ability to make stops when it needed to. However, the one area where I expect that Oregon can exploit the Bears is in the secondary. Minnesota wideout Eric Decker caught eight balls for 119 yards and two touchdowns. If Oregon can get the same sort of success and limit the interceptions that ultimately doomed Minnesota, it will be a ball game.
JT: First off, anyone who thought Oregon would implode after its loss to Boise State didn’t really know this team. That being said, it’s still hard to predict whether the Ducks will live up to their potential or not. The Bears, on the other hand, have the look of a determined team. Not to say there aren’t any weaknesses. The special teams unit is going to cost Cal a game if it keeps playing the way it has been. As for that supposedly vulnerable secondary, the Bears aren’t terrible in pass defense. As good as Decker was, cornerback Darian Hagan had arguably his worst game of his collegiate career. Hagan has looked a little lost these first three games, but it may have more to do with the defensive schemes rather than a drop-off in production.
BS: As for a key player in Saturday’s game, it has to be tight end Ed Dickson. To date, he’s had four catches total this year. If Oregon is to win this game, it will need him to light a spark in the receiving corps. He’s a senior and one of the leaders of the offense. If he has four or five catches for over 70 yards and a touchdown, the Ducks will win this game.
JT: Perhaps it’s me being blinded with delusions of grandeur, but I have to disagree and go with Cal this weekend. That’s not to say I’d be stunned if Oregon won this game. I see this being in the Bears’ favor by a very slight margin.
My key player in this game for Cal would have to be Marvin Jones. He had a very quiet game against Minnesota but has the potential to put together a big game. It’ll be interesting to see if the Ducks match up Thurmond III against Jones. Oregon defends the pass just about as well as the run, but I don’t see Best winning this game in the fourth quarter for the Bears. Similarly to last week, the Bears will have to rely on their air attack if they’re going to escape Autzen with a win.
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