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MailTribune.com
  • California mulling how to stop speedy Oregon attack

  • BERKELEY, Calif. — Notoriously slow-starting this season, the Cal football team cannot afford to be sluggish out of the gate Saturday night against No. 2 Oregon.
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  • BERKELEY, Calif. — Notoriously slow-starting this season, the Cal football team cannot afford to be sluggish out of the gate Saturday night against No. 2 Oregon.
    Among the long list of scary offensive numbers the Ducks boast is this: They have outscored their opponents 176-29 in the first quarter. By halftime, the nation's high-scoring team has racked up an average of 36 points.
    If Cal, which has scored just two first-quarter touchdowns all season, follows that script in its home finale, this could get ugly. Fast.
    "It's a tough offense to even slow down," said Cal coach Jeff Tedford, whose team is a 28-point home underdog. "No one really has."
    Not even USC, one of college football's most storied programs, could keep up with Oregon's so-called "blur" offense. The Ducks (9-0, 6-0 Pac-12) ran up 62 points last Saturday at the Los Angeles Coliseum — the most USC has ever allowed.
    "I don't know that I've seen anything as prolific as how they make it look," Tedford said. "It's really something else."
    Admiring the Ducks is one thing. Stopping them, quite another.
    "That is, by far, the fastest team I have ever, ever, EV-VER seen," Arkansas State defensive coordinator John Thompson told CBSsports.com after the Ducks built a 50-3 lead with seven minutes left in the second quarter of their season opener. "It is unbelievable. ... I think they're gonna win it all. I just don't see people being able to deal with their speed."
    The Bears (3-7, 2-5), actually, have done as good a job in recent years as anyone, limiting Oregon to 15 and 16 points on its past two visits to Berkeley.
    This Oregon team averages 54.3 points per game, and even that's a bit misleading, because in all but a few games the Ducks have been so far ahead they've backed off in the second half.
    They have converted red-zone chances for touchdowns an NCAA-best 83.6 percent of the time, including on seven of eight tries at USC.
    They haven't scored fewer than 42 points in any game.
    "People may not think we have a chance," Cal linebacker Chris McCain said. "I don't see us giving up 42 points."
    If that sounds borderline delusional, consider this: Oregon arrived in the Bay Area two years ago averaging more points (54.7) than this season and managed just one offensive touchdown in a 15-13 victory.
    "It's the same stuff they've been doing the last 3-4 years. Just a new set of characters," senior safety Josh Hill said. "They always have fast guys. LaMichael James was doing the same thing last year."
    The headliners in coach Chip Kelly's read-option offense this season are running back Kenjon Barner, the nation's second-leading rusher at 143.9 yards per game; quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has thrown for 22 touchdowns and can outrun most defensive backs; and do-everything De'Anthony Thomas, proclaimed by Sports Illustrated as the fastest man in college football.
    Oregon leads the nation in rushing at 341.2 yards per game, so the Bears' defensive plan starts there.
    "It's a lot easier said than done," Hill conceded. "If it was that easy, they wouldn't be as good as they are."
    Tedford said the difficulty Barner presents is his ability to wait out the right opening.
    "He's just got so much patience," Tedford said. "I was watching how many times he acts like he was going in there and then he bounces (outside). It's scary to let him get the edge."
    The Bears understand that their offense — with or without ailing quarterback Zach Maynard — must do its part. Cal hopes to control the ball with its running attack, minimize turnovers and keep from having to play catch-up.
    Sooner or later, the Cal defense will have to make a stop.
    "Watch the game," McCain said. "Nobody can predict the future."
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