Chasing Pac-12 title, No. 23 Oregon visits winless Cal
Two teams coming off crushing defeats will attempt to vent some frustration upon one another when 23rd-ranked Oregon heads south to Berkeley, Calif., to take on winless California in a Pac-12 Conference matchup on Saturday.
Both teams are coming off losses to their rival, but each stung for a different reason.
The Ducks (3-1, 3-1 Pac-12) had been in the running for a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff before Oregon State’s Chance Nolan snuck into the end zone on fourth down with 33 seconds remaining for the difference-making score in the Beavers’ shocking 41-38 victory on Nov. 27.
Almost surely now out of the chase for college football’s final four, Oregon remains in the thick of the hunt for the Pac-12 title. A win over Cal (0-3, 0-3) would set up a showdown next week with 22nd-ranked Washington for the Pac-12 North title and a spot in the conference championship game.
With his team having allowed 29, 35 and 41 points in its past three games, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal acknowledged this week that his defense is a work in progress.
“I get it. We haven’t been to the level that we expected of ourselves,” he said. “There’s no sugar-coating that, but there’s also no finger-pointing. We lose as a team. We could have been better across the board, a lot of different areas. We’re committed to making sure that we do get better.”
Oregon has won three straight and 10 of its last 11 against California, a run interrupted only by a 52-49 loss in Berkeley in 2016. The Ducks have recorded an average winning margin of 16.3 points in the three head-to-heads since.
Oregon prevailed 17-7 last season in the lowest scoring game in the series since 1982. Cal was without its starting quarterback, Chase Garbers, in a game that was 10-7 before Justin Herbert threw a touchdown pass midway through the fourth period.
Herbert has since handed the ball to Tyler Shough while Garbers has returned to lead the Golden Bears.
Shough has outperformed Garbers this season, having thrown for 1,158 yards in four games, with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. Garbers has totaled just 588 passing yards in three games, with five scores and three interceptions.
Garbers led Cal on what appeared to be a game-tying scoring drive late in last week’s Big Game against Stanford, but Dario Longhetto’s PAT was blocked with 58 seconds remaining, sending the Golden Bears to a 24-23 defeat.
The loss left Cal not only winless on the season but also without possession of “The Axe” for the 10th time in the past 11 years.
Cal coach Justin Wilcox found himself dealing with more frayed emotions than damaged body parts in the aftermath of the gut-wrenching defeat.
“We put a lot into this,” he said of the rivalry game. “A lot of people do — coaches, players, people in the program — and the fans put a lot into it. And it doesn’t feel good.”
The Bears fell short despite outgaining Stanford in total yards 392-300.
–Field Level Media