The age old saying "It never rains in Autzen Stadium" is a lie. It is a flat out lie. I've been to games at Autzen with some drizzles of rain and even been to a few games in freezing temperatures, but I have never been to a game in a monsoon. If it was hard to deal with the rain from the stands, I can't even imagine how Oregon and Cal could have effectively ran their offenses in those conditions. Was the rain the real deciding factor in the game, deeming the results practically irrelevant, or was the game a larger statement about Oregon being a truly complete football team?
To start, these wet conditions weren't just bad. They were horrible. Halfway through the first quarter, the sidelines were completely flooded. De'Anthony Thomas was injured on the opening kickoff thanks to the slippery turf, Byron Marshall fumbled the ball almost on cue on the opening possession, Jared Goff couldn't even bring the ball up to a throwing position, and both teams' receivers had even less of a chance to catch the passes. But, as the scoreboard dictated, Oregon dominated Cal while both teams were under the same conditions.
The rain was at its worst at the very beginning of the game, and as expected, that is exactly when the game was decided. Cal's first four possessions ended in fumbles and although Oregon only converted two of those four turnovers into points, Cal was facing a 20 point deficit with seven minutes left in the first quarter. At that point, Cal was forced to play catch up to such an extreme degree that an already incapacitated offense turned into chum for the excellent Oregon defense.
But what can we take away from this strange game? For one, it might not have been a good thing that this game was played at 7:30pm PST. It's very likely that many east coast media members just saved this game for the box score and went to bed early. In the morning, the box score will show that Cal might have turned the ball over a few times, but the Bear defense held Marcus Mariota and the Oregon passing offense down pretty well (if you want a better box score, you have to check out Football Study Hall for excellent advanced box scores). Mariota threw for just 117 yards and completed under 50% of his passes, both of which have to be career lows, but of course even Peyton Manning and Tom Brady would have been lucky to have numbers much better than Mariota's in that monsoon. If east coast voters don't do their homework, Mariota's Heisman odds may have taken a bit of a hit. Obviously, he'll have plenty of big stages to redeem himself, but it's worth noting if things come down to the wire in the Heisman race.
Second, Oregon's performance against Cal has convinced me that Mark Helfrich has his team composed and ready for a serious run at the national championship. Despite all of the outside influences on this game, Oregon took half of its offensive scheme into the game and proceeded to put up 40 points in one half and overwhelmed a team that actually put up a relative fight against its previous opponents, one of which was #4 Ohio State. The Buckeyes were able to take care of business on offense, but Cal was able to win a few battles against the Ohio State defense. Cal was no where close to winning any battles against Oregon's defense. The Duck defensive front dominated Cal's offensive line and Oregon's secondary manned up perfectly against the best group of receivers they've faced so far to this season. Yes, the rain was obviously a factor in pass defense, but Cal had zero big plays and was held off the scoreboard until the Ducks had the game well in hand. From what I've seen so far this year, Oregon is a more complete team than Ohio State, Stanford, Georgia, LSU, Clemson, and even Alabama. I'm confident Oregon can play with anyone in the country, and it's only a matter of time until the Ducks will validate my prediction with looming contests against premier opponents Washington, UCLA, and Stanford.
We're still a long way from BCS crunch time, but the Ducks appear to be right on pace for another shot at the SEC and the last crystal football.
Other random notes:
- It wasn't really a surprise to see De'Anthony Thomas held out of the game following his injury on the opening kickoff. Right from the get-go, it was pretty obvious to see that the conditions weren't the best for De'Anthony's skill set. Unless De'Anthony had ABS installed on his cleats, Thomas' dynamic speed and jump cuts would have either ended in some sort of ligament injury or him simply slipping and falling. Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner spelled Thomas perfectly, and their styles came in handy with the inclement weather.
- Oregon's playmakers aren't just in the backfield. Bralon Addison looked spectacular as he returned two Cal punts for touchdowns, further burying the Bears on the scoreboard. Josh Huff and Johnny Mundt also had flashes of brilliances in the ground heavy game as well.
- Oregon's defense is developing exactly on schedule. Derrick Malone, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, and Rodney Hardrick led the way for the Ducks, showing that existing firepower in the secondary is still up to par, while the relatively green linebacking corps have grown up considerably since the start of the season. The defense was strong a year ago, but this defense might just be the strength of the team.
- The new matte black winged helmets were pretty sweet in the rain as well.