The bye week is over and the second half of the season will officially be underway for the Bears at 7:30PM tomorrow night when Cal plays host to Oregon. This game will be a major measuring stick for both programs as both the Bears and the Ducks look to change their season’s course and finish strong. Fortunately for the Bears, this year’s Oregon squad isn’t the perennial powerhouse we’ve all grown accustomed to. Reports leaking out of Eugene point to locker room dysfunction as an underlying cause of the Duck’s issues this season. While some may discredit that off field speculation and/or its effect on on-field performance for the Ducks, one thing is clear – the Oregon program and fan base all seem to know this game is critical. While the Bears are fortunate to be facing an Oregon squad that doesn’t seem to have much punch this year, they are not without issues of their own. While chemistry seems to be fine in Berkeley, the injury bug bit the Bears in their surprise loss to OSU before the bye. All-American Chad Hansen is questionable for tomorrow night’s game, it remains to be seen whether Davis Webb’s hand is fully recovered and late breaking news from yesterday is that Vic Enwere is out for the season with a broken foot.
Let’s take a look at what the Bears need to do to secure a win this week, since the path to bowl eligibility starts with a victory tomorrow.
Execute on Offense – What impact will injuries have on the Bear Raid?
Generally speaking, the Bears have run into problems this season when the offense has had lapses in execution. Against SDSU and ASU late turnovers sealed the Bears fate and the Bears slow early offensive performance in Corvallis made it so a potential comeback never fully materialized. For the bears to get rolling tomorrow they need both the run and the pass game to perform the way they have at the high points of this season.
If Davis Webb is healthy the passing game should be fine, but it seems no one will know for sure how healthy he really is until tomorrow – even though he will get the start. On the other hand, if Webb and Hansen can both produce tomorrow he Bear Raid should put out a dominant showing. The Ducks are ranked 117th in passing yards allowed per game and 103rd in total defensive passing efficiency, so even if Hansen is still a bit banged up this game the stable of receivers behind him should be able to step up and win against the Ducks secondary – as long as Webb can get the ball to them.
The Ducks pass defense may be bad, but the rush defense is surprisingly worse. The Ducks come to Berkeley ranked 118th in total rush defense, which means the Cal backfield should also have a big day. However, news broke yesterday evening that the injury bug has come to visit this position group as well. Junior Vic Enwere is reportedly out for the season with a broken foot, meaning that Khalfani Muhammad and Tre Watson will have to shoulder the load. This loss is not as significant as Hansen or Webb, because of positional depth at RB, but it still hurts – Enwere is significantly bigger than his counterparts and has taken short yardage responsibilities on nicely. As long as Khalfani and Vic run tough between the tackles, the Bears should be good on the ground. Execution will be the key here.
Stop Royce Freeman- Has Sonny shored up the rush defense enough?
While Oregon’s rush defense is 118th in the country right now – Cal’s is 125th. That does not bode well for the Bears , who face the explosive attack of Royce Freeman who ranks 4th in the PAC in rushing yards and 3rd in rushing TD’s. Last year, Freeman gashed the Bears for 180 yards – if the Bears are going to win tomorrow they have to stop the rush. Some inconsistency and youth on the offensive line have slowed the rush attack down this year for Oregon and that should help the Bears out. However, Freeman is an explosive player and the Bears have to contain Freeman and keep him from getting into space or he is going to run wild tomorrow. With the inconsistencies Oregon has shown at QB and the lines trouble protecting, stopping the ground game will likely shut the Ducks down, so it has to be priority number one for the Bears.
The Bear’s recipe for success this year has been clear – take care of the ball on offense, get a few stops on defense and don’t get steamrolled between the tackles. If the Bears can step up despite their injuries to put up some points and execute offensively, they are going to give the Ducks a hard time. If they can put together some defensive stops, the Bears may run away with this one. Hopefully the defense is up to the challenge with so much riding on this game.