In their 26 games since the start of the 2019 season, the high-flying Oregon Ducks have been held under 20 points just three times. Cal’s defense can lay claim to two of those.
But the Cal team that held the Ducks to 17 points in a victory last season and the same total in a loss the year before isn’t performing at the same level entering Friday’s matchup with No. 9 Oregon (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) at Autzen Stadium.
“Defensively, we need to play to a higher standard,” Cal defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon said.
The Bears (1-4, 0-2) haven’t beaten an FBS team since their victory over Oregon last Dec. 5, and they haven’t held any of their first five opponents this season to fewer than 21 points.
That will create quite a challenge against an Oregon team that leads the Pac-12 in scoring at 35.8 points per game. The Bears, accustomed in recent years to leaning on their defense, rank 11th in the conference, allowing an average of 27.6.
Here are four keys to Friday night’s game:
Defend the edge
Cal’s biggest problem on defense has been an inability to prevent big plays in the passing game. But Oregon is a potent running team and likely will remain so, even after the loss of running back CJ Verdell, out for the rest of the season with a leg injury.
Travis Dye, who has run for more than 2,200 career yards, is very capable, and while Oregon has a range of run schemes it often finds success going outside.
“We’re going to have to do a great job setting edge of the defense. They have good speed and have made plays on the perimeter,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said.
Win the turnover battle
Wilcox identified this as one of two goals for Friday night, along with merely playing a more consistent brand of football. The Bears’ turnover margin is even, with six giveaways and six takeaways.
Oregon is second nationally in turnover margin at plus-2.2 per game, with 13 takeaways and just two turnovers, which ties Michigan for the fewest in the nation.
Be ready for Kayvon Thibodeaux
The Ducks star edge rusher will sit out the first half Friday night after being ejected for a second-half targeting penalty at Stanford in the team’s most recent game.
Cal quarterback Chase Garbers said the Bears are game-planning for Oregon’s entire defense, not simply one player — even if he is a potential No. 1 NFL draft choice.
But Wilcox won’t minimize Thibodeaux’s potential impact. “We understand the circumstances of when he’ll be in and when he won’t,” he said. “He’s a guy you’ve got to account for. There’s certain things that can be done to help.”
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Source:: The Mercury News – Sports
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