After a first half filled with missed opportunities, California felt it had a chance to take out No. 9 Oregon at home. Thirty minutes later, the Golden Bears were left wondering what happened.
“The first half was all good,” California head coach Jeff Tedford said. “Then they dialed up some stuff in the second half.”
In a game characteristic of the Oregon’s run to the BCS National Championship Game in 2010, Oregon hung close in the opening two periods and then ran away after halftime, using a dominating effort on the ground to dismantle California. The Ducks leaned heavily on Doak Walker Award-winner LaMichael James, who pounded the Cal defense inside and out to rack up 30 carries and 239 yards, breaking the 200-yard mark for the third consecutive game to pass 4,000 yards for his career.
“They hit some big runs in the second half,” Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said. “They came out the first series and nickel-and-dimed us a bit and worked their way down the field. I mean, the bottom line is they made a couple plays and we didn’t. We gave them too many explosive plays tonight to give ourselves a chance.”
Most of those explosive plays came courtesy of James and fellow running back De’Anthony Thomas, who balanced James’ impressive rushing totals with a game-changing effort in the receiving game. Thomas frequently lined up in the slot position at wide receiver and gave the Golden Bears fits in the second half, grabbing three passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns in the third quarter alone.
“(De’Anthony’s) play has picked up more in the past couple weeks,” Pendergast said. “Obviously we know what kind of player he is and he made some critical plays tonight that allowed them to keep drives alive.”
The first half, however, was a different story. Cal’s offense was actually moving the ball more effortlessly than the Ducks, but failed to capitalize on several trips inside the red zone. Cal came away with three field goals in its first three drives deep into Oregon territory before halftime. Junior quarterback Zach Maynard, who has starred for Cal all season, was wildly inconsistent, appearing flustered and making errant throws — even with open targets and little pressure from Oregon’s defensive linemen.
“It was definitely frustrating for me,” Maynard said. “I was off with a lot of my throws. The ball was coming out of my hand a little weird at times and I should have converted on third down more.”
Asked to name a cause for the off day, both Maynard and Tedford cited poor footwork and a lack of timing in the pocket.
“That was my feet just going too fast,” Maynard said. “My feet were going faster than my arm was.”
“He wasn’t able to set his feet some,” Tedford said. “His feet were still moving and he missed some guys early because his feet were not set.
“Each time out it’s a different challenge. He’s out there on the field competing and each time out’s a learning experience. And we’ll go to the tape and see where we can improve and where we can help him as coaches.”
After Oregon free safety John Boyett blocked a Cal field goal attempt on the final play of the second quarter, the Golden Bears entered the locker room ahead by a single point in a game during which they could have opened up a substantial lead. Despite the lack of execution, the Golden Bears felt good about their position.
“(The first half) was competitive,” Tedford said. “I was looking forward to going out and competing hard in the second half. Then they got on a roll and we couldn’t respond. Once they get rolling like that, you’ve got to respond.”
Cal’s chances against Oregon’s passing game took a blow when starting cornerback Marc Anthony was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury. Oregon opened the second half in typical fashion, driving 88 yards in 13 plays to take a 21-15 lead on a 23-yard reception by De’Anthony Thomas. After that, the Ducks’ momentum began to take hold and the game slipped out of reach for the Golden Bears.
“I felt like if we had come out and executed our plays we could have turned it around and took the fans out of it,” said sophomore receiver Keenan Allen, who made several big plays in the passing game and grabbed nine passes for 170 yards a touchdown. “We felt good about ourselves, we came out with a good plan and good adjustments; we just couldn’t execute.
The Ducks reclaimed possession after a California punt and were in the end zone again three plays later, courtesy of a 68-yard scoring dash by Kenjon Barner. Cal then found itself in the uncomfortable position of trying to catch Oregon from behind, a tough feat for any team.
“That’s typical,” Tedford said. “When they start to open up a lead and get it going, it really takes you out of your game plan to run the ball and be methodical. You’ve got to really start throwing it every down to get back in the game.”
While junior running back Isi Sofele had an impressive effort on the ground for Cal (12 carries for 119 yards), in the end it didn’t matter. Oregon scored twice more on lightning-quick drives to take a 43-15 lead and effectively end any chance at a Cal comeback.
“They’re an offense that hits you inside, outside, off-tackle and on the perimeter,” Pendergast said. “Their backs can hit you in all areas of the field and they got outside of us a couple times and we couldn’t get off the block to make the plays.”