Post-Game Thoughts: Oregon Football
Cal falls easily to the Pac-12 favorite Ducks as the season continues to slip away
Saturday was a beautiful day for football - warm, sunny, a light breeze. It was a 12:30 start time against a nationally ranked Pac-12 rival. In theory, the perfect formula for a large excited crowd.
Instead, the entire game was sleepy. Even Duck fans didn’t show up in noteworthy numbers. The game never felt particularly competitive, and by the 2nd half the crowd had dwindled. Hell, by the 4th quarter it even felt like the game director had checked out, as one TV timeout featured a young woman on the jumbotron with a shirt that read “I ❤️ Hot Moms,” immediately following by putting up one of our Section R mates with a paper bag over his head. Funny, yes, but probably not the way you would want to portray your product.
The students again attempted to do card stunts, but the stadium didn’t even bother to put it on screen because the student section was well less than half full. Alums across the stadium had sold their tickets to Oregon fans, who sedately enjoyed the anticipated blowout.
Justin Wilcox has hit tough times in prior seasons. In his first season, Cal lost three in a row including a blowout to Washington, but followed that up with a stunning home upset over Wazzu. In 2018 the Bears lost three in a row, but picked themselves up off the mat by blowing out OSU and then upsetting Washington. Last year, Cal started the season 1-5 but figured some things out and went 4-2 down the stretch. One of the defining features of Wilcox’s tenure has been his ability to bounce back from tough defeats, to keep everybody engaged and working hard, and to find a way to get more from his players.
There was no sign of that against Oregon. Not on offense, not on defense. Nothing that would cause a bummed out Cal fan to think that there’s a good reason to keep paying attention this year.
12 drives: 3 touchdown, 2 FGAs (1-2), 5 punts, 2 turnovers (2 interceptions), 2.1 point/drive
I went ahead and included all drives in the numbers above, but if you wanted to argue that you should calculate points/drive based on Cal’s 10 points in 10 drives before the Ducks scored their 5th touchdown to put this game deep into garbage time, I wouldn’t argue with you. I mean, I’m glad Cal scored two touchdowns against Oregon’s 2nd string, but that’s not particularly useful as a predictive measure.
And if you go by that measurement, this was the weakest offensive performance against Oregon this year (Arizona’s 22 points came when the game was at least in theory still competitive.
The upside of giving Millner a shot
Kai Millner played in two drives, and in those two drives he averaged 10 yards/passing attempt and gained 13 yards on his only run. He led two touchdown drives, and made a couple of nice throws.
That doesn’t have to mean much. It’s the definition of a small sample, against back-ups with the game thoroughly decided. Having said that, this frustrates me:
I’m just going to go ahead and take this at face value, understanding that if Cal were to make a change at QB, Wilcox wouldn’t announce it ahead of time, so this could all be a meaningless smoke screen.
My preference to see more Millner is nothing against Jack Plummer, who has earned my respect multiple times over with his toughness. But from a risk/reward perspective, I feel like the answer is VERY clear:
It’s no longer obvious that Jack Plummer gives Cal the best chance to win right now. If Plummer were 100% healthy, maybe. But Plummer’s mobility is limited and it’s still not clear to me the extent to which his leg injury is impacting his ability to step into throws. Meanwhile, Millner was already more mobile even before Plummer got hurt, and that’s a pretty damned important skillset playing behind this offensive line. Plummer has attempted two scrambles in three full games since getting hurt late against Wazzu.
To the extent that this season isn’t already over, the only two things Cal fans can realistically get excited about is 1) seeing younger players get an opportunity to develop and 2) maybe beating Stanford. Playing Millner now allows him time to develop on the field, and maybe give him two games to determine whether he gives Cal a better chance of keeping the axe.
Giving Millner a chance maybe makes it more like that he stays on campus and doesn’t go to the portal.
Maybe we should find out what he can do so that our next offensive coordinator has some film to review?
The upside, both short AND long term, is super obvious, the downside (Millner gets hurt?) minimal.
11 drives: 6 touchdown, 2 punts, 3 turnovers (1 interception, 2 downs), 3.8 point/drive
Another game, another situation where the point total may have been somewhat flattered for Cal’s defense. Last week, UW settled for three field goal attempts. This week, Oregon had three empty red zone possessions, meaning that the Ducks could have easily gone over 50 with better drive finishing and/or just kicking field goals.
As has typically been the case, Cal did a reasonably job on run defense, but for another week that didn’t really do Cal any good, as their opponent spent most of the game throwing the ball early and often.
Tape review is going to be rough
This was a worrying performance from the secondary, even keeping in mind that Oregon is really good and that Bo Nix was going to be able to hang out in the pocket for ages. 11.8 yards/passing attempt is the most efficient day Nix and the Oregon passing offense has had all season - better than BYU, better than Eastern Washington, better than Arizona.
And this goes well beyond not having Lu-Magia Hearns available. Oregon had dudes running wide open right through the middle of the field constantly, which made for a number of easy long plays where a dude could rumble a good 10-15 yards before he even had to contemplate trying to break a tackle.
Earlier in the season, I harbored some small hope that the Oregon game might be winnable because Cal’s secondary could perhaps bring out Auburn Bo Nix and confuse the QB into a bunch of errors. But I saw very little from Cal that made Nix’s life hard.
A blocked FG was the only play of note
In a game that was largely quiet on special teams, Oregon did make the only play of note. It looked like the Ducks anticipated Cal’s snap count, or were willing to risk going off-sides, and the running start the Oregon defender had appeared to bamboozle Cal’s edge blocker. Of course, it was silly for Cal to even bother kicking in that situation. More on that right now:"
It wasn’t going to make a difference, but field goals were NEVER going to cut it.
Trailing 28-10 in the 3rd quarter, Cal drove to the Oregon 17 and were in position to maybe keep the game close after converting on 3rd and 10. Alas, the conversion was called back on a holding penalty, meaning Cal now faced 3rd and 20.
Plummer threw underneath for six yards, Cal trotted out the field goal team, and the kick was promptly blocked.
I recognize that Cal doesn’t really have a play to gain 14 yards on 4th down in the red zone, but if we’re pretending to try to win that game, you have to score a touchdown on that drive, meaning that Cal either needed to find a way to gain more yards on 3rd and 20 or had to resolve to go for it on 4th down regardless of the distance.
Heck, I’d also argue that Cal should’ve gone for it on 4th and 4 from the nine yard line in the 1st quarter when the game was zero to zero. You KNOW that Oregon is good for 40+ points. If Cal converts on both of those plays and scores touchdowns, then the game is 28-21 in the 3rd quarter and maybe you have a glimmer of hope.
I didn’t really want to write this article - there’s very little interesting to write about, and absolutely nothing fun to write about. I feel like I’m just echoing Avi’s article. I suggested that my wife step in just for a change of pace, but decided that monkey facts ultimately weren’t going to satisfy you as a reader.
Cal has lost four straight Pac-12 games. Barring a very unexpected four game winning streak, the Bears will finish below .500 in conference play for the 13th straight season. The only game of interest left in the season is Big Game.
It’s not a fun place to be as a fan, feeling like your team is playing out the string midway through a 12 game season. At least this version of Oregon is kinda fun and about as easy to like as any Oregon team of recent vintage has been.
Because now the real pain might begin. Three of Cal’s last four games are against California rivals. Two of them are in the process of abandoning the conference and are poised to stomp Cal into the ground on their way out the door.
Unless something unexpectedly changes about this team, the rest of the season is about adding insult to injury.