5 things to watch: California

BERKELEY, Calif. — The Oregon football team is in the driver’s seat to reach the Pac-12 Championship, and the Ducks will stay there when they play at California on Saturday.

The No. 8 Ducks (6-1, 4-0 Pac-12) are the only remaining undefeated team in conference play after defeating previously unbeaten UCLA at Autzen Stadium last week. Cal is 3-4 overall and 1-3 in Pac-12 play; the Golden Bears’ only conference win was at home over Arizona, a team the Ducks defeated on the road. One of Cal’s losses is to WSU, a team Oregon came from behind to beat on the road in the Ducks’ Pac-12 opener.

The all-time series between the Ducks and Golden Bears is even, 41-41-2. Oregon has won eight of its last 10, but both losses came in Berkeley, where Cal holds a 28-17-2 lead in the series.

Saturday’s game is scheduled to kick off at 12:35 p.m., televised on FS1. Tim Brando will provide play-by-play with analysis from Spencer Tillman.

Some stories to watch on Saturday afternoon…

1. Last Saturday was a day to remember for the Ducks, with ESPN’s “College GameDay” in the morning followed by a one-sided win over the Bruins in a battle of top-10 teams.

The Ducks have done a solid job all year of moving on from emotional results, whether it was a disappointing season-opening loss to Georgia or a dramatic comeback win at WSU. Now they need to prove they can advance from the top to beat UCLA.

“Some people were texting me the morning after the game saying, ‘How are you feeling after that win?'” UO coach Dan Lanning said Monday. “I said, OK, I just saw film. So I have some concerns. There’s a lot of things we have to fix, a lot of things to get better at. The piece I’m excited about is, consistently every week, we’ve really improved across the board. We have to continue to improve as we move forward.”

2. If recent history is anything to go by, the Ducks will have an uphill battle against the Golden Bears.

The average margin of victory in their last three meetings is a touchdown, well below some projections for Saturday’s game. Oregon can’t be caught off guard if the game becomes a war of attrition.

“I think what anyone who turns on the TV every Saturday night realizes every week is that you can’t predict college football,” Lanning said. “I’m watching film of this game today, and last year it came down to the last few seconds, fourth-and-two at the goal line (where Oregon made the stop to secure the win). So we have to bring our best every week to be able to perform, which we consider necessary.’

3. Oregon has produced major attacks in recent weeks, but big games can be hard to come by on Saturday against Cal.

In conference play, the Ducks lead the Pac-12 with 12 plays of 30 yards or more. Cal allowed eight such games.

“They’re probably one of the best-coached, healthiest defenses in our conference that we’re really going to see,” Lanning said. “I think they do a really good job from that standpoint and that’s why they don’t give up a lot of big plays.

4. This year’s Cal team has as much talent as possible at the skill positions as the Golden Bears have in recent years.

Receiver J.Michael Sturdivant had eight receptions for 104 yards and two touchdowns last week against Washington. Another freshman, running back Jaydn Ott, had 274 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Arizona.

And Cal’s quarterback, Purdue transfer Jack Plummer, “probably doesn’t get enough credit,” Lanning said. “The last five games he’s gotten one with him — he’s done a really good job of taking care of the ball. And he throws the ball really well. He’s a talented thrower.”

5. Speaking of quarterbacks, Oregon’s Bo Nix is is starting to pick up some Heisman Trophy buzz after his five touchdown performance against UCLA.

Lanning described Nix this week as “humble and hungry,” and if Nix is ​​to stay in the Heisman race, those are exactly the qualities that will be needed.

“He understands what we’re trying to do and execute,” Lanning said. “You never let a moment be bigger than the moment. He’s always out there to make the play. He’s a smart, intelligent player who goes out there and plays at a high level.”

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