By Connor Buestad
It all pretty much makes sense to me now. But, for the longest time, I was always searching for answers. Why was Oregon able to attract so many blue chip recruits up to the rain soaked Northwest? How have they been able to skedaddle out of so many NCAA sanctions and allegations? What was their secret to reeling off a perfect regular season in 2010 en route to a National Championship appearance? Oh yes, of course, just “water the bamboo” baby!
Over the past decade, you can be sure that the Oregon football program has been watering the hell out of their bamboo tree. As I mentioned on this site last year, the Ducks have steadily risen from a PAC 10 doormat into a PAC 12 power. A rising momentum that Cal has become all too familiar with, as the two schools have traded blows in various battles over the years.
As it stands in the here and now, Oregon is trying to get back into the National Championship race, while Cal is trying to not to lose a grip of their PAC 12 North title dreams. While Cal is trotting out a transfer QB with Memorial Stadium under construction, Oregon is countering with a prolific offense and the loudest football stadium on the West Coast.
As a 24 point underdog, it is no secret that the Bears will have their work cut out for them when the first whistle blows tomorrow night in Eugene. The bright lights of ESPN’s coverage will surely set Autzen Stadium ablaze with deafening sound. Noise to the point where I’m half-nervous I won’t hear every word of Jesse Palmer’s poignant analysis in the booth and all of Jenn Brown’s stimulating interviews down on the field.
Cal enters tomorrow’s contest coming off a deflating road-loss at the hands of Washington. However, even despite Zach Maynard’s air-mail pass to end the game, solace can be taken in the fact that the run-and-gun quarterback I have grown to love threw for an impressive 349 yards on the day. Moreover, it is becoming clear that Maynard is blessed to have one of the best receiving corps in America in Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen.
Maynard, a transfer from the University of Buffalo, presents Coach Jeff Tedford with his first dual-threat quarterback. Cut out of the same mold as Mike Vick, Dennis Dixon, Darron Thomas, et al, Maynard has that slippery athleticism that shall come in handy as the season wares on. Number 15’s best target this year has been Allen, which comes as no surprise when you consider that the two grew up under the same roof in North Carolina. Allen, was recruited heavily by Alabama, before he ultimately shined on the Tide in favor of late night runs to La Burrita, Top Dog, Kips and Bears Lair.
Countering the Bears will be an Oregon squad that returns a fabulous quarterback in Darron Thomas and a Heisman hopeful in LaMichael James. Sure, they’ve lost perhaps the best wideout in the past decade with the departure of Jeff Maehl, but the ducks have reloaded with the likes of Lavasier Tuinei and De’Anthony “don’t call me Anthony” Thomas who are proving to be marvelous playmakers in their own right. Aside from an opening game slipup to the number one team in all the land (LSU), the Ducks seem to have picked up where they left off last year. Boatracing teams with a stupid fast offense and stopping the opposition with an underrated defense. Interestingly, both the Bears and the Ducks have allowed 24 points per game thus far in 2011. However the Ducks have scored 52 on offense compared to the Bears 39.
With the over/under set at 66, don’t be surprised if you see some offense tomorrow night. And to be fair, this wouldn’t be the first time these two teams electrified their audience. If I may, let me take you through some of the highlights these two teams have shared in the recent past…
I’ll start in 2004 with the “Drop Game”. A slew of shaky field goal kicking had the Bears on their heels with the Ducks driving down the “Old Memorial Stadium” turf. A deep pass down the left sideline seemed sure to seal Cal’s ill fate, before poor Duck receiver Keith Allen handed Cal the game by dropping a gimmie. Listen in to hear Keith Jackson’s classic, albeit gutwrenching, reaction.
After a 2005 tilt in which the Ducks ravaged the Bears in Eugene, 2006 turned out to be DeSean Jackson’s national coming out party. As a Cal fan, you really can’t watch this highlight of Desean “hitting a seam” enough. You had dusk pouring over Strawberry Canyon with announcer Brent Musburger tossing out a “Touchdown Bears” as Jackson runs wild over the San Andreas Fault. Does it get any better than that? I think not.
2007 gave us another see-saw battle between the Bears and Ducks. Coming in, Cal had lost seven consecutive times up at Autzen Stadium, spanning over a 20 year stretch. This meant little to DeSean, Marshawn and the rest as Cal defender Marcus Ezeff jarred the ball loose on an Oregon game winning TD attempt.
2008 gave Bears fans a rain soaked victory in Berkeley, while 2009 ended up being a 42-3 beat down up in Oregon. Last year’s game, meanwhile, stirred up the rivalry once again. Oregon strolled into Berkeley as the #1 team in the nation, only to leave town with a narrow 15-13 win. Maehl’s second half TD proved to be the difference for the Ducks, in a game steeped in controversy. Much to Jesse Palmer’s dismay, Cal perhaps took some good-natured gamesmanship a bit too far in an attempt to slow down Oregon’s speed offense.
No doubt, the stage is set for what many pundits expect to be a blowout. But as the Swami Sayz, there is a reason why you play the games. And with so much speed at quarterback and wideout, coupled with some clean new white helmets, it appears California might try to beat Oregon at their own game…