Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Keys to the game: Cal at Oregon

Like the whirligig of time, the chess game between coaches has its revenges. Don't expect Cal or Oregon to go purely with what worked and didn't work last year. There will be wrinkles to the wrinkles on both sides, but the principles of sound and successful football remain the same. Take care of the football. Win the individual matchups. As ESPN's Trevor Matich put it, win the confrontations of speed in space.

Last year Cal committed hard to stoppng LaMichael James, giving their front seven one simple assignment: cut off the tailback, be athletic and fly to the football. They did, with enormous success. They held Oregon to their lowest point total of the season, just 2.9 yards a carry on the ground, and a paltry 151 yards through the air. In Berkeley, paced by a brilliant scheme and three star players who are now in the NFL, they frustrated and dominated the Ducks, but only for three quarters. In the fourth quarter Chip Kelly gathered his offense around them and told them to go on the drive of their lives. And they did, holding the football for the last 9:25 of the game, 18 beautifully-executed and determined plays, taking a knee at the Cal 12 to end the game. One touchdown each by Cliff Harris and Jeff Maehl, and all the rest was a triumph of will on a miserable night.

photo left: Jeff Tedford once wore the genius label as an over-achieving mastermind who raised the profile of Cal football. Since then, several late season collapses have tarnished that image. But he always saves his best work for the Ducks. ( photo.)

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