No. 8 Oregon sees room for improvement when facing Cal
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — The talk about Oregon has changed quite a bit since the season-opening 46-point loss to Georgia cast doubt about how good the Ducks would be in the first year under coach Dan Lanning.
Six straight wins, including an emphatic victory last week over then-No. 9 UCLA, have changed all that for everyone but Lanning and the Ducks.
“We don’t concern ourselves with the opinions of others,” Lanning said. “Our focus has always been within and today we went to the doctor and we saw a lot of things we can get better at.”
The eighth-ranked Ducks (6-1, 4-0 Pac-12) are looking to build on that 45-30 win over UCLA when they travel to face California (3-4, 1-3) on Saturday and continue their quest for the first perfect season in conference play since the Pac-12 expanded in 2011.
While facing a Golden Bears team on a three-game skid looks like an easier test than last week’s against the previously unbeaten Bruins, Lanning knows the Ducks can afford no more slipups.
“I think anybody that turns on the TV any Saturday night is going to realize every week that you can’t predict college football,” he said. “I’m watching film earlier today for this game and last year came down to the last few seconds of fourth and 2 at the goal line. So we have to bring our best every single week.”
Cal has struggled to do that this season following a promising 3-1 start. Things have gone sour in October with a lopsided loss at Washington State, an overtime defeat at previously winless Colorado and a competitive loss at home last week to Washington.
While the Bears have shown flashes at times, they know they need to be much better to compete with Oregon.
“Consistency is the key word,” coach Justin Wilcox said. “We have to play at our best more often.”
Auburn transfer Bo Nix has transformed Oregon into a power this season. After completing less than 60% of his passes in three years for Auburn, Nix has completed 71.5% this season, averaging a career-high 8.5 yards per attempt with 17 TDs and only three interceptions.
He has also run for 382 yards and eight scores.
“He’s playing at a really high level,” Wilcox said. “He’s a very talented passer and he’s not just a willing runner, he’s a good runner. ... The math on defenses changes when the QB can do that.”
Defenses have been unable to put much pressure on Nix with the Ducks allowing the fewest sacks in the nation with just one four weeks ago against Stanford.
Getting to the QB hasn’t been a strength for the Bears, who have 13 sacks on the season and just six in four conference games.
“We’ve had some guys that have flashed but we’ve had trouble with consistency affecting the quarterback,” Wilcox said. “We roll a lot of guys and we’re trying to give people opportunities. That’s an area where we can show improvement. The effort’s there, certainly. ... But you don’t play great pass defense without great rushers.”
Cal should get a boost this week with the expected return of wide receiver Jeremiah Hunter, who has 30 catches for a team-high 448 yards. Hunter missed last week’s game against Washington.
Cornerback Lu-Magia Hearns and receiver Mason Starling are day to day. Hearns missed last week’s game and Starling left it early with an injury.
When Oregon’s job was open after Mario Cristobal left for Miami following last season, Wilcox was a prime candidate to take over. He grew up in Oregon and played for the Ducks in college. But when he was offered the opportunity to coach his alma mater, he turned it down to stay at Cal. The Ducks then gave the job to Lanning.
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