Cal creates blueprint for slowing Oregon’s offense

Clancy Pendergast deserved to take a bow after his California

defense did the previously unthinkable, holding No. 1 Oregon’s

high-octane offense to 317 yards and one touchdown.

Instead, the Golden Bears’ defensive coordinator could only

lament their wasted effort Saturday night in a 15-13 loss that kept

the humbled Ducks on track for a national title shot.

”You don’t play for moral victories,” Pendergast said while

the Ducks celebrated their narrow escape with a large contingent of

Oregon fans in chilly Strawberry Canyon.

Yet the Bears’ breakthrough certainly wasn’t a waste for the

Ducks’ final three opponents: Arizona, Oregon State and their bowl

foe. Pendergast concocted a game plan that largely stopped the

Oregon juggernaut, forcing the Ducks (10-0, 7-0 Pac-10) to rely on

their defense to move within two games of a perfect regular

season.

”They had our number this week,” Oregon center Jordan Holmes

said. ”They came to play. Their schemes worked. I’m not exactly

sure what they were doing. They figured out something that was

working for them, but we finally started adjusting.”

Holmes had no idea how the Bears did it, but a few strategies

stood out.

Cal (5-5, 3-4) used a myriad of defensive fronts, alternating

its number of down linemen on almost every play. The Bears made

their changes as quickly as the Ducks run their plays, usually

using the same players.

In the secondary, the Bears had at least five defensive backs on

the field for most plays, even after starting cornerbacks Marc

Anthony and Darian Hagan were injured. They used simple man-to-man

coverage on almost every play, and safety Chris Conte spent most of

the game right near the line of scrimmage, spying on Oregon

quarterback Darron Thomas.

”You never could really tell when they were blitzing,” said

Oregon tailback LaMichael James, who left Berkeley on crutches – he

said he was fine – after managing a season-low 91 yards and failing

to score for the first time this season. ”They move around a lot

and have a lot of different fronts. I think that was the toughest

part.”

Pendergast’s greatest achievement might have been something a

bit less tangible: He convinced his players that they could hang

with an offense averaging 54.7 points and 567 yards while winning

each of its first nine games by at least 11 points.

The Ducks are an intimidating flock, with their slick uniforms

and crazed fan base, yet the Bears didn’t flinch.

”I had no doubt that we were going to win this game,” Conte

said. ”It was ripe for the upset. We knew that if we came out and

executed, this team was very beatable.”

There’s another possible tactic that opponents might want to

consider: The Ducks complained about the Bears’ series of

clock-stopping injuries on defense, almost all involving a backup

player at a point when Cal really could have used a breather.

They might have been legitimate, or they might have been minor

gamesmanship. Either way, the Ducks couldn’t snap the ball

immediately after the referees put it on the turf.

”That slowed our tempo down, and the refs let them do it,”

said Thomas, who went 15 of 29 for 155 yards and just one

touchdown.

With a bye week before two games against slumping teams to

finish the season, the Ducks are close enough to fantasize about

the BCS title game – not that coach Chip Kelly would ever allow

such a thing, of course.

If Oregon beats the Wildcats on the day after Thanksgiving, the

Ducks will clinch their second straight Pac-10 title even before

the Civil War.

Oregon hadn’t really been challenged in a fourth quarter this

season until Cal nearly took a one-point lead early in the period.

Kicker Giorgio Tavecchio’s botched field goal attempts helped the

Ducks, but their final drive was even more important.

Before the Ducks took over at their own 20 with 9 1/2 minutes

left, Kelly told the offense that this drive would be something

they described to their grandchildren. Eighteen plays – 17 on the

ground – and 65 yards later, when Thomas took a knee to run out the

clock, Kelly was proven correct.

”That last drive is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever

been a part of,” Holmes said. ”At that point, they’re putting the

game on us, and on LaMichael’s shoulders. We love that.”