Will the Ducks Finally Beat Cal?


Will the Ducks Finally Beat Cal?

Opponent: Cal Bears
Tip: 6:05 PM

The winningest player in Oregon men's basketball history has never beaten Cal.

Neither has his coach. Or any of his team mates for that matter.

EJ Singler won his 82nd game as a Duck on Saturday, but with Cal holding ten consecutive victories over his team, tonight is his last chance to set the series straight (in conference play).

Junior Johnathan Loyd may have a little more time, but enough is enough:

     “For me, I need this game. We just gave the game away down there. Me and EJ talk about it all the time. It's a must have. We can't let anybody get two games on us in one season.”

In the five games Dana Altman has coached against the Bears, all have been disappointments.

“I don't like to go back previous years...but it's a big game and we have to do a better job than we did,” he said Tuesday.

The last time the Ducks saw a Cal victory was on the road in February of 2008.

Yes, Cal is a good team, coming off three straight wins with victories over UCLA and USC at home. They sit two games behind first-place Oregon and in a tie for fourth place in the league.

But they're not that good. What gives?

"It comes down to too many turnovers down the stretch," said Loyd. "We had too many in the game against them last year too ."

Is it becoming somewhat of a mind game?

“I think we sometimes get in attack mode all game, then we settle down and become passive. Then we get frantic at the shot clock," Loyd explained.

They will need to find a balance between aggression and control if they want to get it done at Matt Knight, especially with the Pac-12's best scoring duo on the court in Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs. Crabbe leads the Pac-12 and is tied for 16th nationally at 19.8 points per game. Cobbs ranks 11th in the conference at 14.8 points per contest. The pair has combined to score 863 of Cal's 1,721 points (50.1 percent).

“We were giving them open shots last time. We need to buckle down on that," said Loyd.

A big part of the Ducks' success will come down to Damyean Dotson's match up with Allen Crabbe, who has been named the Pac-12 Player of the Week two weeks in a row. Since the Utah game, Dots has returned to form, finding a way to come out of the gate swinging, thanks in part to coaches emphasizing good plays on film from his early season performance.

"It's different to prepare because you know what type of player he is and how you have to chase him off the screen. You have to have a different mindset. You know you have to stop him because he's one of the best scorers out there," said the freshman guard.

The impact Crabbe can have on his Ducks isn't lost on Dana Altman, “Anytime you have a guy that's that capable, he can change the game. He's done that on us a couple times...just changed the game with his three-point shooting. His mid-game has improved. He puts it down a lot better."

Tip is 6:05 PM at Matt Knight Arena.

Last Meeting:
Cal Athletics
Feb 2, 2013: Justin Cobbs made an 18-foot jumper with 1:35 remaining then added a pair of free throws and California hung on to beat No. 10 Oregon 58-54

Oregon QB coach David Yost, the man with the hair, breaks down Herbert's rapid development


Oregon QB coach David Yost, the man with the hair, breaks down Herbert's rapid development

The Ducksquad interviews Oregon quarterbacks coach David Yost, the man with the hair, who breaks down the rapid development of freshman QB Justin Herbert as well as:
-The coaching dynamic between head coach Mark Helfrich, offensive coordinator Matt Lubick and himself. 
-If he will dress up as Shaggy from Scooby Doo for Halloween this year
-Herbert's NFL potential


Chip Kelly would not return to Oregon as a failure

Chip Kelly would not return to Oregon as a failure

Does anyone who is still pining over Chip Kelly have any pride?

He left you for a hotter, sexier option that offered more money and a chance at the true big time. 

He ditched you for the glamor of the NFL and hasn't come close to returning to the state. If he has, he sure kept a low profile.  

We've seen Marcus Mariota and Hroniss Grasu around Eugene. LaMichael James lives in the Portland area. So does Dennis Dixon. Kenjon Barner has attended UO practices. Jake Fisher. Tyler Johnstone. They've been spotted.

Kelly sightings? Nope. 

Yet still some fans harbor fantasies that the San Francisco 49ers coach would consider returning to the state to coach the Ducks? The idea has even been floated here and there within the media. 


Who comes up with this nonsense? 

A reporter asked Kelly on Monday if he would consider returning to Oregon. 

Kelly replied: "No. I'm the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. So, I'm not looking at anything else."

Another reporter asked Kelly if he had heard from any colleges about job offers.

"Nope," Kelly said, shaking his head. 

Of course, what's he supposed to say? During preparation for his final game at Oregon, the 2013 Fiesta Bowl, he insisted he hadn't had any contact with NFL teams. Two weeks later, he was headed to Philadelphia. 

San Francisco is 1-6 and there are already rumors that Kelly could get fired after one season. After all, the 49ers clearly have winning talent (sarcasm). 

Maybe he does get blown out after one season. But just because he once coached at Oregon and Ducks coach Mark Helfrich is on the hot seat with a 2-5 record this season, doesn't mean Kelly would return to Eugene, or that UO would even welcome him back.

Yep. Let that possibility sink in for a moment. Why do people even assume that Oregon would welcome back Kelly? 

Paul Finebaum, an SEC guru, appeared on television recently and offered up a veiled idea that Kelly could possibly return to Oregon. He clearly has never met Kelly. 

I realize fans of Oregon and those associated with the program believe the Ducks hung the moon and that anyone in their right mind would want to coach UO to glory. But let's review the scorecard that would be filled out if Kelly were to return to Oregon. It's not pretty:

  1. He left Oregon for the NFL after only four years as head coach and having been hailed as an offensive genius, only to have that idea destroyed at the next level.  
  2. He failed with the Eagles and got fired after making questionable trades and alienating players and front office personnel. 
  3. He would have failed in San Francisco by making the already horrid 49ers even worse while once again demonstrating that his no-huddle offense is no friend to a bad defense in a league where teams have close to equal talent. 
  4. He would return to Oregon a failure having to admit to the world that he couldn't hack it at the next level. 
  5. He would be doing so knowing that the Pac-12 is far better now than it was when he left it with most teams now running spread, no-huddle attacks and racking up huge points like his teams did from 2009 through 2012. 
  6. He would look north to Seattle to find a No. 4-ranked Washington team in full swing and led by a coaching equal, Chris Petersen. 
  7. He would be reminded that he can't survive off recruiting in the state of Oregon and still must recruit nationally as the coach whose star is on the decline, not on the rise. 
  8. Speaking of recruiting, sources said he hated it.
  9. He also hated sucking up to boosters. He hated alumni events. Heck, he would Skype in for his weekly address to the Portland booster club because he didn't want to make the weekly drive from Eugene as Mike Bellotti had done for decades. 
  10. He would know that if he failed at Oregon during his second tenure he would cement the idea that his prior success was based on a gimmick that flamed out in the NFL and, although potent, has been copied by many, thus rendering his version no longer unique.

Sources at Oregon laugh at the mere speculation that Kelly would ever return to the Ducks. Any fan's fascination and love for him far outweighs his affinity for Eugene. Oregon was a job to him. It might have been a special one given that it's where he got his big break after being at New Hampshire, but it was still just a job. A stepping stone. People don't climb back down unless they have to. Kelly wouldn't have to, even if he were fired by San Francisco. 

No, Kelly will hold on in the NFL as long as he can. If he is fired in San Francisco he would be done as a head coach in the NFL unless he returns to college and duplicates his success at Oregon.

But if he is faced with that quandary, he would not choose Oregon as his launching pad. He would choose a much more appetizing option with a larger stadium and far deeper recruiting base. He would choose a better job. 

Places such as USC, Texas or LSU could be coach hunting this offseason.  These programs have far more juice than Oregon. They are places where he could potentially build another winner then entice an NFL team to give him a third shot. 

There could come a day when Kelly has no choice but to take a look at Oregon. Maybe he will continue to struggle to find success no matter where he lands. By then, maybe the local fascination with Kelly will have worn off. 

But as long as he has any juice at all, he isn't going to return to Oregon unless its a last resort. And if that ends up being the case, would the program even want him back? 

Herbert could lift Helfrich as the coach did the young QB at Cal

Herbert could lift Helfrich as the coach did the young QB at Cal

BERKELEY, Calif. – Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert dropped to one knee near Oregon's sideline after his final pass resulted in an interception that gave California a 52-49 win in double overtime Friday night at Memorial Stadium.

The play, which resulted in Cal's team storming the field, left the Ducks dejected after they had fought back from a three-touchdown deficit.  

UO coach Mark Helfrich was the first to rush to Herbert. The coach lifted up his freshman quarterback and offered support. Soon, several players swarmed in to console Herbert, who had thrown six touchdown passes on the evening.  

Helfrich was there for his quarterback in his first moment of crushing defeat where he had made the critical mistake to cost Oregon a victory. In the bigger picture, however, Herbert could ultimately lift Helfrich from the ashes of what is rapidly becoming the worst season for Oregon (2-5, 0-4 Pac-12) since at least 2004 (5-6) and maybe as far back as 1991 (3-8).

Many are calling for Helfrich's head despite the fact that he guided the 2014 Oregon team to a Pac-12 title, a Rose Bowl victory and a berth in the national championship game. Troubles at quarterback and a pitiful defense in the two seasons since have cast a shadow over Helfrich's ability to oversee recruiting and develop talent. 

Herbert's rise is step one toward erasing that perception, ridiculous on its surface given that Helfrich recruited and helped develop Heisman Trophy winner, Marcus Mariota. Herbert is Oregon's next Mariota.

The kid is legit, and then some.

One of the greatest compliments paid toward Herbert since his arrival this fall from Sheldon High School is that he always appears to be an unflappable perfectionist, much like Mariota was. Then factor in Herbert's 6-foot-6 athletic frame, nimble feet, uncanny pocket savvy, quick release, rocket arm and keen accuracy, and you have the makings of a potential superstar. 

Oregon has traditionally only been great when it had at least a very good quarterback running the show. Joey Harrington, Kellen Clemens, Darron Thomas and Mariota all led the Ducks to double-digit win seasons, and all into national contention, as did Dennis Dixon in 2007 before a knee injury ended his season with Oregon ranked No. 2 in the nation. 

Herbert is next in the line of great UO quarterbacks, and the prediction here is that barring injury he will be a Heisman finalist in 2018 and a first-round NFL draft pick in 2019 or 2020. 

Herbert's composure and strong mental makeup have been on display in his two starts, although Herbert's youth might have ultimately led to the final decision by the coaches that ended Friday's game in defeat.

More on that later. First, back to Herbert's moxie. 

During a 70-21 loss to No. 5 Washington on Oct. 8, Herbert never appeared to be rattled. He threw an interception on the first play of the game, contributed to the team falling behind 21-0 and could never pull the Ducks back into the game, but he didn't fold. He kept pressing. Kept playing. Kept going, and he eventually threw two eye-popping touchdown passes. 

On Friday night, Herbert struggled early and the Ducks fell behind 21-0 in the second quarter and trailed 34-14 in the second half. Once again, Herbert didn't crumble. Instead, he become red hot and his six-yard touchdown pass to Charles Nelson gave UO a 35-34 lead in the fourth quarter. 

Through it all, Herbert displayed ridiculous talent. The type or talent that thrusts a player past a seasoned veteran like Dakota Prukop and a redshirt freshman like Travis Jonsen, rated coming out of high school as the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the nation by Rivals.com. 

Herbert, a former three-star recruit, completed 22-of-40 passes for 258 yards against Cal. He threw touchdown passes on the run, he threw them over the middle, he gunned them on post patterns, and in the case of Nelson, he displayed a level of confidence typically unseen by a freshman.

On the play, Herbert looked left for Carrington who ran a rather interesting slant pattern that fooled nobody, then without hesitation turned his attention to the other side of the field to locate Nelson, also running a slant, and fired a bullet low where only the receiver could get it between two defenders. 

The ball zipped right past Cal linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk, helpless to defend the hard-thrown ball (foreshadow alert). 

With the Ducks trailing 42-35, Oregon went to Nelson again, this time on a post pattern from the right side run underneath a deeper route. Nelson caught the pass and ran the rest of the way for a 42-yard touchdown that tied the game at 42 each. 

Once again, Kunaszyk was out of position after biting on a play action and not dropping far enough to his left to get in the way or the pass (more foreshadowing).

In overtime, Oregon went to the exact same play, this time with redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jalen Brown running the post underneath a deeper route. The result was a 20-yard touchdown pass that gave Oregon a short-lived 49-42 lead in the first overtime. 

Once again, Cal's Kunaszyk got caught out of position. 

Cal tied the game on its next possession then settled for a field goal in the second overtime to make the score 52-49, setting up Herbert for a potential game-winning score. 

Once again, Oregon went back to the same play that had resulted in touchdown passes to Nelson and Brown.

This time, Brown ran the post underneath a seam route from tight end Pharaoh Brown. But unlike on the two touchdown passes, Kunaszyk didn't bite as hard on play action, he read Herbert's eyes and then got in front of the pass intended for Brown who ran a post. 

Herbert said linemen blocked his vision and he never saw Kunaszyk, who briefly bobbled the pass before securing the ball and running for a few yards before going down. 

“It worked the past couple of times and looked very similar on that play," Herbert said. "I just didn’t see the linebacker and he got under it and made a good play.”

Said Brown: "I was surprised that the linebacker jumped it. I thought I was going to get the ball no matter what."

Helfrich on Sunday night said of Herbert on the interception: "I think he kind of predetermined that he was going to go to that side. There was another route that was in the progression and the first guy was open. That's one of those things where you're kind of hoping for what's gonna happen rather than attacking and reacting to what you see."

A freshman mistake made by a talented kid who played nothing like a freshman.  

Following the interception, Herbert briefly ran after Kunaszyk then stopped after the linebacker gave up. That's when a dejected Herbert went down to one knee and Helfrich ran to him.

The fact Oregon went to the same play over and over could be because of Herbert's youth and limited knowledge of the playbook. At some point, one must consider that the defense is going to figure out a play. In this case, Kunaszyk certainly did. Herbert, however, didn't recognize him the way the linebacker recognized the play. 

“I’d do the exact same thing at the end and trust him to make the play," Helfrich said Friday night. 

Players have the same confidence in Herbert and that's why they rallied to him after the defeat. 

"We wanted to show him that we've got his back," Brown said. "He has a great heart and a great passion for this game.  

“I still trust him with everything in me,” redshirt sophomore running back Tony Brooks-James said.

As they should. Herbert is the savior. He might not be able to save this season, but he is what Oregon needs moving forward, and his presence as a budding talent should buy Helfrich and the coaching staff time to rebuild this thing despite the swirling insanity among those actually considering jettisoning this coaching staff after one bad season just two years removed from a national title run. 

The man to lead Herbert to great heights, as he did Mariota, is Helfrich. He and his staff deserve the chance to rebuild the defense, which will return 10 starters next season, and see Herbert's development through, as well as the development of a young offensive line. If given that chance, the Ducks will rise again. 

“It’s a step in the right direction but definitely not the way we wanted it to end,” Herbert said.

No, but nights like Friday will only make Herbert stronger and better, and the Ducks will one day benefit from the lumps they are taking this season. 

Ducks fall short on scoreboard but not in heart at Cal

Ducks fall short on scoreboard but not in heart at Cal

BERKELEY, Calif. - Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, eyes glassy and voice appearing to waiver, appeared to be emotionally drained and a bit choked up Friday night following his team's 52-49 double-overtime loss at California. 

Following two weeks of intense team introspection, talk of his job being in jeopardy, many questioning the Ducks' desire and character, and whether Helfrich had lost their respect, the Ducks put forth a gutsy effort at Memorial Stadium.  

The team showed heart, no quit, and flashed a glimpse of what could be a bright future. Ultimately, however, the Ducks fell short once again, losing their fifth consecutive game and third by three points to fall to 2-5 on the season. 

This defeat, players and Helfrich say, hurt the most because of all the team had gone through in the two weeks after losing 70-21 at home to No. 5 Washington before the bye week. Oregon desperately needed a win Friday. Not just to help its chances of becoming bowl eligible, a seemingly impossible task at this point, but to validate all they had strived to achieve as a team from the neck up since the debacle against the Huskies. But it wasn't meant to be. 

That fact sunk in for Helfrich, who only expressed admiration and pride in how his team played and has grown.  

“Love ‘em," he said. "They competed their butts off. But, at the same time, that makes it that much harder. That result and that near miss. But they competed their butts off. Bunch of times over the last couple of weeks they could have splintered. Could have fallen apart. But they didn’t.”

Oregon trailed Cal 21-0 early in the first quarter and 34-14 early in the third quarter. Given the team's four-game losing streak and apparent team strife, the Ducks could have easily gone into the tank and lost 55-21 to the Golden Bears (4-3, 2-2 Pac-12). 

But they didn't. Instead, UO adjusted at halftime and found a groove in the second half. The defense began making stops and the offense, led by freshman quarterback Justin Herbert, started routinely finding the end zone. Oregon led 35-34 early in the fourth quarter, lost the lead 42-35 then tied the game to force overtime at 42-42. 

The Ducks had a chance to win trailing 52-49 in the second overtime when Herbert, who threw six touchdown passes during his first road start, misread a coverage on a pass over the middle that was intercepted, ending the game.

The loss left the team mentally exhausted but not totally defeated. They found the good in what ended up being a tough night to swallow. 

"I think the biggest thing was that we were down in the beginning, and to come back and fight and brawl to the end no matter what showed that we've got some grittiness to us," wide receiver Jalen Brown said. 

The Ducks need every bit of that trait in order to win four out of their final five games to become bowl eligible. Oregon (2-5, 0-4 Pac-12) has yet to win a conference game and still faces tough outings against Arizona State, USC, Stanford and Utah before ending the season at Oregon State, which defeated Cal two weeks ago. 

"We can get it," Brown said positively of the team's chances of finishing 6-6 to become bowl eligible. 

It certainty appears to be that the team hasn't quit despite some outside perceptions to the contrary. 

“One of the things about this football team, and whatever you want to believe, those son of a guns have stayed together," Oregon defensive coordinator Brady Hoke said. "They’ve fought. They’ve fought with each other. They fought hard. That’s what tears your heart out.”

Said running back Tony Brooks-James: “Everyone gave it everything they had. So, from everyone saying we quit, it’s just lies.”

At the heart of the team not quitting is the very man some have claimed the team quit on. Hoke said that the much-maligned Helfrich has done a great job of keeping the team together during trying times. 

“I think it tells you a lot about this football team and also what Mark has done to keep them all going in the same direction," Hoke said.

That effort includes daily communication and encouragement to the team, Hoke said, efforts that Brooks-James said has kept the squad from falling to pieces. 

“I would honestly say that without coach Helf, a lot of players would have just lost it,” Brooks-James said. “He’s one of those coaches that can bring you back into the program and not have you just on the outside because he cares about the little things. Any time something goes wrong, he blames it on himself when in actuality there are little things that we could have done better. He just takes all of the pressure off the players and puts it on himself."

Brown agrees. 

"I think every single day he goes out of his way to show that he cares and that he is going to have our back no matter what," Brown said. "It's not all on us, it's also on the coaches and we're all one unit."

Oregon's season, baring a miracle 4-1 run the rest of the way, will likely end at Oregon State in the 120th Civil War. 

The good news is that the team's fight appears to have returned, a star quarterback has been discovered and most of the key players are young and will return next season. 

That list, and maybe a couple of more victories, might be all Oregon has to cling to the rest of this season. 

So is it time for the Ducks to officially start playing for next season?

So is it time for the Ducks to officially start playing for next season?

The Ducks and Bears turned a football game into a marathon Friday night, a seemingly endless mix of thrilling plays, touchdowns and bewildering penalties that was befitting two of the Pac-12's lesser teams. This one wasn't pretty, especially from the Ducks' side of the field, at least until a late comeback gave them new life and some degree of hope for the remainder of what appears to be a very disappointing season. Some thoughts about this game:

  • California opened the game with little regard for Oregon's weak defense, twice going for it in their own territory on fourth down and picking up first downs. But maybe the Ducks were unwittingly setting a Bear trap. In the second half California failed on a fourth-down conversion and also made an ill-advised pooch punt that went just 10 yards while trying to make the Ducks think they were again going to go for it on fourth down. It's interesting when you allow teams to think they can gain yards against you anytime and in any field position -- it tends to make them careless and arrogant. And it allowed the Ducks a chance to make a comeback -- which they jumped on.
  • Justin Herbert is showing all the signs of eventually becoming a big-time quarterback and it's going to be interesting to see how the coaches develop him. It appeared that they were being very careful with him against Washington and in the first half of this one, not asking too much. But behind by three touchdowns in the second half he was almost in full gunslinger mode and I liked that a lot. If you're just going to mail this season in and build for the future, you might as well take the wraps off him and let him fire away.
  • That begs the question -- is it time to to commit fully to next season? A bowl game at this point seems impossible, so why not? Well, part of that "why not" is a fan base that expects -- and is paying for -- something better. This is a question that faces pro teams and college teams in every sport -- when do you resign yourself to a lost season and use the remaining games to build for the following season? When do you surrender a battle to win a war?
  • I've been saying all season that defense wasn't this team's only problem and I think it showed in this game. Oregon's offense sputtered in the first half and it cost the Ducks the game. Yes, the defense is monumentally bad ... but if the offense can at least keep things from getting out of hand, the Duck defense is usually going to get a few second-half stops, perhaps just because the opponent's offense is exhausted from all the running. It's not the way you want to win games, but it's the only way to win right now. And there is still enough offensive talent at receiver and running back to rack up some high scores.
  • And speaking of the defense, if you're going to commit to a 4-3 alignment, that's fine. Obviously, the Ducks don't have the kind of talent necessary to make it effective. So why not commit to more pressure on quarterbacks? Why not a few more line stunts? Why not bring the house once in a while? You're giving up points at an alarming rate anyway, why not roll the dice once in a while just to give the other team something to think about?
  • Yes, the offensive line is young. Yes, the quarterback is a freshman. But really, a young team should be improving as the season goes along and we're not really seeing much of that so far -- particularly on the defensive side.
  • Let me say this one more time because I keep seeing my critical remarks about the Ducks being misinterpreted: I am not campaigning for Mark Helfrich to be fired. I don't believe that is going to happen nor do I think it should happen. What I'm doing is pointing out things I see that need to be corrected. I'm second-guessing, quite frankly. That's often considered unfair but really -- it's what we do. I mean, until they give me the chance to first-guess, I'm stuck with it. And, of course, there's a lot to second-guess.
  • Let me tell you what seems to come through whenever I speak with former Duck players who are disappointed in what they're seeing on the field this season. They talk about the culture of Duck football and how it's changed. About how, under Chip Kelly, it was a VERY disciplined program -- and that meant every player from top to bottom was held accountable. What I hear from multiple players is how feared Kelly was by the players. They knew he insisted on certain things and if you didn't do them, you'd sit -- no matter who you were. And from that came a toughness and discipline that they aren't seeing in the program now.
  • A team's culture is a fragile thing that can take a wrong turn at any moment. And it's changeable -- for better or worse. My hope would be that if there's something amiss in Oregon's culture right now, it can be corrected. And forget about all the stuff you see on the field from the Ducks, it's the issue of the team's culture that eventually could lead to a coaching change. If the culture goes south, you've got a serious problem no matter how talented or well-coached you are.
  • I don't doubt for a moment Oregon could be tougher. More disciplined. Those traits must be rediscovered.

Ducks' rally falls short in 52-49 OT loss at Cal

USA Today

Ducks' rally falls short in 52-49 OT loss at Cal

California 52, Oregon 49 

How Oregon lost: The Ducks (2-5, 0-4 Pac-12) fell behind 21-0 in the second quarter and trailed 31-14 in the third quarter before catching fire on offense in the second half and showing some grit on defense to take a brief lead. 

However, in the end, Cal pulled it out with an interception in double-overtime to seal the deal.

What it all means: Oregon now must win four out of final five games in order to become bowl eligible with three road games remaining. One could consider that task to be a virtual impossibility. 

Key sequence: Oregon trailed 34-14 early in the third quarter and appeared to be all but done when Herbert caught fire and UO's running game began rolling. More importantly, the Ducks' defense finally started getting stops. 

Oregon forced two consecutive Cal punts and scored on short touchdown passes from Herbert to tight ends, Evan Baylis and then Johnny Mundt, to make the score 34-28 late in the third quarter. 

A third Oregon stop came when Cal attempted to go for it on a fourth down with one yard to go near mid-field. Oregon answered by driving for a touchdown pass from Herbert to wide receiver Charles Nelson from six yards out.  That gave the Ducks a 35-34 lead early in the fourth quarter. 

High flying Ducks: Herbert blossomed in the second half to finish the night with 258 yards and six touchdowns. 

Running back Tony Brooks-James led Oregon in rushing with 109 yards on 15 carries and scored on a one-yard run. 

Freshman linebacker Troy Dye had 14 tackles. 

Next up: Oregon returns home to host Arizona State (5-2, 2-2) at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The Sun Devils host Washington State (4-2, 3-0) on Saturday. 

Ducks must fix themselves mentally to win at Cal

Ducks must fix themselves mentally to win at Cal

Oregon senior guard Cameron Hunt said today that when he called out teammates for not caring following a 70-21 loss to No. 5 Washington on Oct. 8 he meant that they weren't giving maximum effort, not that they were actually indifferent to winning or losing.

"I think during that game what I meant to say was that the effort wasn't there," Hunt said. "I don't think anyone's quit on our team. I think we have a really good squad coming together and I believe in coach [Mark] Helfrich 100 percent. I trust him. He's our leader. I'd go to war with him any day."

Problem solved. Maybe. 

Hunt wasn't the only UO player to wonder out loud about player commitment following the loss to the Huskies. Freshmen Brendan Schooler and Troy Dye also said there were players who didn't appear to have their heart into the game. 

UO coach Mark Helfrich said last week that the notion some players have quit was simply not true, and shouldn't have been stated in public. 

Maybe so, but there has certainly been something negative going on internally. Let's not forget the players-only meeting following a 41-38 loss to Colorado in which teammates called out one another for poor play and poor effort. 

As Hunt indicated, there is a difference between effort and caring.  On the other hand, doesn't caring typically lead to greater effort? Doesn't a lack of effort come from a lack of desire?

Whatever the case, the Ducks (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12) had better fix themselves mentally or their season will essentially end Friday night at California (3-3, 1-2).  

Oregon must win four of its final six games to become bowl eligible. Cal is one of the most winnable remaining games on the Ducks' schedule. A loss on Friday and it would be difficult to believe the Ducks could win four of five to reach a bowl game with road games remaining at No. 19 Utah and USC. 

"I trust in this team and we just have to be able to give our full effort and put everything together," Hunt said. 

Here is the reality: These are young men who have grown accustomed to experiencing success that have recently been slapped in the face by a sobering amount of failure. When that happens, some panic. Some blame. Some lash out. It's quite normal. 

"In times like these, certainly character is revealed and guys expose themselves for who they are," Helfrich said. "For the vast, vast, vast majority of our guys, they're doing, or at least trying to do the right things."

Front-runners can kill a team when things go south. The Ducks players hope to avoid that and readjust as a team.

"I feel like players have taken a whole new accountability and responsibility for what has happened," safety Khalil Oliver said. "We've realized that it's on us."

Oliver said the team focused a lot on team unity during the bye week. If that pays off, the team could be in business. If not... 

A quick look at California:

When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday, California Memorial Stadium. 

T.V.: ESPN. 

Betting line: California by 3.

Records: Oregon (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12), Cal (3-3, 1-2). 

Coaches: Oregon's Mark Helfrich (35-12); Cal's Sonny Dykes (17-26 at Cal, 39-41 overall). 

Last week: Oregon and Cal were both off, previous to that got run over by Oregon State, 47-44. 

Golden Bears' impact players: Cal leads the conference in total offense (530.2 yards per game) and ranks second in scoring offense (42.3) behind Washington, which dumped 70 on the Ducks two weeks ago. 

Leading Cal's offense is senior quarterback David Webb. He leads the conference in passing yards per game (360.2) and is second in touchdown passes with 22, one off of Washington quarterback Jake Browning (23), who threw for six at UO. 

On paper, all of the above spells bad news for one of the bottom five defenses in the nation. 

However, Cal's weakness is also a horrible defense. Oregon State rushed for 474 yards during its 47-44 win over Cal.

Oregon and Cal could set defensive football back about 100 years on Friday night. 

The Golden Bears' leading receiver is Chad Hansen, who leads the conference in receptions per game (9.8), receiving yards (770) and receiving touchdowns (eight). 

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. Cal's defense is horrible, but so is Oregon's.  The Ducks can put up points. But so can Cal. The big difference here is that UO is starting a freshman quarterback. Justin Herbert's biggest challenge could be making enough plays to keep pace with Cal's offense while making his first road start. 

Preliminary pick: California 43, Oregon 40.  Ducks could win by three touchdowns if they've ironed out all of the problems from the neck up and Herbert and the UO running game can put up 45 points. But that's a big if at this point. 

What happened to Oregon's 2-pt conversions? Receiver Charles Nelson answers


What happened to Oregon's 2-pt conversions? Receiver Charles Nelson answers

Bri Amaranthus and Aaron Fentress of the Ducksquad sit down with junior receiver Charles Nelson to find out what happened to Oregon's 2-pt conversion strategy. On this week's podcast:

-Nelson breaks down what it's like to live with Oregon running back Royce Freeman and defensive back Arrion Springs
-How bad is the inner turmoil in the Oregon football program?
-Can the Ducks beat Cal? Will they combine for 100 points?
-Will freshman quarterback Justin Herbert establish himself as a leader this season?

How the Ducks could go bowling in December

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

How the Ducks could go bowling in December

At this point in Oregon's season it's safe to say that the team is a white hot mess. 

The Ducks are young, lacking impact talent in some areas, dealing with player turmoil, and now, their coach is on the hot seat. 

It appears that UO coach Mark Helfrich's job security is at least a little bit in doubt. At least that's one way to view the fact that athletic director Rob Mullens didn't say the opposite when asked to shed some light on the subject last week during an interview on the in-house Duck Insider radio program. 

For Helfrich to make a strong case to cool off said hot seat it would appear that the Ducks (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12) would have to at least qualify for a bowl game. That would mean going 4-2 in the second half of the season, which begins Friday night at California. 

Anything short of going 6-6 and all bets are off. Anything could happen. Oregon has lost four consecutive games culminating with a 70-21 loss to No. 5 Washington (6-4, 3-0) at home on Oct. 8. 

Personally, it's difficult to grasp how the Ducks are going to overcome a freshman quarterback, a horrible defense, a young offensive line, four road games and a crumbling psyche to reach 6-6.

That said, there is no denying that UO could win every remaining game on its schedule should it play like it did in losses to No. 8 Nebraska and Colorado (5-2, 3-1). The Ducks lost both games by three points back when they were still playing respectable football. Can they get there again? If they do, the Ducks could certainly finish at 6-6. It just doesn't seem likely. 

That all said, let's just for the time being assume that freshman quarterback Justin Herbert made a big leap in improvement during the bye week, the defense goes from hideous to simply bad and the players recognize how embarrassing it would be to not reach a bowl game and finally come together as a team. 

Here is how, in that world, Oregon could win or lose each remaining game on its schedule:

At California (3-3, 1-2): The Golden Bears' defense is nearly as bad as Oregon's. Cal is allowing 40 points per game compared to 41.1 for the Ducks. Cal ranks last in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, allowing 283.8 yards per game while UO leads the Pac-12 with 257 yards rushing per game. If Oregon State could rush for 474 against the Golden Bears two weeks ago then Oregon should go for 674 on the ground. The downside here is that Cal is averaging 42.3 points per game and will certainly put up points against the Ducks' defense. But Oregon should run wild, control the game and win this one. If not, UO's season will essentially end in Berkeley, Calif.  

Prediction: Oregon victory.  

Vs. Arizona State (5-2, 2-2): The Sun Devils won't be a push over and the season could very well come down to the outcome of this game, one Herbert must shine in for UO to win. ASU entered the weekend leading the Pac-12 in rushing defense (89.3 yards per game) then got run over by Colorado for 315 yards in a 40-15 Buffaloes' victory. Arizona State's passing game is weak had it is equally bad against the pass, allowing 384 yards through the air per game, last in the Pac-12. 

Prediction: Oregon victory. 

At USC (4-3, 4-2): The Trojans, who won 48-13 at Arizona on Saturday, have played better as of late, and their defense is the reason why.  USC defeated ASU, 41-20 three games ago and two weeks ago took down the Buffaloes, 21-17. USC is up and down on offense, but will likely be up against the Ducks' defense. So, it comes down to UO's offense going up against USC's athletes. Smart money is on USC winning here, especially at home. 

Prediction: Oregon loss. 

Vs. Stanford (4-2, 2-2): The Cardinal was overrated to begin the season because of running back Christian McCaffrey. His 104 rushing yards leads the Pac-12 but he hasn't been nearly as dominant as he was last season now that he is playing with a vastly inferior team. Stanford ranks last in the conference in scoring (19.4 points per game) and total offense (307). The Cardinal defense remains strong and looked great on Saturday during a 17-10 win at Notre Dame. UO has a strong chance of winning this game if the defense doesn't make Stanford's offense look better than it is. 

Prediction: Toss up. 

At No. 19 Utah (6-1, 3-1): Utah is a tough place to play, especially when the Utes have their defense going like they do this season. Utah is allowing just 18.3 points per game and 130.1 yards on the ground. Utah's offense is average at 26.7 points per game but that means the Utes will score 35-plus on the Ducks while making life difficult for Herbert in a hostile environment. Then again, Utah did just struggle to win 19-14 at OSU on Saturday. 

Prediction: Oregon loss. 

At Oregon State (2-4, 1-2): How dramatic would it be if the Ducks rolled into the Civil War with a 5-6 record and needing one win to become bowl eligible? A victory for OSU in that scenario, or really any scenario, would make the Beavers' season while simultaneously destroying Oregon's.  The Beavers probably don't have enough offense to take advantage of Oregon's defense at a rate that would allow them to overcome UO's offense having its way with their defense. By this time, Herbert should be completely battle tested and ready to shred the Beavers. 

Prediction: Oregon victory if a bowl game is on the line. Oregon loses if sitting at 4-7 when this game comes around. 


Remember that these mostly favorable scenarios are predicated on the team fixing its inner dysfunction. If not, the Ducks could end up 4-8 in a heartbeat. 

The season has been a disappointment for the team and its fans, but the ducks still have plenty to play for. The threat of not reaching a bowl game for the first time since 2004 must mean something to this team.  If not, the Ducks have much bigger problems than Xs and Os could ever solve.