The process was unexpected, but the result was inevitable.
On a Saturday night at Memorial Stadium, the No. 2 Ducks cruised to an easy 59-17 victory over the Bears.
But a surprisingly slow start kept Cal close through the first two and a half quarters.
“That’s a great team,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “They can really get away from you in a hurry if you’re not careful.”
Freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota burned the Cal secondary repeatedly with accurate throws to his bevy of speedy receivers. The redshirt freshman finished 27-for-34 and 377 yards and 6 touchdowns.
The vaunted Oregon rushing attack was surprisingly outplayed by the Bears’ three-pronged running back attack; Isi Sofele outgained Heisman candidate Kenjon Barner 134 yards to 65.
Cal’s start didn’t inspire much hope in the hearts of the Bears’ faithful. The Bears’ first offensive drive culminated with a sack on third and long, and the Ducks drove 57 yards for a score in less than three minutes.
With the Ducks out to an early lead and the Cal defense looking fallible as ever, the game appeared to be on the verge of entering blowout territory.
But, uncharacteristically, the Bears weren’t about to give up without a fight.
Behind strong runs by Isi Sofele and two pass interference calls, Cal drove the length of the field on the ensuing drive. Backup quarterback Allan Bridgford found freshman wide receiver Darius Powe in the middle of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown to tie it up at 7-7.
After trading off three-and-outs, the Ducks drove 86 yards to gain a 14-7 advantage just before the end of the first quarter. Mariota led the charge, completing passes to three different receivers, including a 24-yard strike to Will Murphy.
“Oregon is tough,” Bridgford said. “If you don’t score every time, they’re going to get ahead, and it’s tough to stick with the run.”
A field goal by Vicenzo D’Amato early in the second quarter brought the Bears within four, and the defense held the potent Ducks offense to another three and out.
The momentum seemed to shift toward Cal, but the Oregon offense was simply too fast to contain.
Bears kicker Vincenzo D’Amato missed a 48-yard field goal with two minutes remaining in the first half.
Immediately, Mariota went back to work shredding the helpless Bears’ defensive backs. Completing passes to four different receivers, Mariota and his offense drove 69 yards in 78 seconds to give the Ducks a 24-10 advantage heading into halftime.
“He’s a really good player,” Tedford said. “You have to pick your poison with him. If you try to stop him from running, he’ll burn you on the play-action.”
A deference at the coin toss gave Oregon the ball to begin the second half and a chance to put Cal away for good. But the stout Cal run defense stopped Barner for a loss on first down, and the Ducks were unable to pick up enough yardage to continue the drive.
And then it was Isi Sofele time.
The senior running back, playing in the last home game of his career, carried the Bears literally and figuratively on the ensuing drive. Sofele had runs of 31 and 10 yards, respectively, to singlehandedly drive Cal into the redzone. Sofele finished the drive with a four-yard touchdown run off left tackle to bring the Bears within a score midway through the third quarter.
But the impressive running by Sofele was the closest Cal would get to besting the Ducks.
Two drives later, Bridgford tossed a hurried screen pass right to Oregon linebacker Boseko Lokombo. On the next play, Mariota found Josh Huff in the back of the end zone for a 35-yard TD pass to make it 31-17.
With any hope of a Cal upset on the line, Bridgford threw an incomplete pass on fourth and 12 on the next drive.
And five plays later, Mariota found Huff again on a 39-yard touchdown toss to put the game out of reach for the hapless Bears.
“It’s very disappointing,” Tedford said. “We were playing well and it was a very tight game. Then all of the sudden, in the second half, they made a lot of big plays.”