EUGENE, Oregon — The Bears start out strong, in full control of every element. Quarterback Jared Goff looks good, defense looks in control. Cal could come out with things in its favor.
But then, unlike the slow and steady rain hitting Autzen Stadium, things quickly start to get out of hand. Out of nowhere, the situation is so out of control that the time for touchdowns and quick drives down the field is gone. The deficit is just too big, and desperation mode just isn’t quite enough.
For the Cal football team (5-4), this is exactly what happened Saturday in its 44-28 loss to Oregon (6-3). It also perfectly encapsulates the Bears’ 2015 season, which now has only three games left for Cal to find its elusive sixth win to become bowl eligible.
“It’s a three-week season now. There are no excuses,” Goff said. “We ran into a good slate of teams, but we need to play better and be better.”
As the stands littered with green and yellow ponchos slowly began to fill, the Bears found themselves with the ball at the Ducks’ 38-yard line after a blocked punt — Cal’s first of two on the day — giving Goff a short field to work on. Less than two minutes into the drive, Goff found tight end Stephen Anderson for the early touchdown.
The Cal defense was able to get pressure on the Ducks’ second drive of the game, but Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. was simply faster, escaping into an open field for a first down to keep the drive alive to the Ducks’ 31.
After the Ducks got the ball all the way down the Cal 6, Adams found himself searching for wide receiver Devon Allen in the end zone, but his throw ended up getting tipped by Cal linebacker Hardy Nickerson. The Bears’ backup safety, Griffin Piatt, stepped up in front of the throw and was at the end of the misjudged pass into the end zone for a pick and a touchback.
The Bears took advantage of the turnover, with running back Vic Enwere exploding for a 29-yard run, multiple Ducks hanging off him until he was finally tackled at the Cal 49. Despite the Bears being forced to settle for a 27-yard field goal from Matt Anderson, Goff finished the first quarter strong with 77 yards and going 6-13.
With the ball back in Oregon’s hands, Cal continued to struggle to put pressure on Adams, allowing the Ducks to create impressive running lanes for their backs. They ended the drive with a 41-yard field goal from kicker Aidan Schneider, putting the Ducks on the board for the first time in the game.
Goff, on the other hand, had a lot of trouble finding open receivers throughout the night, as his offensive line failed to give him opportunities at times against a tough Oregon defensive line.
In the second quarter, the game became all Oregon.
Adams dug the Ducks out of their offensive stupor after two penalties brought Oregon back a total of 20 yards. Adams threw a 46-yard bomb on third and 15 to an open receiver, Darren Carrington, bringing the Ducks all the way down to the Cal 13. Two plays later and Adams found a gaping hole once again in the Cal run defense, keeping the ball for 10 yards and somersaulting his way into the end zone. Adams ended the day with 43 rushing yards, 300 passing yards and four touchdowns, with the Oregon offense amassing an astonishing 777 total yards, a program record.
It took only four plays for the Ducks to make a mark on the scoreboard once again, after a second consecutive three and out for Cal. Adams did some scrambling of his own, finding wide receiver Bralon Addison for a touchdown on the left side of the end zone, their first of two connections on the day.
The next drive for the Ducks continued to make the Cal defense look slow and confused. On the opening play, Adams appeared to keep the ball, deluding the Bears as running back Royce Freeman ran for a startling 17 yards. Before the drive ended, Cal found itself with a pass-interference penalty and another Adams touchdown, where the quarterback had an absurd amount of time to find an open Duck, finally throwing to wide receiver Dwayne Stanford and putting Oregon up, 24-10. On the next Oregon drive, Adams would find Addison once again, this time for a 15-yard score, giving the Ducks a 31-10 lead heading into halftime.
The start of the second half was similar to the start of the first, with Goff finding wide receiver Maurice Harris open down field for a 57-yard gain, bringing the Bears down to the Oregon 15. Goff then found wide receiver Bryce Treggs in the end zone, but he couldn’t hold on, forcing the Bears to settle for a 48-yard field goal, making the score 31-13.
Cal scored for the second time in the half on its next drive, with Enwere punching the ball in on a 9-yard carry. Goff then scrambled in for the two-point conversion, making the score 31-21 midway through the third. He finished the day, 18-41, with 329 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Oregon responded on its next two drives by tacking on a field goal and a 20-yard touchdown pass from Adams to wide receiver Charles Nelson on a 54-second, 75-yard drive, stretching the Ducks’ lead to 41-21.
“We did not play well defensively tonight, starting with our tackles,” said Cal head coach Sonny Dykes. “We missed 50-plus tackles. I don’t think we played well on either side of the ball.”
Before the game was over, the Bears struck back with an 80-yard touchdown from Goff to Treggs. The Ducks responded with a clock-draining scoring drive, ending on a 19-yard field goal from Schneider — enough to take away any chance Cal had to come back.
“There is no clear sign why we have points in the game where we sputter, if it’s mental or scheme,” Stephen Anderson said. “Playmakers aren’t making plays. We definitely need to address that.”
Alaina Getzenberg covers football. Contact her at [email protected]