Instant analysis/reaction: Duck hunt falters, No. 19 Oregon runs through No. 24 Cal

Karen Chow/Senior Staff

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Key takeaway

The Bears may have been ranked after their first three games, but their loss to the Ducks has proven that the Pac-12 is a whole different ball game. If there’s anything that Cal learned, it’s that the Bears have to be better in the air to keep up with opposing Pac-12 offenses. While Cal’s rushing stats look pretty good on paper, their stats through the air are completely lackluster.

The Ducks threw for 225 yards, the Bears for just 186 — and that was reflected in overall offensive productivity. Cal’s running game, while certainly featuring some true talent, simply is not good enough to make up for the lack of yardage created through the air. There’s got to be a better connection forged between the Bears’ quarterback(s) and their receivers if the team is going to have a chance to compete deep into the season. If you’re the Cal coaching staff, you’ve got to be looking at the offensive drawing board to find a way to make the Bears’ pass game a legitimate weapon.

Cal’s game MVP

Considering that an overwhelming proportion of the Bears’ offensive production came from the run game, it’s safe to say that Cal’s MVP should be the player who contributed the most rushing yards. Quarterback Brandon McIlwain, who rushed for 123 total yards in the game (making him the first Cal QB since 1958 to rush for more than 100 yards in a game), is the clear choice this time around. He was one of the only Bears consistently moving Cal downfield — which almost means he’s forgiven for the fumble that led to a Ducks touchdown at the end of the first half, and the interception that led to another touchdown by the Oregon defense late in the fourth quarter. Running back Patrick Laird gets an honorable mention here for getting his feet going in the second half and rushing for 92 yards.

Eye-opening stat

The Bears’ quarterbacks, Chase Garbers and McIlwain, went for a combined 15 of 30 and turned the ball over five times. To be frank, that’s just not good — and is pretty on par for an offense that has had roller coaster production throughout its three wins. Until those stats improve, the Bears’ offense won’t be able to churn out touchdowns in a way that is necessary in the Pac-12.

Looking ahead

The 3-0 start for the Bears was nice, but when it came down to a head-to-head matchup with a top-tier team, they simply could not figure it out. Cal was its own worst enemy in the loss to Oregon — offensive stagnation, missed tackles in open space and poor QB decision-making all hindered the Bears more than any effort by the Ducks. As it looks to its next game against Arizona, Cal has to clean up every facet of its game, or it will be responsible for its own downfall.

Sophie Goethals covers football. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @sophiegoethalss.