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BearTerritory.net publisher Ryan Gorcey and DuckSportsAuthority.com publisher A.J. Jacobson break down Thursday's primetime match-up between California and Oregon, unit-by-unit, and predict the final outcome in this week's edition of The EDGE.
CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS
Cal's pass defense has been suspect -- to say the least -- this season. The Bears allowed 474 yards through the air to Colorado and 292 to Washington. Now healed from a thumb injury, speedy true frosh Stefan McClure will see time at corner to try and contain Oregon's speed.
Darron Thomas has been an efficient quarterback for the Ducks this year, and has an array of weapons to choose from through the air, including the wide receivers, tight end David Paulson, and the backs out of the backfield.
Mychal Kendricks leads Cal in tackles and is a steadying veteran hand for the stable of young outside linebackers, including Cecil Whiteside, Chris McCain and David Wilkerson. The kids are quick and they make plays, but they are prone to mental errors, which was not the case with last year's veteran unit.
This year's numbers may not show it yet, but the Ducks have the potential to be devastating on the ground with an excellent, deep running back corps led by Heisman candidate LaMichael James and a quarterback who is a running threat on any down.
Trevor Guyton may be developing into a solid player, but he's not Cameron Jordan, the first-round pick who was so transcendent in last year's game. Look out for true frosh DT Viliami Moala as a very quick run stuffer that plays much faster than his 350 pounds would suggest.
A big question mark going into the season has been answered so far through four games, with the rebuilt offensive line exceeding expectations led by tackle Mark Asper and guard Carson York. Offensive line coach Steve Greatwood has tried many combinations and has finally seeemd to have settled on one.
Keenan Allen leads the nation in receiving yards, and it sure doesn't hurt that he has his big bro Zach Maynard throwing to him. On the other side, senior Marvin Jones is having a career-year and is on pace for a 1,000-yard, 9-TD season.
Starting TB Isi Sofele is passable, but not on the level of Cal tailbacks of the past. C.J. Anderson is a hard-hitting grinder. If the Bears can get big yards through the air and use Anderson to convert short-yardage situations, they could keep Oregon's offense off the field longer.
The one word to describe this unit is inconsistent. Mitchell Schwartz and the OL will good pass protection and blast holes for the running game as often as choke off a drive with three penalties. If the line continues to be feast-or-famine, Cal will leave points on the field.
Oregon rotates eight or so guys into this group without much drop-off, including senior Terrell Turner. So far in 2011 the Ducks' defensive line has not graded out as high as fans would hope, but the potential is there to be a strong unit on any given Saturday.
If Cal lets punter Bryan Anger off the chain, there's hardly anyone in the nation with a bigger leg. That said, punt and KO coverage have been a bit iffy. True frosh Brendan Bigelow could prove one to watch if he gets in space on KOR.
These groups have been strength for the Ducks this season with multiple kick and punt returners and a fine punter in Jackson Rice. Redshirt freshman placekicker Alejandro Maldonado has been near perfect kicking in the absence of Rob Beard, who has been on the mend.
RYAN GORCEY'S PREDICTION
A.J. JACOBSON'S PREDICTION
The Bears have a lot of very talented youngsters on defense. They need to be thrown into the deep end, and there's no time like the present. That said, they will make mistakes. Cameron Jordan, Derrick Hill, Chris Conte and Mike Mohamed are not walking through that door. Oregon 48 - Cal 24.
Oregon is likely to prove too much for the Golden Bears offensively, and for a night game in the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium the defensive energy should be peaking. I see Cal doing damage through the air with an excellent pass-catch group but ultimately the Ducks will have too much firepower for the visitors to keep up with. Oregon 49 - Cal 27.