There Are No Guarantees…

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By Sam Finley, EDN

The Ducks are 23 point favorites on Thursday night against Cal.  You remember the Cal Bears, don’t you?  They were a mediocre team from Berkeley that gave the Oregon offense fits a year ago.

True, the Bears’ had one of the better defenses in the conference last season.  However, no one could’ve seen them almost completely shutting down the Ducks’ normally high-speed attack.
They held Oregon to their lowest game point total of 2010, and only permitted one offensive touchdown (a pass from Darron Thomas to Jeff Maehl early in the third quarter).

Jeff Maehl scored Oregon's lone offensive touchdown early in the second half last year at Cal. (Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

In fact, the Ducks went against their nature in the fourth quarter to stem the tide. They actually huddled and took their time lining up between plays, taking the nine final minutes off the clock to preserve a 15-13 victory.  Still, all the talking heads were chirping after that game about how the Bears had displayed the blueprint for how to slow down Oregon.

“We learn something from every game,” said Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. “But it was frustrating, because they didn’t do anything we didn’t prepare for. They almost stayed in the same defense the whole time.  But we learned from it, and have moved on.”

Then again, Cal didn’t exactly do it by stellar defense alone.  If you recall, there were several instances of their defensive linemen flopping on the ground and claiming to be hurt.  It might’ve been more believeable, had some of these guys not been standing perfectly erect before the ‘convenient’ joint tweakings occured.

That said, why do I bring all of this up? Because you play the games for a reason.  There are no guarantees the outcome will go a certain way, particularly in a sport of mistakes like football.  Just ask Oregon running back LaMichael James.

“Everybody is going to give you their best shot,” stated James. “Anybody can get beat in this conference or in college football period.  You don’t have to be the best team throughout the week, but you have to be the best team on game day.  That’s what really counts.”

Yes, Oregon is favored heavily against Cal (just like last year). But while the Bears may not quite be playing for the same prizes that the Ducks are, they still have plenty to fight for.

Cal can still have a winning season and, with a lot of luck, possibly win the Pac-12 South. They are also playing for the job security of their head coach Jeff Tedford.  Since he left his gig as offensive coordinator at Oregon, Tedford has become a victim of his own successes.  While the fans down there are now happy to have a competitive team, they’re tired of not quite getting to the next level that USC and Oregon have in recent years.

In other words, don’t necessarily expect these guys to roll over, because they certainly didn’t do it in 2010.  

“They (the Bears) are extremely talented,” said Helfrich. “I thought they were the most talented team in the conference last season, especially on the defensive side.  Their scheme is great, the personnel is really good, and they play hard.  It’s a tremendous challenge.”

LaMichael James understands that games are played for a reason. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

With that in mind, what will likely happen on Thursday? Cal will give the Ducks all they can handle early in this one.  At the same time, Oregon is pretty good at making adjustments, and they’ve learned a thing or two since the last close call against the Bears.

“We have to execute,” Helfrich explained. “We may have had some guys in various frames of mind in last year’s game.  So we have to go out there, play a clean game, and do our deal.”

If they do execute accordingly, Cal will only be able to ‘drop and flop’ on the defensive side so many times, and the Oregon offense will pick up speed before the second half is over.

Again, there are no guarantees, but I just don’t see a razor thin affair happening two years in a row.  Here’s my prediction:  Oregon 45, Cal 17.

Now onto something I picked up on a couple of days ago.  First off, I was watching the Houston/Pittsburgh game on Sunday, and I realized why I’m not a big fan of CBS color commentator Dan Dierdorf.  The guy is so repetitive around two words:  ‘Tremendous awareness.’

That’s all I heard.  It was either “Ben Roethlisberger showed tremendous awareness” or “Matt Schaub had tremendous awareness” all game long. I mean, really?  Couldn’t you say something like ‘good pocket presence’ or ‘very reactive?’  You’d think, with all the years he’s been in the broadcast booth, he’d expand his vocabulary a little bit.

The funny thing is, if you look at Dierdorf, it appears the only time he’s ever displayed any ‘tremendous awareness’ is when the catering crew was done putting the food out.  No wonder he got booted from “Monday Night Football.”

Speaking of which, I suppose I could talk about Hank Williams, Jr. getting the axe from that as well.  But he may have done the nation a favor with his big mouth.  His intro song gets more annoying with every play, and eventually a new tune was going to be demanded.

Some might argue that Williams was simply expressing his opinions by comparing President Obama to Hitler.  Fair enough.  However, that doesn’t mean he, sticking with the ‘no guarantee’ headline, is not protected from potential punishment from ESPN for his statements.

I could spend hours explaining that a show like MNF would like to keep their people apolitical, but I’m running out of word space. With that in mind, I will simply say that maybe he didn’t have ‘tremendous awareness.’  Okay, now I’m repeating myself.

So until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.

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