Mark Helfrich - Page 39

Sporty Holiday Memories

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— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

We all have our Christmas memories, don’t we? I remember, as an eight year-old in the Seattle area, receiving a replica Seahawks’ helmet with a Jim Zorn jersey. That was the first year I became interested in sports and the passion has grown ever since. But this day can mean so many different things to people.

Former Seahawk Jim Zorn, now a quarterbacks coach at Kansas City, had his number on a jersey that Sam Finley got for Christmas. (Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

“Christmas is Christmas,” said running back De’Anthony Thomas. “It is one of my favorite holidays. I can’t wait for it, and hope to have a great Christmas as well as get some great birthday presents (ten days later on January 5th).”

With that in mind, I spent the last week of the Ducks’ football practices asking various players and coaches what their memories were during the holiday season.

“I don’t know where to start,” said UO defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. “We always have a great time at Christmas. I come from a big family and, when I was a young boy, we’d all get together at my grandmother’s house.  There’d be all kind of great fish frying, calamari, crab, and shrimp.  You name it. I have many great memories of getting presents and eating until we couldn’t see straight.”

Funny, but this can be a day that can, despite whatever differences we have, show how similar we are to one another.  For example, coach Aliotti came from the Bay Area, which is nothing like the state of Texas.  Yet freshman running back Tra Carson, who grew up in Texarkana, tells an almost identical story.

“We’d all meet up at my grandma’s house,” explained running back Tra Carson. “Everyone would exchange gifts there, and we’ll probably do the same thing this year.”

Coming back to the Bay, linebacker Michael Clay’s tale is a little more unique.

Oregon linebacker Michael Clay (number 46) has had some unique Christmas experiences. (Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

“My mother came from a big, Mexican family,” said Clay. “So they were always dancing and partying until about three in the morning. But we always went to church, and I always remember that.”

And that was just one side of the family.

“My dad and I were always on the road,” Clay continued. “We’d always have to go see relatives that were kind of spread all around the Bay Area. So I have memories of being with my dad in the car, as well as being with my mom’s family, too.”

Of course, much like my helmet and jersey, there’s always a gift or two you never forget.

“There are two,” claimed Aliotti. “I remember getting a bicycle, as well as receiving my first baseball glove.”

“I got a bike when I was in the third grade,” stated Clay. “More recently, however, I’m very fond of the iPod Touch I got from my parents because I still use it. I’ve got a bunch of songs from about every genre for music.”

Then again, you also never forget about a little sibling rivalry, either.

“I’ve always been a Dallas Cowboys’ fan,” said UO offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich with a wry grin. “So I always got Cowboys’ pajamas.  My brother got Philadelphia Eagles’ pajamas, so there was a little brotherly feud there.”

All things considered, the Ducks’ ultimate Christmas gift may have already been unwrapped.

“Getting to the Rose Bowl is a great feeling for my freshman year,” said Thomas. “I feel like each year should be better and better.”

Or has it? After three consecutive BCS Bowl appearances, what Oregon would really like under their stocking is a trophy that comes with a victory.

“A Rose Bowl win would definitely be on the list for sure,” Helfrich explained.

That being said, let’s talk a bit about the wonderful stuff that comes from sports.  My longtime friend and now-retired Register Guard sports editor Ron Bellamy used to say that athletes gave us all a gift every time they competed. He’d go on to say that it was our job, as sports journalists, to simply unwrap the presents.

I couldn’t agree more. If you see your team give it their all in a close game, you’ve witnessed something awesome. I (Conversely, if they deliver a subpar effort, I’m sure you’d like to give them a lump of coal).

De'Anthony Thomas' birthday comes shorty after Christmas, so he gets a fair share of presents. (Photo Credit: Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

But win or lose, if they give 100% on the court, the track or the field, then they’ve given you the most for your valued entertainment time. Let’s remember that, particularly with college age kids here in Eugene, whether it’s an impressive Duck victory over Stanford or a painful defeat to USC.

Now then, I won’t lie and say everything is great about Christmas. Having worked retail for five years too many, I’ve sworn that I’ll never step into a shopping mall on Christmas Eve again.  There’s just too much pettiness and nastiness over stuff that really isn’t worth having.

I will also never, ever, listen to a certain Chipmunks’ song without having the urge to reach for a mallet. However, I won’t bore you with some of my no-so-favorite things.

Instead, I will simply say to enjoy being around the people you care about the most.  Or, if you cannot be with them on this holiday, call them and say how much you’d wish they were here.

As usual, I’d like to say more, but I’ve got to get on with some holiday fesitivites.

Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Is LaMichael Staying or Going?

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— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

Looked at any interesting stuff about LaMichael James recently? The rumors have been flying since a report came out in The Oregonian on Thursday that the Ducks’ running back would enter the NFL draft after the Rose Bowl.

Or did he? Because there’s also been reports that contradict the story that has everyone talking. Aside from a brief denial on his Facebook page, James hasn’t been able to  address the situation until yesterday. Needless to say, he wasn’t thrilled that certain people were getting information about him from ESPN.

LaMichael James has not decided whether he'll enter the NFL Draft after the Rose Bowl yet. (Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

“There’s really nothing going on,” said Oregon’s all-time leading rusher emphatically. “I don’t really know what happened with that deal. My family called me and asked if I had declared for the draft.”

Moreover, James wasn’t happy about hearing that he had make a decision he claims he hasn’t made.

“I think it’s kind of an unfair statement for someone to say something I didn’t say,” he explained. “If (running backs coach Gary) Campbell didn’t say it, then nobody really knows what happened. Because if I’m going to tell someone what I’m going to do, it’s going to be him. I haven’t discussed that with him or my family.”

In fact, James isn’t really focusing on what’ll he’ll do next until after a certain game in Pasadena.

“I’m really not thinking about it,” he stated. “The thing I’m thinking about is winning the game on January 2nd. I don’t want to make a decision or an announcement on it. My future is irrelevant right now. Come January 3rd, it will be relevant when the season is over. But I owe it to my teammates, the fans, and my coaches to think about the Rose Bowl. That is my important goal right now.”

De'Anthony Thomas is thrilled to be playing at home in January. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Ah yes, with all the scuttlebutt about their star back, you may have forgotten that the fifth-ranked Ducks are playing Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. They started up practices again over the weekend and James believes the team is going back to basics right now.

“We’re getting back to the fundamentals,” said James. “Everybody is pretty much healthy right now. I think we’re really happy to get back out here with each other.”

As for the drama surrounding James, his teammates aren’t letting it become a distraction. Just ask De’Anthony Thomas.

“That’s his decision,” explained the freshman phenom. “I’m happy for him and good luck to him. I would miss him if he was gone. Just being around him has motivated me to work hard and be a great leader. My job has been to contribute off him and he’s been my motivation.”

If anyone is excited for the matchup in Pasadena, it is Thomas. He grew up in the L.A. area and loves the chance to play in front of friends and family.

“It’s a great feeling to play back home,” said Thomas. “It’s just a great feeling to make it to the Rose Bowl. I know our team can’t wait, and we’ll see what happens.”

Speaking of which, a lot has been made about Wisconsin’s offensive prowess with good reason. The Badgers’ running back Montee Ball is a one-man scoring machine, and their quarterback Russell Wilson is a dual-threat.  But the Ducks aren’t overlooking their defense, either.

“They’re really good,” said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich with a wry smile. “They’re rock-solid end to end. Up front, they’re very good. Their linebackers are spectacular, and might be the two best guys we’ve played all year. They have tremendous tacklers in their secondary.”

There lies the challenge for the speedy Oregon offense.

“You don’t see anyone run out of tackles against these guys,” Helfrich stated. “When we get in a one-on-one situation, we try to make the guy miss. That doesn’t happen too often with these guys. They’re incredibly sound in what they do.”

Moving onto to some other stuff, I want to make some things clear about my views on the meteoric success of Tim Tebow and his Denver Broncos.  I don’t dislike the guy, but I haven’t been ready to crown him as the greatest thing going in sports at the moment.

Tim Tebow, contrary to some, isn't winning these games singlehandedly. (Photo Credit: Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Sure, he’s been leading great drives in the final two minutes. However, hasn’t Denver’s defense had a role in setting him up for all those heroic comebacks?  They’ve been playing out of their minds the past few weeks.

For that matter, how the other teams have executed have had something to do with it, too. It seems like the opponents have played their usual schemes for three quarters well on Tebow, and then go (inexplicably) to a prevent defense.  Hasn’t any squad learned that the only thing a prevent does is prevent you from winning?

That’s particularly true against Tebow. While he doesn’t have the most accurate arm, he can inexplicably throw it on the money when the defensive backs are giving his receivers plenty of room.  It happened in the most recent miracle last Sunday against Chicago.

The Bears were leading 10-0 with a couple minutes left in the game, and had been aggressive against Tebow all day.  Then, they started playing soft and Tebow burned them for a touchdown that was the catalyst for another storybook affair.

But, in all fairness, Chicago’s defense wasn’t ultimately the reason they ended up losing 13-10 in overtime to the Broncos. You can blame that one on the Bears’ running back Marion Barber.

All he had to do on what should’ve been their final possession was take the handoffs and stay in bounds. That’s something you learn at the Pop Warner level when you have a lead and the other guys are out of timeouts.  Instead, Barber decided to run towards the sidelines and got pushed into the Chicago bench.

What a chowder head. If anything, he’s more responsible for the Broncos’ last win than Tebow. Did Tebow stop the clock for Denver in that situation, providing more than enough time to then tie the game? No.

Like I said, I don’t hate Tebow. I’m merely saying there have been other factors at work and I’ll wait a little longer before putting him in the same conversation of quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.

With that, I’ve got some Christmas shopping to do. But check back here next Sunday, when I will have a very special column for you to read.

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

 

Ready When Needed

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— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

Bryan Bennett definitely knows about the area the Ducks will be playing in on the second day of January. The 6’3, 205-pound redshirt freshman grew up in Granada Hills, California and attended high school in nearby Encino.

Bryan Bennett stepped in admirably this season while Darron Thomas was hurt. (Photo Credit: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

“It was nice growing up in So Cal,” said Bennett with a soft-spoken laugh. “We were definitely spoiled with the nice weather and all the nice things like that. I’m definitely happy to be going back home for this game.”

Oregon’s current backup quarterback admired a certain athlete when he was a kid . Not surprisingly, it was a guy who played the same position.

“Brett Favre was my favorite,” he explained. “I just liked his style of play. He was a competitor, and would always continue to work hard. Favre also had a big, strong arm and I liked that.”

That being said, why would a someone who enjoyed the Southern California climate choose Eugene for college football as opposed to USC or UCLA?

“I thought that Oregon was the best fit for me,” Bennett said of his decision to come here. “When I was going through the recruiting process, I felt like that this was the place I needed to be.”

Right now, Bennett has found himself behind Darron Thomas on the depth chart. But he’s taken his role in stride.

Bryan Bennett is willing to help the Ducks out any way he can. (Photo Credit: Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

“Everybody wants to be playing,” he stated. “I want to be a starter, but that’s not my role on the team at the moment. So I’ll do what I can to help this team and stay positive. I’m just doing whatever the coaches ask me to do right now. I try to be a leader in the best way I can. And if I’m asked to step in, I have to be ready to do that.”

He certainly proved he could play at a moment’s notice this season. After Thomas went down with a knee injury against Arizona State, Bennett effectively managed the Ducks to a 41-27 victory over the Sun Devils. A week later against Colorado, he completed 11 of 20 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-2 win in Boulder. Finally, Bennett threw for two more scores in the second half, helping Oregon edge Washington State 43-28.

“I just reassured myself that I could do this,” said Bennett of his playing experience. “It reinforced that I could be a quarterback at the University of Oregon.”

So does Bennett take any pride that he, in his own way, helped his Ducks win their third consecutive Pac-12 title?

“I never even looked at it like that,” he claimed. “But I was just happy to help my team when they needed me.”

He’s been happy to help out his squad, just as he’s been assisted by many of his teammates like Thomas. Bennett said the current starting signal caller has gone out of his way to show him the ropes.

Bryan Bennett is excited to be running home to play in the Rose Bowl. (Photo Credit: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

“Darron has helped me out a lot,” said Bennett. “So did (then-backup) Nate Costa when I first got here last year. But DT and I are always side-by-side in the team meetings and on the field. (As are fellow quarterbacks Marcus Mariota, Dustin Haines and Brennan Doty). We’re always working together with offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. The group we have around us is what makes our quarterbacks so special at Oregon.”

Maybe this is why Bennett is willing to wait his turn for more playing time (most likely in a couple years), and will continue to sharpen his skills before that happens.

“I think I’ve become smarter about the game,” he explained. “I can always learn more about the playbook and other new things like other defenses, as well as the overall game of football. That’s allowed me to grow and mature.”

Whatever his current role might be, he’s elated that Oregon will be at the Rose Bowl early next month.

“I’m very excited to go to Pasadena,” Bennett said. “I’ve been watching the Rose Bowl for a long time. When I was in high school, I used to go watch UCLA play there all the time. I’m just happy that a lot of my family will be able to go and I’ll get to see them afterwards.”

The fifth-ranked Ducks will face a stiff test against tenth-ranked Wisconsin. However, Bennett is confident that they’ll be ready for the challenge.

“We just need to continue to prepare,” he claimed. “We need to do the best we can day in and day out. If we do those things, then I think we’ll have a good shot to go out there and play our game.”

 

Making His ‘Mark’

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Sam Finley,  Sports Editor EDN

Two years ago Mark Helfrich came home. The Coos Bay native jumped at the chance in 2009 to become Oregon’s offensive coordinator, and he’s enjoyed every minute of it.

“It’s been great to be around family and friends,” said Helfrich. “I’ve also liked being around the coaches who have been on staff for a lot of years because I’ve known a lot of those guys for a long time. Getting to work with them again has been awesome.”

Mark Helfrich has been Oregon's offensive coordinator since 2009. (Photo Credit: Eric Evans)

This isn’t Helfrich’s first coaching stint in Eugene. In 1997, he was a graduate assistant under Mike Bellotti. While he wasn’t sure that the Ducks would reach their current great heights, he did see the possibilities.

“You honestly never know,” he claimed about the program’s success. “Washington was really good back then and USC was kind of up and down. But I think everyone always saw the potential here. Obviously, the influx and the support that we’ve had has been awesome, and the resulting fan support has been huge. So as a coach, you always try to create that vision.”

Of course, he also has the added perspective of having come to Oregon games as a kid. The differences between Autzen now and then are like night and day.

“I remember the days when you could play full-field football games outside Autzen,” Helfrich explained. “None of the current facilities around here existed, and it was all gravel parking lots. So people would literally play full-field games before kickoff. You couldn’t do that now.”

Helfrich will take the changes, especially at a time when Oregon has made unprecedented strides on the football field. Provided the Ducks win the Pac-12 Championship on Friday, they will make their second Rose Bowl appearance in the past three years (as well as their third consecutive trip to a BCS Bowl).

Even though he’s had an influential role in shaping one of the nation’s best offenses, his head coach, Chip Kelly, seems to get most of the credit. Helfrich isn’t bothered by not getting the accolades; he believes that he’s merely part of a collective effort.

“I think we all work together really well as coaches,” he said with a smile. “First and foremost, the players should get all the credit. Our entire coaching staff works together great, and obviously, winning is part of the lubrication to make that stuff work. But nobody around here cares who gets the credit.”

Moreover, Helfrich is having fun drawing up schemes for a high octane attack every week.

“We want to score,” laughed Helfrich about his offensive philosophy. “Whatever it takes, that’s our goal. Whether that means running the ball 99 times or throwing it 99 times, we’re going to try and score.”

Oregon tight end David Paulson loves the play calling of Mark Helfrich. (Photo Credit: Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

And whether it is by running or throwing, Helfrich’s peers have been happy with his performance.

“Mark has done a great job,” said Kelly. “We brought him in a couple years ago when I became the head coach. I wanted a guy who could add something to our staff, and he’s done an unbelievable job for us.”

“He’s been outstanding,” explained defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. “I mean think about our offense. They’re towards the top in scoring, total offense, and rushing. I always kid when I say this, but I seriously believe we play our best defense when our offense is on the field.”

Helfrich also clearly earns the utmost respect from his players.

“His play-calling during games is great,” said senior tight end David Paulson. “But he’s also really good in how he prepares us during the week. We’re definitely prepared for every team we go up against. Everything a defense throws at us is stuff we’ve seen in practice, so we’re ready for it.”

But Helfrich’s biggest fans probably come his immediate household.

“My wife and kids are awesome,” Helfrich said. “We have a son (Max) that’s almost 5, and our daughter, Maggie, is almost 2. My wife (Megan) has been incredibly supportive, and during the busy football season I know it’s tough on her with me not being around as much as I would like to be. But for most of the coaches who have that support, it’s great.”

Mark Helfrich is happy to be back in his home state after years of coaching in other areas. (Photo Credit: Oregon Media Services)

Helfrich particularly likes being back in his native state after years of being away. When he ended his college career as a quarterback at Southern Oregon University in 1996, Helfrich came to Eugene for one year. But then, he spent a couple seasons as the quarterbacks’ coach at Boise State. A five-year stint at Arizona State followed that gig. Before returning to Oregon, Helfrich was the offensive coordinator at Colorado from 2006-2008.

“I’ve like having my kids close to other family members,” he said. “I’ve been a bit further east, for several years, from my home state. I was a Duck fan growing up, and my parents and my brother went to school here. There’s a lot of connections that way and that makes it special.”

As for his future plans, Helfrich is simply focused on getting prepared for a big game against UCLA.

“I want to have a great practice tomorrow and have a great performance on Friday night,” chuckled Helfrich.

The Ducks will need a great performance against the Bruins in order to assure themselves a trip to Pasadena. With that in mind, Helfrich has been encouraged by the way the team has prepared during a short week and he feels they’re up for the challenge.

“We just had an awesome practice today,” he said. “It was probably the best we’ve practiced all year. I think our guys get that formula and want to do that again. They want to have another couple great days of preparation, focus on the task at hand, and that’s all it really can be.”

 

Freshmen continue to impress in Oregon’s 43-28 win over Washington State

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Freshman De'Anthony Thomas jukes Tyree Toomer during his 45-yard touchdown reception from Bryan Bennett. (Alex McDougall/Oregon Daily Emerald)

LaMichael James and Darron Thomas returned to the starting lineup for Oregon’s matchup with Washington State on Saturday, but neither proved to be the normal offensive catalyst in the Ducks’ 43-28 victory.

In James’ first game back since suffering a dislocated elbow against California on Oct. 6, the junior couldn’t get much going early on and finished with 53 yards on 13 carries. His backfield mate, Thomas, was an efficient 8-of-13 passing for 153 yards and a touchdown in the first half, but a pair of costly interceptions gave way for redshirt freshman Bryan Bennett to start the third quarter.

The move was based on Thomas’ first-half performance after sitting out with a knee injury against Colorado last week, as well as his overall safety in the pocket.

“I just felt like he wasn’t setting his feet and sometimes I worry about, ‘Can he get out of the way?’” Oregon head coach Chip Kelly said. “And there’s a lot of reasons, there’s not just one particular reason.”

Given Bennett’s poise and strong play in the six quarters leading up to Saturday’s contest, the coaching staff had no trouble putting the freshman in charge offensively with just a 15-10 lead at halftime.

On Oregon’s first possession of the third quarter, Bennett connected with true freshman De’Anthony Thomas on a dazzling 45-yard screen pass that gave the Ducks (7-1, 5-0 Pac-12) a two-score advantage and seemed to breathe new life into an otherwise flat first-half showing.

The Cougars (3-5, 1-4) were held to a red zone field goal on the ensuing possession before Bennett and junior Kenjon Barner paced a 14-play, 77-yard scoring drive that ate 4:36 off the clock.

The duo combined for 44 yards on eight carries to move the ball inside the Washington State 20-yard line where Bennett found senior wide receiver Lavasier Tuinei for a 19-yard scoring strike to go ahead 29-13.

Tuinei, who finished with 86 yards on four receptions, also caught a 55-yard touchdown pass from Thomas late in the second quarter, giving him a team-best seven scores through the air in 2011.

Bennett’s two quick touchdowns reminded Duck fans there is indeed a star in the waiting, but it also led to a handful of questions about a quarterback controversy going into a difficult month of November. Though Kelly said he knows who the starter will be moving forward, he wouldn’t disclose that information to the media, leaving Bennett and Thomas to field those questions postgame.

“No one’s said there’s going to be a quarterback controversy yet,” Bennett said. “I don’t know what the coaches have planned. Darron and I — I’m sure I can speak for him — are just gonna go in and continue to get better each week.

“The team has confidence in both of us and whoever the coaches ask to play is what they do. We have no control over that, the players have no control over that, it’s up to the coaches, (and) whatever they ask us to do is what we’ll do.”

While the starting quarterback spot seems somewhat uncertain until Thomas is fully recovered, the role of De’Anthony Thomas is only getting bigger.

After a 24-yard touchdown pass from Cougars quarterback Marshall Lobbestael to Jared Karstetter made it a nine-point game late in the third, De’Anthony Thomas quickly silenced any remaining hopes of an upset with a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the very next play.

The score was De’Anthony Thomas’ 11th of the season (six receiving, four rushing and one return), which broke the school record for touchdowns by a true freshman set by Derek Loville in 1986.

“He’s been great,” offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said of De’Anthony Thomas. “And Darron did a great job in the summer coaching him up and has done a good job this fall. He helps him out a little bit. I’m glad he’s on our team for sure.”

A 28-yard touchdown run by Barner put Oregon ahead 43-20 in the fourth, and helped him eclipse the century mark for the third straight game to finish with 107 yards on 11 carries. His seven rushing touchdowns in Pac-12 play this season are a career high.

Lobbestael led Washington State on a final scoring drive late in the fourth when Rickey Galvin punched in a nine-yard touchdown run before Oregon burned the final 1:50 of the game. The senior quarterback finished 28-of-48 passing for 337 yards and one touchdown against two interceptions.

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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