Commentary

Final analysis: California-Oregon

Originally Published: September 29, 2007
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

EUGENE, Ore. -- Here's a quick look at how No. 6 California beat No. 11 Oregon 31-24:

FINAL ANALYSIS

How the game was won: Driving for a potential game-tying touchdown, Oregon reached California's 5-yard line with 22 seconds to play. On first-and-goal, Ducks quarterback Dennis Dixon threw to the left side for receiver Cameron Colvin, who caught the pass and ran for the end zone. Colvin was met at the goal line by safety Marcus Ezeff, who knocked the football loose. The football went out of bounds in the end zone -- before Colvin crossed the goal line -- and officials ruled the play a touchback. The play was reviewed and upheld, so the Bears took over at their 20. They ran out the final 16 seconds to win the game.

Best comeback: With starting quarterback Nate Longshore standing on the sideline with an injured right knee and Oregon holding possession with the game tied at 24 with less than five minutes to play, all hope seemed lost for California. But on first down from the Ducks' 11, Bears linebacker Anthony Felder dropped into coverage and intercepted Dixon's pass, which was intended for Jaison Williams. Then tailback Justin Forsett took over for the Bears (with Longshore back in the game). He gained eight yards on first down, then broke off a 12-yard run to the 1. On the next play, Forsett ran off left guard for the game-winning touchdown. Jordan Kay's point-after kick made it 31-24 with 3:11 to go. The Bears stopped two Ducks drives in the final 3:11. Dixon threw his second interception when a pass was deflected with 2:20 left. In the final minute, Oregon drove to the Cal 5 for first-and-goal with 22 seconds left.

Player of the game: Cal receiver DeSean Jackson finally exploded, after he was relatively quiet in the Bears' previous three games. Jackson caught a season-high 11 passes for 160 yards with two touchdowns. After Cal trailed 10-3 at the half, Jackson caught a 25-yard touchdown from Longshore to tie the score at 10 with 4:44 to go in the third. Later, he put the Bears ahead 24-17 with a 31-yard touchdown catch. On that play, Jackson caught a pass, shuffled his feet to make cornerback Jairus Byrd miss, then ran down the left sideline for the go-ahead touchdown.

Stat of the game: Two -- Interceptions thrown by Oregon's Dixon in the final 5:46, after the senior quarterback did not throw an interception in the previous four games.

Questions answered:
• Cal's defense might be good enough to slow down USC. If the Bears are the second-best team in the Pac-10 -- and this road victory certainly gives them a leg up in this race -- they'll need a defense to slow down the Trojans. The Bears showed they have a backbone against Oregon, which had been averaging more than 40 points per game.

• Instant replay works in Eugene, Ore. Oklahoma fans might have doubted college football's system for reviewing questionable plays after last season's controversial loss here, but officials got it right at the end of Saturday's game.

What's next for each team:
• California gets a week off before hosting Oregon State on Oct. 13 in Berekely, Calif. The Bears then get two tough road games at UCLA and Arizona State. If they can win those and beat Washington State at home, the Nov. 10 game against USC at Memorial Stadium will be huge.

• Oregon gets a week off to recover from its first loss of the season. Then the Ducks will play the Washington tour, hosting Washington State on Oct. 13 and traveling to Seattle on Oct. 20 to play the Huskies.

FIRST-HALF ANALYSIS

Turning point: With the score tied at 3 late in the first half, the Ducks faced third-and-12 at the Bears' 42. Dixon checked down and threw into the left flat for tailback Jonathan Stewart, who was wrapped up for a 5-yard gain. But while dragging a defender, Stewart was hit out of bounds by Cal's safety, Ezeff. Instead of facing fourth-and-7, the Ducks were given a first down at Cal's 22 because of the personal foul. Receiver Derrick Jones ran for 17 yards on a reverse on first down, then Stewart scored on a 2-yard run two plays later. Matt Evensen's point-after kick made it 10-3 with 1:44 to play in the half.

Best player in the half: Stewart, the leading rusher in the Pac-10 coming into the game, was about the only offensive player who seemed to be in rhythm, running for 82 yards on 15 carries with one touchdown. Stewart delivered the run of the game late in the half when he burst around the left end and ran over cornerback Chris Conte for a 12-yard gain with 3:42 to go.

Best call: Jones' reverse run after the personal foul late in the half was a great call by Ducks offensive coordinator Chip Kelly. Dixon faked a handoff to Stewart, then flipped the football to Jones, who was running in front of him. Jones got around the corner before running out of bounds at the 5.

Three things Cal needs to do:
1. Get Jackson more involved: The Bears' explosive receiver and punt returner caught four passes for 41 yards in the first half, but the Ducks defensive backs did a good job of covering him deep.
2. Stay patient: Longshore couldn't find much down field when throwing the ball, completing 13 of 21 passes for 88 yards in the half. The quarterback needs to look for more big plays the second half.
3. Get the running game going: The Bears ran for only 31 yards on 11 carries in the first half. Forsett, the second-leading runner in the Pac-10, had only 19 yards on seven carries.

Three things Oregon needs to do:
1. Keep giving it to Stewart: The big tailback is capable of wearing down the Bears in the second half. He seemed to get stronger as the first half went on. The Ducks should mix in Jeremiah Johnson more, too.
2. Keep their composure: Dixon didn't have a great first half, but he didn't force mistakes, either. Late in the first quarter, Dixon might have forced a pass to Colvin in the corner of the end zone, but a couple of defensive backs were close by. Dixon threw the ball away, and the Ducks kicked a field goal.
3. Stay aggressive on defense: The Ducks have done a tremendous job of playing fast and aggressive on defense. The linebackers and defensive backs have been sure tacklers, too, with a lot of California's runs and screens ending near the line of scrimmage.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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