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Cal vs. Oregon: Can The Golden Bears Defense Slow Down The Ducks Offense?

The California Golden Bears nearly scored one of the biggest upsets of the 2011 college football season when they held the Oregon Ducks offense to one touchdown (the other coming off a Cliff Harris punt return). Oregon did win the war with a 15-13 victory, but it did provide one of the first true blueprints to stopping Chip Kelly's unstoppable offense.

Cal defenders went to a cover-zero defense to go one-on-one with Oregon offensive players. Everyone would take a man to try and win their individual matchups. This would negate the advantages Oregon would have at the line when they left someone unblocked. The Golden Bears relied on excellent performances from linebacker Mike Mohamed (responsible for shadowing running back LaMichael James) and strong safety Chris Conte (responsible for shadowing quarterback Darron Thomas) to slow Oregon down for most of the game. If it wasn't for an inept offensive performance, Cal could have scored the upset.

This is not the same Cal defense though. Conte and Mohamed are gone, as is first round draft pick Cameron Jordan. What's left of the Golden Bears defense remains stout against the run but weak against the pass, as they've been torn up by Tyler Hansen and Keith Price in their two first road games. The second-year Thomas is arguably better than either of them, which should give Clancy Pendergast a lot of headaches trying to gameplan against him.

Mychal Kendricks (replacing Mohamed on the inside) will take over and try to shade James. Kendricks has the physical talent to stay with him, but can he make the right decisions the way Mohamed did? Kendricks is coming off an excellent performance in slowing down Chris Polk and the Washington Huskies, so there may be some hope here. It'll be critical for the Cal defensive line to win their battles at the line of scrimmage to give Kendricks the opportunity to make plays in the backfield.

The biggest issues will come in dealing with the quarterback. Sean Cattouse has been at best average in taking over for Conte, and there's no guarantee that he can handle Thomas in run support. Cal might have to rely on D.J. Campbell to shade against the Oregon quarterback while Cattouse stays back in coverage. The Bears have big question marks in defending against the Oregon offense, and they can't be easily answered until we see how they perform on the football field.

For more on Cal football, go to the California Golden Blogs. For more on Oregon football, go to Addicted to Quack.