Santa Clara, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - On Friday night, the sixth-ranked Oregon Ducks will put the California Golden Bears to the test in a Pac-12 Conference clash at the brand new Levi's Stadium, home of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers.
After falling to Arizona (31-24) at the beginning of the month, Oregon has rallied with convincing wins over UCLA (42-30) and Washington (45-20). Last weekend's victory over the Huskies propelled the Ducks to No. 6 in the national rankings, and has many slotting them back into the College Football Playoff picture. They are also right in the mix for the Pac-12 title, with a 3-1 mark against league foes.
California is headed in the opposite direction, with losses in its last two games. The Golden Bears nearly upset UCLA last weekend, but fell short in a 36-34 final. It was a much better showing than the previous week, when they were routed, 31-7, by Washington at home. Cal is 4-3 overall, but only 2-3 in conference.
If California is going to complete an upset it will need to buck recent history. Oregon has won each of the last five matchups with the Golden Bears by a combined score of 214-64, including a 55-16 beatdown last season. Cal still leads the all-time series however, 39-35-2.
The tradition of Oregon being at the top of the Pac-12 in total offense has not come to fruition this season. That's not to say the Ducks have not been potent on offense, as they are still putting up 527 yards of total offense each week, while leading the league in scoring (43.6 ppg).
What more can be said about Marcus Mariota? The Ducks' signal caller has been easily the best all-around quarterback in the Pac-12, if not the country. He has thrown for 1,957 yards and 19 touchdowns on 70.2 percent passing, all while avoiding a single interception in 188 pass attempts.
Of course, he can also make moves on the ground, with 289 yards and five scores this season, although he did not manage a single positive rushing yard against Washington.
There was no reason to panic, however, as Royce Freeman was able to keep the Ducks moving in the running game, finishing with a season-high 169 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries. Freeman leads the team in rushing yards (636) and touchdowns (11). In fact, the rest of the team has only nine rushing scores combined.
"We saw some of his elusiveness that was legendary during fall camp, as far as being able to run through guys and make people miss a little better than you think. He's starting to play free of thought and is letting his natural gifts take over," Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said of Freeman's effort against Washington. "When you can run the ball, you can do anything. The offensive staff did a great job of creating match-ups and seams in the run game."
While Freeman provides Oregon with a more traditional running back, Byron Marshall continues to be a back who can do a little bit of everything. He has 249 yards and a score on the ground and also leads the team in receptions (34), while d has amassed 533 yards and seven scores on 48 total grabs. JuJu Smith (26 receptions, 350 yards, TD) is a nice second option, while Javorius Allen (24 receptions, 290 yards, TD) can make catches out of the backfield.
Of course, Allen has been much more valuable with his work in the running game, posting 909 yards and eight touchdowns on 150 carries. He leads the Pac-12 in carries and rushing yards, with no other player in the league logging more than 820 yards. Allen tallied 128 yards and a score against Colorado, marking his fourth straight game with over 100 yards.
If the offense continues to perform at such a high level, USC should be very difficult to beat, considering how well it has played on defense. The Trojans rank fourth in the Pac-12 in total defense (404.7 ypg) and third in points allowed (23.1 ppg).
The Trojans will have an interesting challenge this weekend as they face off against Devontae Booker and one of the more unique quarterback situations in the country.
Last week, both Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson each saw time under center, although the duo combined for only 62 yards and an interception on 9-of-18 passing. Wilson has thrown for 833 yards and seven touchdowns, all without a pick, while completing 56.8 percent of his passes. Thompson has fewer pass attempts, but he is second on the team in rushing yards (164). A resolution to the issue doesn't seem to be coming soon.
"We need to work that out, don't we?," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said of his quarterback situation. "I can't tell you right now. Each of them played a full half. We'll have to evaluate that. We like them both. They are two guys that we have confidence in, and they both had their chance tonight. We'll evaluate the game in its entirety and probably not make an announcement again next week."
Booker provides much more certainty out of the backfield, as the Utah running back has piled up 742 yards and seven touchdowns on 120 carries. Booker recorded the 12th 200-yard rushing performance in school history last weekend, finishing with 229 yards to go along with three touchdowns.
As far as receiving threats go, Kenneth Scott (22 receptions, 228 yards, three TDS) and Dres Anderson (19 receptions, 325 yards, four TDs) are the most productive options. They are also two of only four players with 10 receptions or more.
One of the few teams in the Pac-12 playing better defense than USC at the moment is Utah. The Utes rank third in the league in total defense (328.7 ypg) and second in scoring defense (21.7 ppg). The key has been the pass rush, which, led by Nate Orchard's 10.5 sacks, leads the country in quarterback takedowns (33).