Published November 11, 2012
BERKELEY, Calif. – California figured out a way to slow down Kenjon Barner and Oregon's dynamic big-play running game.
So Marcus Mariota and the Ducks did the Golden Bears in with the pass.
Mariota overcame a brief injury to throw for a career-high 377 yards and tie a school record with six touchdown passes as No. 2 Oregon made a case for the top ranking in the country by beating California 59-17 on Saturday night despite a season-low in rushing yards.
"Normally Oregon backs break for 75-yard runs, but it wasn't happening today," Cal linebacker Chris McCain said. "I felt like defensively we did pretty well to stop their run but the passes got to us."
Mariota and the Ducks (10-0, 7-0 Pac-12) handed Cal (3-8, 2-6) a fourth straight loss for the first time since coach Jeff Tedford took over in 2002 and sent the Bears to their most lopsided defeat ever under Tedford.
But despite the final margin, the Bears hung close until midway through the third quarter when Boseko Lokombo intercepted a screen pass from Allan Bridgford. Mariota threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Josh Huff on the next play to give the Ducks a 31-17 lead.
"That kind of got things going again," Mariota said. "It flipped the momentum. It's really a momentum game. That helped us out."
The Ducks withstood injuries to its entire starting defensive line and brief absences by Mariota and star running back Kenjon Barner to extend the longest active winning streak in major college football to 13 games.
The win over California could be enough to move Oregon up to No. 1 after top-ranked Alabama lost earlier in the day 29-23 to No. 15 Texas A&M. Even more importantly, the Crimson Tide loss cleared one potential rival for a spot in the BCS title game, leaving Notre Dame and Kansas State as the only other major undefeated teams eligible for a bowl. The Ducks are currently third in the BCS rankings.
After struggling for more than a half against a Golden Bears team that was missing quarterback Zach Maynard and star receiver Keenan Allen, the Ducks will have to be more consistent the next few weeks if they want to remain unbeaten. They finish the regular season against No. 16 Stanford and No. 13 Oregon State and also could be in the Pac-12 title game.
Oregon raced past the Bears with their passing game instead of the vaunted running attack that had rushed for at least 400 yards in the previous three games. Cal held Barner to 65 yards on 20 carries — 256 fewer yards than he had last week against USC — and even knocked him out briefly with a hard hit that sent him to the locker room in the first half.
"They did a good job of filling the box," Mariota said. "That gave us and the passing game more opportunity to do what we can do. That's the kind of thing that happens when you have such a good running back like Kenjon. Guys fill the box to stop him."
Mariota also left the game after a hard fall late in the second quarter but returned the following series. He then helped the Ducks break the game open in the second half with four TD passes, including two to Huff.
Mariota completed 27 of 34 passes for a career-high 377 yards and tied the school TD record last achieved by Darron Thomas last year against Nevada. Huff finished with five catches for 109 yards and three scores as the Ducks set a major college football record by scoring at least 40 points for a 13th straight game.
"You have to pick your poison really with them," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "If you're going to get up in there and try to stop the run, then the play-action, you're covering really fast guys running down the field."
The biggest moment came midway through the third quarter after the Bears cut Oregon's lead to 24-17 and got a stop on defense to fire up a crowd that has had little to cheer about this season.
Isi Sofele, who rushed for 134 yards, had been gashing Oregon's defense in the second half and started this drive with a 14-yard run. But Cal went away from him and Bridgford threw the interception under heavy pressure from Arik Armstead that turned the tides as Oregon scored the final 35 points.
"I thought I put it right on him," Bridgford said. "I guess it was just a little bit high, which I can't do. That was us killing ourselves or me killing ourselves, giving them a touchdown."
That ended the Bears chances in the final home game of the season and perhaps final home game for Tedford at Cal. There have been questions raised about Tedford's status after missing a bowl for the second time in three years. The Bears have lost four straight for the first time ever under Tedford.
Bridgford finished 9 for 21 for 113 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Mariota left the game holding his left arm in the second quarter but returned after Vincenzo D'Amato missed a 48-yard field goal late in the half for Cal. Mariota drove the Ducks 69 yards, capped by a 10-yard pass to Huff that made it 24-10 at the half.