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BERKELEY -- California (3-8, 2-6 in the Pac-12) showed that it can compete with the best teams in the country - at least, for a half.
In the end, the Golden Bears also exhibited why they will not be playing games after the regular season ends, as, despite putting on a valiant effort on Senior Day for two and a half quarters, Cal fell to the No. 2 Oregon Ducks 59-17 at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. evening.
The game was much closer than the score indicates -- Cal stayed within one score up until the six-minute mark of the third quarter -- but once again a knack for allowing big plays on both offense and defense put them away in the end.
Redshirt junior quarterback Allan Bridgford made his second start of the season due to the knee injury suffered by starter Zach Maynard in the fourth quarter of last week's game, and found success early on, hitting seven of his first 12 attempts, but Bridgford slowed greatly down the stretch, finishing with nine completions, to six different receivers, on 21 attempts for 113 yards and a touchdown to go along with two interceptions -- both of which came at crucial times.
For what the Cal passing attack lacked, the Bears more than made up for it on the ground with 236 yards on 40 carries. Senior tailback Isi Sofele led the attack with a season-high 134 yards on 15 carries and senior C.J. Anderson chipped in with 56 yards on 11 carries for the night.
On defense, Cal fared much better than USC did a week ago, but the Oregon train still rolled through with 575 total yards of offense while on its way to the history books. The Ducks have now scored at least 30 points in 23 straight games and 40 or more points in 13 straight games -- both FBS records. The last time the Ducks scored fewer than 30 points was their season opener, Sept. 3, 2011, against then No. 4 LSU at home. However, thanks to some stout defense focused on containing the zone-read inside, Oregon ran for 180 yards -- a season-low.
The Ducks took little time to put points on the board after beginning their opening drive from their own 42-yard line. Four plays later -- three of which went for first downs -- the Ducks were sitting pretty at the Cal 13-yard line.
The Bears defense stiffened for two plays, forcing Oregon to face its first third down of the game -- a third-and-seven play from the 10 that resulted in a touchdown toss to tight end Colt Lyerla. If not for a holding penalty on the two-point conversion, Oregon would have opened the game with an 8-0 lead, but Ryan Clanton was called with the foul -- forcing the Ducks to kick the PAT for a 7-0 lead instead.
With the holidays fast upon us, the Oregon defense was in the spirit of giving on Cal's next drive of the game. Two pass interference penalties aided the Bears for 25 yards and two first downs. The second penalty put Cal on the Ducks' 29-yard line, and three plays later the home team capitalized on a 10-yard touchdown on a fade route to the back left corner of the end zone from Bridgford to freshman wide receiver Darius Powe to tie the game at seven.
Despite the ease with which Oregon's offense marched down the field on its first possession, the Cal defense did not make it easy the rest of the first quarter. If not for a controversial penalty thrown against Alex Logan for leading with the crown of his helmet, the Ducks would have been held to a field goal attempt from the 28-yard line.
Instead, Oregon was given a first down from the 14 yard line. Four plays later true freshman tailback Byron Marshall -- a local out of San Jose (Calif.) Valley Christian -- plunged into the end zone from the three to put the Ducks up 14-7 with 1:41 remaining in the first quarter.
Oregon's second touchdown drive of the night provided more entertainment than what football normally showcases -- after the Logan personal foul was called, a scuffle ensued between the offensive and defensive lines. Verbal barbs were thrown from both sides, but no extra penalty flags were thrown.
The drive by the Ducks did not go unanswered. The trio of Cal tailbacks -- Sofele, Anderson and Brendan Bigelow -- aided the effort with six combined carries for 57 yards. Sofele came up big with a 35-yard run and the Bears reached the Oregon five-yard line before the drive stalled, and the Bears settled for a Vince D'Amato field goal to close the scoring gap to 14-10.
As they did with California's first scoring drive, the Ducks answered the Bears' second strike with a field goal of their own -- resetting the lead to seven points at 17-10. The drive was completed without redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota, who left the field with an apparent left shoulder injury, after being tripped up after a 16-yard run to the Cal three-yard line. Mariota landed on his shoulder and couldn't continue the drive, but he was able to shake it off before the Ducks got the ball again, and finished the night going 27-for-34 for 377 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Bears put together a promising drive after the field goal, and got to the Oregon 23-yard line before a personal foul was called on center Brian Schwenke for 'hands to the face.' D'Amato was called on for a 49-yard attempt that had the distance, but missed wide right -- setting up the high-powered Ducks offense on their own 31-yard line with 2:02 remaining in the first half.
That was more than enough time for Mariota and the Ducks' offense. It took just 1:18 to put together an eight play, 69-yard drive that resulted with a 10-yard touchdown toss to junior wide out Josh Huff for the 24-10 halftime lead. Huff would finish the game with five catches for a game-high 109 yards, including three touchdowns.
With a sizable lead -- and total confidence in his offense -- Oregon head coach Chip Kelly chose to go for it on fourth-and-four from the Cal 29 on the first drive after the break, though the Ducks only got three yards, allowing the Bears to take possession from their own 26-yard line.
The Bears ran the ball on five of the next six plays, but the biggest gainer came on an 18-yard pass from Bridgford to redshirt freshman Maurice Harris to get to the Oregon 30 yard line.
Again, another personal foul on a Cal offensive lineman threatened the drive, as Tyler Rigsbee was called for a personal foul when he piled onto an Oregon player after the play was already dead. The foul put the Bears into a second-and-20 situation from the 45-yard line of the Ducks.
Rigsbee and his fellow linemen made up for the penalty, plowing the way for a big gain by Sofele. Needing 20 yards for the first down, the generously-listed 5-foot-8 spark plug put the offense on his shoulders with a 31-yard run, followed by a 10-yard run to the four yard line, and then plunging -- untouched -- into the end zone for the four-yard score.
"We were running the ball really well," Bridgford said. "We started getting down a bit, but we wanted to stick with the run because it worked so well ... That one drive, we ran the same play, three plays in a row, and scored a touchdown. He must have gotten 70 yards on that drive."
The 24-17 score at the 10:07 mark of the third quarter would allow the 57,672 in attendance -- and those watching from home -- to consider the possibility of this non-bowl team possibly upsetting the No. 2 team in the nation.
The fabric of that exciting possibility began to unravel three and a half minutes later when Bridgford was picked off by Oregon linebacker Boseko Lokombo at the Cal 35-yard line. Bridgford, who had played a nearly flawless game to that point, made the mistake of forcing a poor throw over the middle of the field while he was under duress.
A play later, Mariota found Huff in a soft part of the zone at the 25-yard line, and the receiver avoided the safety valve on his way to the end zone to put the Ducks up 31-17 with 6:20 remaining in the third quarter.
The consecutive plays were back breakers that the Bears never recovered from. The Ducks went on to score another three touchdowns in the fourth quarter on their way to the decisive victory.
- Senior wide receiver Ross Bostock got his first career start for Senior Day.
- Bridgford's second start yielded his first touchdown toss of his Cal career. His first start came against Nevada in the season opener due to Maynard being held out for disciplinary reasons.
- Bridgford's first touchdown pass was also Powe's first touchdown reception as a Bear.
- Sofele's 35-yard scamper in the first quarter was the longest gain on the ground agains the Oregon defense this season. Previous to Sofele's run, a 25-yard rush by Colorado's Christian Powell (10/27/2012) was the longest of the season.
- Sofele's performance gave him his eigth career 100-yard rushing game of his career. He now ranks 10th on Cal's all-time list for 100-yard games.
- The 134 yards Sofele gained on the ground was his most of 2012.
- Season attendance for the new Memorial Stadium is 391,130 -- an average of 55,876 per game.