College Football

No. 21 Oregon looks to rebound against winless California

(AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

By JANIE McCAULEY

AP Sports Writer

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) Oregon's mistakes and costly turnovers on offense are perplexing for third-year coach Mario Cristobal, because it just hasn't been this way in recent seasons.

Five lost fumbles and four interceptions in four games. The Ducks have discussed the problems as a team, as position units.

"That is one of the more disappointing things. We've been really good about not turning the ball over here for a couple of years," Cristobal said. "This year we've gotten careless. ... The things that have caused it have been mental effort-oriented, detail-oriented that can and will be eliminated with work and more effort and more attention to detail. Those things are frustrating, they're disappointing and our players are upset about it."

Oregon (3-1) will try to clean up the miscues and learn from a 41-38 loss to rival Oregon State last week that dropped the Ducks from ninth in the AP poll to No. 21. The loss cost the Ducks whatever shot they had at a spot in the College Football Playoff after they had been ranked 15th in the first CFP rankings but are now 23rd.

The realistic goal now as they prepare to face California on Saturday is a Pac-12 championship.

The winless Golden Bears (0-3) have had their own issues with special teams. They had a would-be tying extra point attempt blocked in the waning moments of a 24-23 loss to rival Stanford in the Big Game last Friday in Berkeley.

The next daunting test on their home field is with the Ducks, who are coming off their demoralizing late defeat.

Oregon quarterback Tyler Shough threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions last week. He has four interceptions in all.

STOPPING THE RUN

The Ducks' run defense had few answers for Oregon State star Jermar Jefferson, who went off for 226 yards and two touchdowns, one of those a career-best 82-yard TD run.

"Technique and fundamentals have really got to improve," Cristobal said. "The way you come off the football, the way you strike your blockers, the way you maintain gap control. All the things that go with playing great run defense, that we have done before, have got to be rectified."

Cal running back Christopher Brown Jr. has been limited in his touches by an injury but coach Justin Wilcox was hopeful he would continue to get more reps this week because "we really would like to be a balanced offense."

"Chris is continuing to improve. He's a real competitive guy, he's a tough guy," Wilcox said. "We had to work through some things on the injury front."

DYNAMIC DUO

Cal's run defense is sure to be tested, too.

In the last two meetings against the Bears, both won by Oregon, Ducks junior running backs CJ Verdell and Travis Dye have combined for 391 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.

CONTINGENCY PLANS

With Santa Clara County's health department directive keeping teams from playing games or practicing for three weeks, Wilcox and Cal are preparing for what could happen in their part of the Bay Area.

"We are well aware of what's happening and I know there's contingency preparation for what could come down the road," Wilcox said. "I think it's an hour-by-hour, day-by-day battle we're in. We'll be good neighbors and teammates if we need to be."

CAL'S MISCUES

Wilcox insisted he needed to coach better given all the mistakes on special teams against Stanford: a muffed punt, a blocked field goal and the PAT that Thomas Booker swatted down with his elbow at the end.

An extra point should be a high-percentage point for the kicking team, Wilcox said.

"We've got to coach better and give them the tools to go out and be successful in the game," Wilcox said.

This is the Bears' last scheduled home game with a tough trip to Pullman, Washington, coming up next weekend to face Washington State.

INJURY UPDATES

Oregon wide receiver Mycah Pittman is set to return from an unspecified absence that wasn't disciplinary. Running back CJ Verdell was dinged up against Oregon State but is expected to be OK.

Cal freshman defensive end Ethan Saunders is out for the rest of the year.

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AP Sports Writer Anne M. Peterson in Portland contributed to this report.

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Updated December 3, 2020

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