Cal is 0-4 and are ranked 113th out of 116 Division IA teams for scoring defense. Oregon is 5-0 and are ninth in scoring offense. But if you listen to the teams’ head coaches, they make it sound as if the Ducks have been lucky, and the Bears simply the victims of plenty of bad breaks.
“Watching Cal, they’re the best 0-4 team I’ve seen,” Oregon’s Mike Bellotti said this week. “Cal is a quality team that hasn’t gotten any breaks yet. If they do, watch out.”
Cal head man Tom Holmoe looks at his team’s -13 turnover ratio, dead last in the Pac-10, compared to Oregon’s +11, best in the conference, and he sees opportunities slipping through his players’ fingers.
“We haven’t gotten the breaks,” Holmoe said. “The ball’s been on the ground, but we haven’t recovered it.”
Holmoe isn’t blind to the fact that his team has been plain sloppy with the ball, however. Eleven fumbles in four games isn’t just unlucky, it’s a lack of concentration and commitment to holding on to the ball. When a team like the Ducks has coughed it up just twice in five games, it’s obvious that something has to change.
“I don’t know if there’s a curse or a snakebite or what. Every game, we just don’t get the breaks,” Cal wide receiver Charon Arnold said. “But you don’t want to think about not fumbling, because you don’t want to get thoughts like that in your head.”
The Bears need to get something in their heads, and it would help if it involved taking the ball away from the opposition. They have forced just one turnover this season, an interception by cornerback LeShaun Ward against Washington State.
Perhaps Holmoe’s players can pick up some tips while watching game films of Oregon’s 63-28 pounding of Arizona last week. The Ducks proved to be masterful at converting turnovers into easy points, turning all five Arizona mistakes into touchdowns.
While the Cal offense has improved under new coordinator Al Borges, averaging 382 yards per game (up from 317 ypg last season), it hasn’t turned into points or wins yet. That could be because the Bears have started just two drives on their opponent’s half of the field, while allowing opponents to start on the easy side of midfield 13 times.
“When you can get a short field, that usually translates into points,” Holmoe said. “We just haven’t been able to get turnovers.”