Oregon-Cal game has special meaning for many who are involved
It's a family reunion each time Oregon and California play, and Saturday's early-season epic at Memorial Stadium will not be any different.
If he seriously dislikes Cal or its many former Ducks in any way, UO coach Mike Bellotti never shows it. It's never been about bad blood. It's about good, clean competition, he says.
'We're very close in ranking, we recruit a lot of the same people, we run the same defense, and there are 17 people in the support staff formerly from Oregon there who have a lot of intimate knowledge of us,' Bellotti says, eyeing the 5 p.m. matchup at Berkeley, Calif. 'It's a great group of coaches. I root for them, except when they're playing us.'
'It's like when you play against your brothers or relatives,' UO defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti says. 'You want to beat them even more.'
The home team has won the first three games since former Duck coordinator Jeff Tedford took over as Cal's head coach. Oregon and Kellen Clemens rallied in the fourth quarter in 2003 to win 21-17, an explosive Cal held on 28-27 after Keith Allen's dropped pass in 2004, and the Ducks won 27-20 in overtime in the rain and cold last season.
Oregon (4-0, 2-0 Pac-10) leads the Pac-10 in scoring average (40.2) and offensive yardage (497.0). Cal ranks second in both areas (38.4 and 452.2). Defensively, each team is somewhat vulnerable - the Ducks against the run, the Bears against the pass -but they emphasize speed and aggressiveness and making big plays.
Dennis Dixon leads the Pac-10 in passing yardage per game (258.0) and Cal's Nate Longshore ranks second (244.2), and each has a bevy of receivers. Jonathan Stewart leads the Pac-10 in rushing (114.2) and Cal's Marshawn Lynch ranks third (111.0), and each has a more-than-capable backup. Each offense features stellar offensive lines.
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Lynch chose the Bears over Oregon, after J.J. Arrington went the same route. Tedford got his first head coaching job after working with Bellotti. Jim Bartko, a right-hand man for UO booster Phil Knight, recently left the Ducks to help Cal build its athletic arsenal.
Dixon, who hails from San Leandro, Calif., watched a lot of Bear games at Memorial Stadium over the years, and Cal wanted him. 'No offense to Cal, but I wanted to get away from home,' he says. Saturday's game 'is not a rivalry to me, it's like a homecoming, like a reunion. I've got so many friends on Cal, I'm really looking forward to playing that game at that house. I'm pretty much used to that facility. All those fans, and they roar. It's loud in there.'
California has even made moves to use the spread offense, although Bellotti says he saw only about five spread plays in the Cal-ASU game two weeks ago.
'We're totally different offensively. There is very little connection,' Bellotti says.
The UO coach chafes at the suggestion that the Cal-Oregon game will be about who challenges USC for the Pac-10 title.
'I look at it as the next game,' Bellotti says.