Oregon prepares to visit Cal in matchup of struggling Ds

The last time Oregon traveled south to play California, the teams wound up scoring a combined 100 points.

Two years later, it’s hard to imagine the scoreboard getting much less of a workout when the defense-challenged Ducks (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12) and Bears (3-3, 1-2) meet Friday night.

Oregon is surrendering 41.8 points per game — 125th nationally out of 128 FBS teams — and is coming off a 70-21 loss two weeks ago to No. 5 Washington. Cal ranks 123rd, allowing 40.0 points per game, and has not held the Ducks under 43 in a game since 2010.

Cal coach Sonny Dykes, whose Bears lost 59-41 to Oregon at Levi’s Stadium in 2014, can relate to the Ducks’ defensive downturn.

“Sometimes when you can’t stop the run, it makes it hard to play good defense,” he said. “We’ve dealt with that at times this year. It’s hard the way people play offense now.”

For Oregon, which began the season ranked No. 24 but hasn’t won since Sept. 10 against Virginia, getting a win over anyone would provide an “immeasurable” boost to the team’s confidence, coach Mark Helfrich said.

Helfrich wants practices to be tougher than games, convinced that will lead to success.

“Now it’s a matter of, ‘Hey, when you’re going against this guy who’s a fifth-year senior and you’re a redshirt freshman, or there’s 50,000 screaming people — whatever the situation — you execute exactly how you practice,’ ” he said. “That’s all we need. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Cal’s tendency is to throw the ball, but the Bears ran for a season-high 317 yards two weeks ago at Oregon State. That has the Ducks’ attention.

“We can’t stop the run very well right now,” cornerback Arrion Springs said. “They’ve got some really good running backs and they’re going to want to run the ball. Everyone wants to run the ball on us.”

Dykes is convinced there is a good Oregon defense waiting to show itself.

“They have a lot of players who have been successful. They know how to win,” he said. “It’s a good football team that hasn’t played their best. I’m sure they will.”

Here are some things to watch when Oregon visits Cal:

WEBB YES, HANSEN MAYBE: Quarterback Davis Webb, who leads the Pac-12 with 2,256 yards passing and has thrown 22 touchdowns, will start for the Bears. Webb injured the thumb on his throwing hand two weeks ago, but returned to practice Sunday after the bye week and said he is feeling fine.

Less certain is the status of wideout Chad Hansen, the Pac-12’s leading receiver, who sprained his ankle against Oregon State. Dykes said he expects Hansen to play, but acknowledged he’s not sure how effective he will be.

BEARS AFTER BYES: Cal is hoping the bye week finally provides some benefit. The Bears are 0-5 under Dykes after byes, including a 45-40 loss at San Diego State this season after getting an extra week to acclimate following a long trip to Australia to play Hawaii. Cal has allowed an average of 45.4 points in those five defeats, which included a 55-16 loss to No. 2 Oregon back in Dykes’ debut season of 2013.

YOUNG DUCKS: In addition to using a freshman quarterback in Justin Herbert, who made his starting debut against Washington, Oregon is the only FBS school in the country that has started four freshmen offensive linemen in the same game. Oregon emerged from fall camp with four redshirt freshmen having secured starting spots: Calvin Throckmorton (right tackle), Brady Aiello (left tackle) Jake Hanson (center) and Shane Lemieux (left guard) all start for the Ducks. Three of the four have started every game, with Aiello in the starting unit four of six games.

JUST THE NEXT GAME: No one has to tell Dykes how the Bears have fared on his watch against the Ducks.

“This is my fourth year and I know we haven’t beat them yet. We haven’t played particularly well against them,” Dykes said.

In fact, Cal is 0-12 against Oregon, Stanford, USC and UCLA during Dykes’ tenure. Oregon has won seven straight overall against Cal.

ROUGH START: Oregon is 0-3 in the Pac-12 for the first time since 1996 and has lost four straight games overall for the first time since 2006. But the Ducks have some history on their side: They are 27-4 in conference road games since 2009, best of any Power 5 team.

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