Cal seeks national statement vs. Ducks


Cal seeks national statement vs. Ducks

EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon and California both had last weekend off.

Not playing seems to be the only way for LaMichael James not to be putting up big numbers again.

The nation's leading rusher will be back in action Thursday night when the ninth-ranked Ducks look for their 19th straight home victory in a Pac-12 matchup with the Golden Bears.

James was considered a Heisman Trophy candidate after leading the nation with 144.3 rushing yards per game in 2010. This campaign got off to a poor start with a 54-yard effort in a season-opening 40-27 loss to then-No. 4 LSU on Sept. 3.

The gifted running back followed that up with 67 yards in a 69-20 rout of Nevada before going over 200 yards in back-to-back efforts.

James rushed for a school-record 288 yards and scored twice to become the Ducks' all-time leader in rushing touchdowns in a 56-31 win at Arizona on Sept. 24. His 43 scoring runs broke Derek Loville's school record of 42.

"I'm just really happy with the way the line blocked, without those guys I wouldn't be anything," James said. "I'm really happy with those guys. I feel like that record should be called the University of Oregon offensive line and LaMichael James record."

James is back on top among FBS rushers with 153.3 yards per game and has begun to quiet critics who felt the 20 pounds he gained in the offseason were slowing him down.

"I love it. I wish more people would write things about me," he said. "Because everybody's on the outside looking in, but who really knows? It's great motivation but that stuff really doesn't matter too much because I have the team, and they have my back."

James could face a stiff challenge Thursday. California (3-1, 0-1) owns the ninth-best rushing defense in the FBS, allowing 78.3 yards per game.

His averages of 104.5 yards and 4.2 per carry in two games against the Golden Bears represent his lowest versus any conference opponent.

"He truly doesn't care if he runs for 280 or 28. It's about the team," coach Chip Kelly said, "and he'll be the first to tell you the only awards he's concerned with are team awards."

The offense has been bolstered by the steady play of Darron Thomas, who has thrown 11 touchdowns and no interceptions during this three-game win streak since the disappointing opener.

The Ducks (3-1, 1-0) have not lost at home since falling 37-32 to Boise State on Sept. 20, 2008.

Oregon has won two straight in this series after losing the previous three meetings. The then-No. 1 Ducks scored their fewest points during their 12-0 regular season in last year's 15-13 road win.

James had a difficult game with a season-worst 3.1 per-carry rushing average, and he failed to reach the end zone for the only time in his last 16 games. It was his first matchup against a defense guided by former NFL coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

Cal, however, allowed All-American Cliff Harris to return a punt 64 yards for the Ducks' only first-half touchdown, and also saw Giorgio Tavecchio miss a 29-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.

Tavecchio has made all five field-goal attempts this year, although he has had three of 20 extra points blocked.

Oregon will get its first look at Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard, who threw for a career-high 349 yards with one touchdown in Cal's 31-23 loss at Washington on Sept. 24 to start Pac-12 play.

The Golden Bears were forced to settle for three short field goals from Tavecchio.

"In tight games against good opponents in conference, you have to come up with more touchdowns than field goals," said coach Jeff Tedford, who was Oregon's offensive coordinator from 1998-2001 before joining Cal.

Tedford's team has dropped eight straight against top-10 opponents.

"We've got to get after it," defensive lineman Trevor Guyton said. "We can't afford to rest up or do anything like that. We've got to go hard."

Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice


Irvin, Mack given a day off from Raiders practice

ALAMEDA – Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin were out at Raiders practice Wednesday for the stretching period. Both edge rushers left one-at-a-time during the individual period, which was open to the press, headed into the main building and did not return.

There was no perceived reaction, certainly no surprise, from the coaching staff or players on the field. Irvin and new defensive coordinator John Pagano were seen joking around on the field before practice began in earnest. 

Both Irvin and Mack were given a practice off, one scheduled earlier in the day. A Raiders official called it a day off/rest-type day that was not injury related. The Silver and Black typically practice in pads or shells on Wednesday, but were in jerseys and sweats in the interest of recovery.

This day off's timing did raise an eyebrow.

Wednesday marked the first practice Irvin has missed since training camp. Mack hasn’t missed one in months.

Mack and Irvin’s downtime also came a day after beloved defensive coordinator Ken Norton’s firing.

Mack and Irvin especially were among those loyal to Norton. Mack and Norton developed a bond after the coach was named defensive coordinator in 2015. Norton and Irvin go way back to their days together in Seattle. Irvin credits Norton for helping him get on the right path and stay there.

Neither player was happy Norton got the axe. Irvin made his displeasure clear, tweeting “BULLS***” shortly after news of Norton’s demise broke. Mack told ESPN “I like to keep my thoughts private.”

It isn’t immediately clear if the non-injury related day off was related to Norton’s dismissal. Head coach Jack Del Rio won’t speak to the media again until Friday. New defensive coordinator John Pagano is scheduled to speak Thursday afternoon.

Del Rio addressed the media before Wednesday’s practice, and was asked how he’ll handle players unhappy with the in-season shake-up.

“I don’t try and 'handle' them,” Del Rio said. “I think the biggest thing is to understand the relationship, respect that, give him a little space and then at the end of the day, we’re going to get on with our work. But, I’m human. It wasn’t easy for me either.”

Del Rio: 'Nobody should feel comfortable,' following Norton firing


Del Rio: 'Nobody should feel comfortable,' following Norton firing

ALAMEDA – Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio put out a statement Tuesday explaining why he fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

He went into greater detail Wednesday afternoon, his first time facing the media since a change was made

Specifics will be discussed further down this story. We don’t, however, want to bury the lede.

Del Rio’s main message wasn’t about Norton. It applied to all in Silver and Black. This season has not met lofty expectations. That is unacceptable.

“I know one thing,” Del Rio said. “Nobody should feel comfortable, because what I’ve been watching is not good enough.”

Del Rio didn’t absolve himself from blame. Norton got fired, but everyone has played a part in this disappointing 4-6 record.

“It’s always shared,” Del Rio said. “A change was made, obviously. We all share in it, all of us, starting with me. It’s coaches and players. It’s a team game, and we’re all in it together. And nobody is coming to help us.”

The Raiders must look inward to start a prolonged winning streak they’ve shown little evidence they can create.

The seat will be warm under players and coaches alike, even if only one change was made. Expect further shakeup on the coaching staff after the season, if vast improvements don’t come down the stretch, possibly with several position coaches being shown the door. More than a few higher profile players could be cut or allowed to leave, especially on defense.

While Del Rio has taken more heat the past month than at any other time in his Raiders tenure, expect him to be around a longer term. He was given a contract extension in February, and has significant capitol built after changing the culture in Oakland and re-teaching this team how to win. One bad year, even if this season continues heading downhill, shouldn’t erase that.

Del Rio was looking to shake things up, and Norton was the obvious move. Experienced play caller John Pagano was on staff – he was Chargers defensive coordinator from 2012-2016 – and firing the popular Pagano’s style could create some new waves and looks that any offensive Norton would make an impact in the locker room and prove this story’s opening quote, that no one should feel comfortable.

Del Rio hopes firing Norton will be a shock to the defense’s system.

“I really felt like I needed to shake things up,” Del Rio said. “We couldn’t continue doing what we’ve been doing to this point. So I made the call. The whole idea is to change what we’re doing and make sure…what I’m looking for at the end of the day is for us to play fast on defense. We weren’t playing fast enough. We weren’t playing confident enough.”