First-year Pac-12 coaches to clash in Cal vs. Oregon
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — The introduction to Pac-12 play wasn’t so great for Oregon’s Willie Taggart and Cal’s Justin Wilcox.
Each new coach lost his first game of the season in his league opener, setting up Saturday night’s meeting at Autzen Stadium.
The Golden Bears (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) fell 30-20 at home last weekend to USC when the Trojans forced four turnovers and outscored the Golden Bears 17-7 in a frenzied fourth quarter.
For Wilcox, who replaced Sonny Dykes at Cal, it was a teaching moment.
“They played really hard and left it out on the field, and it wasn’t good enough because we didn’t maximize the opportunity that we had,” he said. “There is no category for a moral victory. No matter the outcome you’re always going to take the lessons from each game. You grow from every experience you have. That’s important.”
Wilcox is from Eugene and played at Oregon, where he completed a degree in anthropology. He’s not too sentimental about the homecoming — he’s been back numerous times with opposing teams. But some of that familiarity is helpful in preparing his team.
“When the offense has the ball it’s going to be really loud,” he said. “You have to work silent counts and prepare them as best we can. Quite a few guys have been there so they know.”
Oregon (3-1, 0-1) fell 37-35 at Arizona State last Saturday in a game decided on Brandon Ruiz’s 41-yard field goal with 2:33 left. The Sun Devils’ defense stopped two Oregon drives in the final minutes.
The Ducks, who dropped out of the Top 25 with the loss, have responded well in the aftermath, said Taggart, who took over for Mark Helfrich.
“Everyone takes credit when we win and I think when we lose we should all take credit for that loss,” Taggart said. “Our guys showed that the other night, coaches and players. It shows it means a lot to them and that losing sucks. When the guys feel that way you get excited because you know they’re going to go out and see to it that it doesn’t happen again.”
CONNECTIONS: The Wilcox family was close to Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert’s family early on — a relationship forged when Wilcox’s dad played for Oregon with Herbert’s grandfather.
While Wilcox played down the connection because he moved away from Oregon some 17 years ago, he has tremendous respect for the Herberts and has been following the young quarterback’s career.
“They’re great people. I’ve known them for a long, long time. A ton of respect for his family. They’re great folks and he’s a really, really talented guy,” the coach said.
PILING UP PENALTIES: The Ducks have 42 penalties through their first four games, making them the second-most penalized team nationally. Oregon had 14 penalties for 99 yards in last week’s loss to Arizona State.
“I said it to our team after the game: We’re not good enough to beat ourselves and try to win Pac-12 games,” Taggart said. “We have to play clean ballgames and not have that many penalties or dropped balls and expect to win those games.”
STANDING BEHIND BOWERS: Cal QB Ross Bowers completed 22 of 40 passes for 303 yards and a touchdown against the Trojans, but had four interceptions and two lost fumbles. Wilcox said he’ll learn from it.
“He’s not the first quarterback to have a game like that. Ross did some good things. It was just at the end it got away from him a little bit. Obviously the quarterback’s always going to get the attention but not every turnover was on Ross,” the coach said.
UNCLE MO: Taggart was caught on camera during the Arizona State loss giving an animated lecture to Tony Brooks-James, who celebrated a touchdown by spiking the ball and earned one of the Ducks’ many penalties.
“That day I was ticked off that he got that penalty after making a great play,” Taggart said. “That was a teaching lesson again for us. Had to explain to him, ‘Hey, you made a great play there. Our football team’s coming back, we’ve got the momentum. We can’t let Uncle Mo get back on their side through something selfish we can control.’”
Taggart said the cameras didn’t see when Taggart went back and told Brooks-James he loved him.
HISTORY: California leads the all-time series against Oregon 40-37-2. The Golden Bears won 52-49 in double-overtime last year in Berkeley to end Oregon’s seven-game winning streak in the series. The Ducks are 13-6 against Cal at Autzen Stadium.