Which team Oregon shows up with on Saturday will go a long way into determining who the Ducks are and what kind of coach Mario Cristobal is.
Oregon is coming off one of the more gut-wrenching losses of the college football season — a 38-31 overtime defeat to No. 7 Stanford. A game in which in the Ducks were the more physical and all-around dominant team but thanks to a few miscues, ended in with the bad result.
How will Oregon recover from the game against Stanford? Will it destroy the Ducks’ confidence and be a reminder that they still have a way to go to be considered great? Or will that game serve as a launching point, a constant reminder that you need to play the full 60 minutes, and spearhead Oregon’s trip back to elite status?
"When you look at the way we played, and how we played; with passion, intensity, and a tremendous amount of effort, you see a lot of positive things," Cristobal said. "The biggest thing is that these conference games — which are like playoffs games — a full 60 minutes is a full 60 minutes. Every single play is as important as any other one… you have to stay focused and on task the entire time.”
Oregon will get the answer to these questions when they face off with Cal — an undefeated team ranked No. 24 in the nation with a win over No. 20 BYU.
A lackluster performance at Cal will show that the Ducks don’t have the mental fortitude to recover from the brutal loss. It’ll show that Cristobal isn’t the best coach at getting his team through the adversity that comes with college football.
But, a good performance and a win has the potential to erase all of the doubt from the loss against Stanford. If the Ducks come out and play a full 60 minutes, it’ll show how mentally tough this team is — that it has the strong mentality to match its physical strength.
"We did everything we could to help Stanford win the game,” quarterback Justin Herbert said. “But we're going to stick together… we're not going let it define us."
Cal is no cakewalk, though.
“Cal is doing a great job, 3-0,” Cristobal said. “They cracked the top-25 this week, deservedly so.”
The Golden Bears possess and aggressive defense that is one of the best at forcing interceptions. Their seven interceptions are tied for second in the nation while safeties Jaylin Hawkins and Ashtyn Davis lead the team with three and two interceptions, respectively.
"What they've shown is a tremendous amount of playmaking ability on defense," Cristobal said. "They do a great job in the secondary."
A lot is riding on Cristobal as well. He's been placed under a microscope after the entire nation is questioning his play-calling ability on Oregon’s final drive in regulation last week. Instead of taking a knee and punting to the Cardinal with 7-10 seconds left, Cristobal opted to continue running the ball. A fumble eventually led to a game-tying field goal by Stanford, who went on to win in overtime, completing the 17-point comeback.
If Cristobal shows up with an Oregon team that lacks fire and fight, it will be seen as a major letdown for a program hoping to return to national prominence. Cristobal must inspire the Ducks to a victory and keep their season alive.
Last week, the entire nation found how physically strong the Ducks were. Now the entire nation will now find out how mentally tough they are.