California's strategy for stopping Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon? Rattle him.
It worked last year when the Golden Bears intercepted Dixon's first pass in Berkeley and went on to a 45-24 victory. Perhaps the same will succeed Saturday when the No. 11 Ducks host sixth-ranked Cal (4-0, 1-0 Pac-10).
"I feel like we're already in his head before we even started. Any quarterback, you can always get into his head if you try," said Bears safety Brandon Hampton, who intercepted that first pass.
Cal picked off Dixon three times in the game a season ago. Oregon (4-0, 1-0) went on to lose five of its next eight games, and Dixon was benched in favor of Brady Leaf in the final regular season game against Oregon State.
Then Dixon took off to play baseball with the Atlanta Braves organization during the summer, leaving some to question his commitment to the team.
But the talented senior rejoined the Ducks this fall and embraced new offensive coordinator Chip Kelly's speedy, no-huddle, spread-option schemes.
Now four victories into the season, Dixon has thrown for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. He's run for four more scores, including a faked Statue of Liberty play against Michigan at the Big House.
He ranks fourth in the nation in passing efficiency and leads the league in total offense, with an average of nearly 306 yards.
"His running and his confidence is impressive. He gives them a chance to win every game, even more so than last year, I think. They spread the offense, and then Dixon gets his rushes," Hampton said. "It's kind of sneaky."
That said, California's defense will turn up the pressure on Dixon.
"You put enough hits on a guy, he'll get rattled, no matter who he is. That's not to say he's soft, because he gets up from every hit I've seen, but you can rattle any guy," linebacker Worrell Williams said.
The Golden Bears are ranked fourth in the Pac-10 in total defense (361 yards), with the linebackers leading the way. They've combined for 132 tackles, 5.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception. However, they will be without Zack Follett, who has a neck stinger.
Cal's defense has scored twice on fumble recoveries.
Dixon is well aware of Cal's defense &
it did sting him last year, after all.
"They're a great team and you can never underestimate a defense, to tell you the truth. You never know what they're going to throw at you," he said. "You have to anticipate the hard and react to the easy."
The Ducks have a seven-game winning streak against Cal at Autzen Stadium. Cal coach Jeff Tedford, former offensive coordinator for Oregon, has yet to win in Eugene with the Bears.
The last Cal road win against the Ducks came in 1987.
"This will be definitely the toughest game we've played so far," Hampton said.
"I feel that every week is a tough game, but this game is more important because we have that rivalry with Oregon. They have a great team, and I'm sure they will be in the running for the Pac-10 towards the end of the season."
Bears hope to get in Dixon's head