BERKELEY -- The No. 2 Oregon Ducks showed off their prolific offense to a crowd of 57,672 at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. But the biggest play in their 59-17 win over Cal was delivered by the defense.
The Bears (3-8, 2-6 Pac-12) contained No. 2 Oregon's offensive attack for big chunks of the night. But with the Ducks (10-0, 7-0) clinging to a seven-point lead midway through the third quarter, linebacker Boseko Lokombo changed everything.
He intercepted Cal quarterback Allan Bridgford's first real mistake, and the Ducks' quick-strike offense had the opening it needed. Quarterback Marcus Mariota threw the third of his school-record-tying six TD passes on the next snap, a 35-yarder to Josh Huff for a 31-17 lead with 6:20 left in the third quarter.
It was never close again, and eventually grew to be the biggest margin of defeat in embattled Cal coach Jeff Tedford's 11 seasons.
"It can really get away from you in a hurry when they get it going," Tedford said. "It's very disappointing. We were playing well. We hadn't turned the football over."
Once they did, Oregon made the Bears pay.
The Cal defense mostly corralled star running back Kenjon Barner, who rushed for 321 yards and five touchdowns at USC the week before. Barner had 65 yards on 20 carries against the Bears.
"After what they did last week to USC, I thought we did a good job (defensively) in the running game," Tedford said. "But you've got to pick your poison against these guys."
Mariota, a redshirt freshman, was the poison that finished off the Bears. He was 27 for 34 for 377 yards, with three of his six TD passes going to Huff.
His 39-yarder down the middle extended the Oregon lead to 38-17 with 2:36 left in the third quarter. When he passed 14 yards to tight end Colt Lyerla just 31 seconds into the fourth quarter, the margin was 45-17. His 7-yarder to Will Murphy hiked the margin to 52-17 with 11:43 left.
The Bears played smart and hard for a while but could not avoid losing for the 10th straight time to a top-25 opponent.
Cal lost for a fifth home game for just the second time since 1984 and closes its season next Saturday at Oregon State. A loss there would send the Bears into the offseason riding a five-game losing streak for the first time since '84.
It would also leave Tedford's Cal future very much in question.
But for the third straight time, Cal gave the Ducks a first-half battle.
The Golden Bears, 281/2-point underdogs in their home finale, trailed by just a touchdown with 2 minutes left in the half. Then the explosive Ducks went 69 yards in just 1:18 to extend their lead to 24-10.
Cal led 15-14 at halftime in Eugene last year, then lost 43-15. In 2010, Cal allowed the Ducks just one offensive touchdown in a 15-13 defeat.
By the time this one was over, the Bears were on the wrong end of another one-sided defeat. This was the 15th time the past four seasons Cal has lost by a margin of at least 17 points. In Tedford's first seven seasons, that happened just twice.
The Bears played without senior starting quarterback Zach Maynard, who injured his knee last week, and star wide receiver Keenan Allen, who did the same a week earlier. Even at full strength, it would have been a tough assignment against an Oregon team that was leading the nation in scoring at 54.3 points per game, including an average of 36.0 points in the first half.
With the inexperienced Bridgford subbing at quarterback, Cal used strong running from senior Isi Sofele and a disciplined defensive effort to stay close for a while.
Sofele finished with 134 rushing yards, and Bridgford was 9 for 21 for 113 yards, including his first career touchdown pass, a 10-yarder to freshman Darius Powe in the first quarter. He also was intercepted twice, both in the second half.
"For his (second) start, against that team, he kept his composure. He managed the game well," Tedford said.
Cal trailed just 17-10 with 2:02 left in the first half when Oregon's no-huddle "blur" offense went to work. The Ducks needed just 1:18 to push its lead to 24-10 by the break, Mariota throwing a 10-yard TD pass to Huff with 44 seconds left.
The second half began ominously for the Bears when Keanon Lowe returned the opening kickoff 60 yards to the Cal 35. But Cal's defense held again, and the Bears took over at the 26.
Inspired, the offense went 74 yards in eight plays, with Sofele carrying five times for 54 yards, including the final 4 for the TD that made it 24-17 with 10:07 left in the third quarter.
n Besides Maynard and Allen, starting offensive tackle Matthew Summers-Gavin (knee) and wideout Bryce Treggs (ankle) sat out the game.