BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Oregon's defensive line was so depleted that backup tight end Koa Ka'ai and two other freshmen were pressed into emergency duty.
Big-play running back Kenjon Barner was bottled up all night so freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota put the game on his arm.
Oregon overcame numerous hurdles to beat California 59-17 on Saturday night to move into the top spot in The Associated Press poll with just three weeks left in the regular season.
"That's always been our philosophy," coach Chip Kelly said of the "next man up" mantra. "We really got tested with it today. Our guys did a nice job. I can't say enough about what that young defensive line did."
The Ducks (10-0, 7-0 Pac-12) were without four of their top five linemen coming into the game and then lost defensive tackle Taylor Hart in the first quarter to another injury.
While Isi Sofele and the Golden Bears (3-8, 2-6) were able to run the ball effectively for 2½ quarters, freshman Arik Armstead forced the interception that turned the momentum in the third quarter and the banged-up defense kept Cal off the scoreboard for the final 25 minutes of the game.
"Just because they're low on the depth chart doesn't mean they're not going to play," safety Brian Jackson said. "They showed that today. They were able to step in with the big boys. They came in and we didn't see any letdown. I saw different numbers and different names in front of me but I didn't see any difference in the play."
The Ducks survived the litany of injuries to the front four and a possibly season-ending injury to safety Avery Patterson to win their 13th straight game and move into the top spot in the poll following Alabama's 29-23 loss to Texas A&M earlier in the day.
The only other time the Ducks held the top ranking came in 2010, when they were No. 1 for seven weeks before being passed by Auburn late in the final regular season poll in 2010.
Oregon, No. 2 Kansas State and third-ranked Notre Dame are the only undefeated FBS teams left who are eligible for the postseason and are fighting for the two spots in the BCS title game.
But that's not what the Ducks are worried about right now.
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