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Looking Back on ’07: Washington State

(We continue our hugely unpopular look at The Half Season Of Which We Shall Not Speak (THSOFWWSNS) with the WSU game. Go here for past posts.)

The pre-game Storyline:
The Bears had been through hell and back in the last 3 weeks. When the fans looked at the Washington State game before the season started they saw it as a trap game for the Bears, concerned the Bears would overlook the Cougs with USC coming to town the following week. With the 3 game losing streak crushing everyone’s dreams in Berkeley, the WSU game was now a desperately needed opportunity for the Bears to get back on track and put another hash mark in the win column.

The pre-game Reality:
WSU was every bit as bad as everyone hoped, in fact, probably more so with their deceptive win over UCLA clouding people’s judgment as to how good they could be. It was exactly what the struggling Bears needed.

The key plays:

  • Hicks lays a big hit on 3rd down forcing an incomplete pass in what would otherwise have been a 1st down that would have put WSU in Cal territory on their first possession.
  • Longshore completed his first 8 passes, all dinks and dunks, but looks in good form. His first incomplete pass was a would-be touchdown pass that Brian Holley dropped.
  • QB sneak on 2nd and goal from the 1 yard-line is thwarted by WSU.
  • Forsett runs for an easy TD on a sweep play. Bears go up early: 7-0
  • Opening drive is a promising one: 17 plays, nearly 8 minutes taken off the clock, 5 for 5 on 3rd down and Longshore 8 of 9 passing.
  • WSU’s QB Brink over throws an open receiver on what should have been a WSU TD.
  • Brink puts too much air under another would-be TD that gives DeCoud time to catch up and bat the ball away.
  • Longshore has his first bad pass of the day on their 2nd possession, way under throwing Hawkins, for an interception at midfield.
  • Later in the 2nd quarter, Cal goes for it on 4th and 4 from the WSU 42 yard-line, completing the pass and extending the drive.
  • DeSean Jackson runs a reverse down into the redzone.
  • Bears unable to convert on goal-line possession ending with an easily stopped option play (with the gimpy Longshore!?!) on 3rd down. Field-goal attempt by Kay is good. Bears increase lead: 10-0
  • WSU doesn’t atempt 4th down conversion from Cal 38, and punt sails into endzone for 18 yard net punt.
  • Bear have first 3 and out of the game.
  • Cal gets a gift of an interception when Brink floats another would be TD pass allowing Hicks to get back in the play. His tipped ball goes right to Syd’Quan Thompson who runs it back across midfield.
  • Cal had over 20 minutes of possession time in the 1st half.
  • WSU does a short kickoff to start the 2nd half which Brian Holley takes across midfield
  • Longshore bumbles a snap for a fumble and the 2nd turnover lost for the Bears.
  • Another would-be TD pass by Brink is barely tipped by Syd and receiver drops the ball. Ball should have been caught
  • WSU converts on 4th and 5 from Cal 30 to extend their drive.
  • Drive stalls and WSU kicks the Field Goal. Bears lead down to one TD: 10-3
  • Cal marches down the field with dinks and dunks but stalls in the redzone. Lead back to 10 on Kay Field Goal: 13-3
  • A couple drives later, now in the 4th quarter, WSU returns the favor with a very similar drive and the same result. Back to a single TD lead: 13-6.
  • Longshore, despite looking ever more gimpy, completes a couple of key passes including a 15 yard strike to Hawkins and a long pass to Jackson down to the 1 yard-line.
  • Forsett fumbles on the goal-line, Cal’s 3rd turnover of the game, losing the opportunity to seal the victory.
  • Hicks make a play on an interception and misses, and WSU WR Gibson takes the pass for 60 yards down to the Cal 35. Only a speedy recovery by DeCoud prevents the tying TD.
  • Cal defense holds from there forcing the field goal. Lead is down to 4: 13-9
  • Forsett breaks his only big run of the game for a 44 yard TD. Bear lead finally back over one score: 20-9.
  • Brink is nearly tackled for a safety but rolls away from it and finds Gibson down the field behind a nearly sleeping Hicks, for another 60 yard completion.
  • WSU completes a 4th and 7 with 0:35 left in the game to keep their hopes alive.
  • Brink completes a nice pass into the corner of the endzone.
  • WSU converts the 2-Point conversion when the receiver rolls over the Cal defender preventing his knee from touching down (debatable) and barely reaching the endzone. Bear lead down to a Field Goal: 20-17.
  • Cal recovers the attempted onside kick to end WSU’s comeback threat.

The forgotten

  • Cal yet again is ineffective in the redzone. Between Forsett’s fumble and the failed goal-line stands, Cal only converted one touchdown in all their redzone chances (other TD came from outside the redzone).
  • WSU, although mostly ineffective on offense, had a number of close calls, that had the passes been complete could have easily won them the game.
  • Cal dominated the time of possession in this game but surprisingly the WSU defense seemed unaffected by all the time on the field.
  • Longshore was as gimpy as ever in this game, following his pattern of looking good early, but as the pain increased throughout the game looking more and more ineffective.
  • Follett really came into his own in this game blitzing off the edge including a key sack in the 4th quarter.

The post-game storyline:
The Bears had managed to get back to their winning ways, albeit in a little bit of an underwhelming fashion. While hopes weren’t all that high that the Bears could get back to their early season form at this point and knock of USC the following week, with Washington and Stanford still on the schedule, this game proved that the Bears had a couple more wins in them. 8-4, the record on making those assumptions, would be a letdown but considering the rough 3 game stretch, would be acceptable

The post-game reality:
In reality WSU was an even weaker team than fans appreciated. The Bears ineffectiveness on offense and their defense inconsistency was a really bad sign for how the Bears would perform against other relatively weak teams, but better than WSU, later on the schedule. Add in that this uninspired performance was at home and those later games were on the road and there was more trouble brewing on the horizon than people understood.

The 2007 learnings:

  • Longshore’s injury was clearly not limited to a sprain. It have been 5 weeks since he injured himself at Oregon and he was as gimpy as ever. Whether it was the injury itself being worse than reported (like, say, oh, I don’t know, a chipped bone in his ankle) or his bad form was the result of Longshore psychologically unable to return to good throwing form was unclear at this point.
  • The defenses penchant for giving up the big play at the wrong time, exhibited by continually letting WSU back in the game when only a long pass could save them, was showing through.
  • The interceptions were piling up and a bad sign as Cal continues to lose the turnover battle despite the loss.

The conclusion
This was one uninspiring game. However, even in re-watching it I felt blinded to the implications of the uninspired play focusing more on wanting to see the Bears win a game with the painful memories of the recently watched losses still in my mind and USC looming next. While it’s easy to see how this was a sign of how demotivated this team was, it’s also very easy to see why most Bear fans were blind to those signs at the time.

Looking back on ’07: Arizona State

(We continue our look at The Half Season Of Which We Shall Not Speak (THSOFWWSNS) with the ASU game. Go here for past posts.)

The pre-game Storyline:
It was the worst of the worst of times in Berkeley. The Bears had not only blown their shot at #1 but had gone on to lose two in a row. The Bears were now only ranked as a has been. Longshore had come out gimpy against UCLA, would he get back to form against ASU? Also, how for real was this undefeated but completely untested ASU team with their shiny new head coach.

The pre-game Reality:
Two weeks in a row of an underachieving offense gave all future opponents of the Bears a roadmap of how to beat them. It was no longer about just getting back on track, it was about retooling the team to adjust for their exposed weakness. Add to this a lowered sense of confidence and the knowledge that only a handful of lucky breaks could vault the Bears back into the Rose Bowl hunt, and the Bears were very vulnerable.

The key plays:

  • Cal gets a sack on Rudy Carpenter on the very first drive of the game, forcing a 3-and-out for ASU.
  • Longshore’s first two throws of the game are mis-throws, a bad sign of things to come.
  • 44 yard field goal attempt by Kay was blocked on the Bears first drive.
  • Carpenter is sacked again, forcing a fumble that Cameron Jordon picks up en-route to the endzone. Bears go up early: 7-0
  • After another ASU 3-and-out, Kay makes a 41 yarder. Bears extended lead: 10-0
  • After ANOTHER ASU 3-and-out Forsett breaks a big run on a swingout pass getting down to ASU 30.
  • Longshore completes a nice pass over the middle to Stevens to get the ball down to the ASU 6.
  • ASU defense holds forcing another Kay field goal. Bears have 4 scoring chances but only up: 13-0
  • Carpenter nearly burns the Bears on a long TD throw, but the wide receiver drops the ball.
  • ASU running back Nance finds a big hole for a long TD run. Bears lead shrinks: 13-7
  • 2 passes from Longshore to Jordan and a reverse by Forsett puts Bears back in the redzone.
  • Long fade pattern to DeSean Jackson complete for the first offensive touchdown for the Bears: 20-7
  • Offside penalty nullifies Hampton interception.
  • ASU converts on 4th and 1 from just outside redzone to keep drive alive.
  • Cal gives up 2nd 4th and 1 on drive, this time on an illegal substitution penalty.
  • ASU finally converts on goal-line series after the series of penalties and mis-steps by Bears. Lead drops to 6 again: 20-14
  • Cal gets huge break on DeSean’s dropped punt return that would have given ball to ASU in Cal redzone with a minute left in the half. Instead, Cal gets the ball because the ref blew his whistle.
  • Cal’s yardage edge in 1st half: 270-95. Score of 20-14 doesn’t do justice to Cal domination in 1st half.
  • Carpenter completes 3 big passes to get from the shadow of his own goal-line into the Cal redzone very quickly.
  • ASU converts third 4th and 1 in redzone, this one going for a TD. Bears in their first deficit: 20-21
  • ASU converts a 47 yard field goal. Bears in 4 point hole: 20-24
  • Longshore WAY under throws Jackson on what should have been an easy TD pass but instead was an interception.
  • Longshore throws a second pick as his limping was becoming more severe. Throw was a bad read over the middle with nothing on it.
  • With defense back on the field twice quickly after picks, they look tired as ASU running game starts working.
  • To make matters worse, Rulon Davis goes down injured.
  • Carpenter completes a TD pass on seam pattern. Bears in real trouble midway through 4th quarter: 20-31
  • Cal goes 3-and-out as Longshore continues to look gimpy.
  • ASU runs out clock on a 6 minute drive against a tired Cal defense, even with Cal’s 3 timeouts being used. Game over: 20-31

The forgotten

  • Cal was extremely ineffective, point wise, in the 1st half. 5 scoring opportunities inside the ASU 30 resulted in only 13 points (other 7 came from defense).
  • At the same time, ASU was extremely efficient with THREE 4th down conversions and all four redzone trips going for touchdowns.
  • There were a TON of penalties in this game. I think Cal ended up with 13 and ASU had their share as well.
  • Cal didn’t score at all in the 2nd half of the game.
  • The only thing that went Cal’s way was the “instant” replays. All 3 of them went Cal’s way.
  • I put the quotes around “instant” because these were the longest reviews in the history of college football. Two of them combined took close to a half hour of real time.
  • That along with other slowing factors made this the longest game I’ve put on DVD. Even with all the commercials pulled out I couldn’t fit it on one DVD without significantly cutting into the content (including removing the entire set of “instant” replay reviews). It was a full 3 hours of content even so and over 4 1/2 hours real time.

The post-game storyline:
It was impossible to imagine the Bears sinking any lower. The Rose Bowl was now officially out of reach even though there were a couple of mathematically possible scenarios for the Bears to still make it. All that was left to fight for was pride. With Washington State on the schedule for the following week, it was hoped that the painful roadtrip could be put behind them and set the team up to get back on track before USC came to town in two weeks.

The post-game reality:
Longshore was every bit as injured as his performance indicated. It was particularly obvious in the 2nd half when the pain-killer shots had worn off. The teams weaknesses were fully exposed. That said, there was still a good deal of talent on this team if they could put the pieces back together.

The 2007 learnings:

  • This was the first game where the Bears ineffectiveness around the redzone really showed.
  • For the 2nd week in a row penalties were a killer for the Bears and there was little reason to believe it was just bad luck, but undisciplined play.
  • The Bears, after making a strong showing on the road against Oregon, had now made two poor road showings in a row. A definite weakness to be sure.

The conclusion
This game was the most infuriating game of the 2007 season in my opinion. Oregon State could be excused because of the backup QB situation. UCLA could be excused because of their stout defense and a lot of the bounces going the wrong way for the Bears. But the Bears got all the breaks in the 1st half of this game and should have put it away early with a halftime score in the 31-7 range. Instead they had a one-score lead that was quickly erased in the 2nd half. Also, for the first time during the Tedford era I questioned his judgment. Longshore needed to come out after that 2nd pick. He was clearly hurt and it was not just minorly affecting his game but massively affecting his game.

While it wouldn’t go down as the most disgusting/inept loss of the season, it’ll be burned in my mind as the most infuriating.

Looking back on ’07: UCLA

(We continue our look at The Half Season Of Which We Shall Not Speak (THSOFWWSNS) with the UCLA game. Go here for past posts.)

The pre-game Storyline:
It was the worst of times in Berkeley. The Bears shot at their first #1 ranking in over fifty years was lost to a boneheaded move by an inexperienced backup quarterback (and how much one blames him for that depends on their inherent charity to inexperience). Now the Bears had fallen to #12. Would Longshore, our knight in shining armor, be able to play versus UCLA? If so, the game would be in the bag. If not, perhaps a week of experience should be enough for Riley to win the day.

The pre-game Reality:
While Longshore was healthy enough to play, the Oregon State game had exposed more weaknesses of the Bears than most people realized. UCLA was poised to make the most of those weaknesses. At a minimum, everyone now knew that Longshore’s injury was serious enough to have him sitting out 3 weeks, a long time for a sprain and probably wouldn’t be 100% in the LA.

The key plays:

  • Longshore limps through first 3rd down and is unable to complete pass.
  • UCLA’s QB, Cowan, overthrows on his first 3rd down to give Cal ball back.
  • Cal gets a generous pass interference call on 3rd down to extend 2nd drive.
  • Longshore slightly underthrows DeSean Jackson for a catch that could have been long one but instead was tackled right away.
  • Longshore makes a nice read and completes a pass to Craig Stevens over the middle for a touchdown. Bears up: 7-0
  • UCLA completes a bunch of 3rd downs in a row including a 3rd and 13 on their second drive.
  • Follett chases down Cowan from behind to force field-goal attempt, which is good. Bears lead slimed to 7-3.
  • Kalil Bell has a 64 yard run that was WAY too easy, setting up 1st and goal which is quickly converted into a TD. Bears in their first hole: 7-10.
  • Bears return kickoff to mid-field.
  • Double play-action springs DeSean free for easy TD. Bears back on top: 14-10.
  • Chris Conte is burned for 38 yard pass play on ensuing drive.
  • Bears stiffen in redzone, keeping UCLA to a field-goal. Bears lead slimmed again: 14-13.
  • Jahvid Best fumbles just outside UCLA redzone, losing a scoring opportunity and giving UCLA ball back with over 2 minutes left in the half.
  • Worrell Williams strips ball from UCLA with a HUGE grab, throwing the ball 20 yards down the field. Cal recovers in UCLA territory with just over a minute left in half.
  • Jordan Kay misses 44 yard field-goal wide left to end half.
  • Wide-reciever pass by UCLA completely fools Cal secondary for their easy touchdown. Bears back in a hole: 14-20.
  • Hawkins gets wrong call on “shared” catch where both he and defender have hands on ball. Defender eventually rips it away and it is called an interception. Correct call is a complete pass (remember MSU call in ’08?). Would have given Cal the ball in the UCLA redzone.
  • Forsett gets first sizeable gain of game, but it’s a screen pass. Running game stinks, only 29 yards midway through 3rd quarter..
  • Fade pattern to DeSean in endzone goes for touchdown. Bears back on top: 21-20
  • Cal gives up 50 yard runback on ensuing kickoff. Defense bails them out and forces punt.
  • Bears go to running game on 2 consecutive possessions going 3 and out both times. 2nd time Larson only gets off a 32 yard punt giving UCLA ball at midfield again.
  • UCLA executes both a screen and a reverse that work against a now tired Bear defense, getting the ball into the redzone.
  • UCLA field-goal is good putting Bears back in a hole with under 5 minutes left: 21-23
  • Best runs kickoff down to UCLA 35 yard-line breathing life into Bears.
  • Longshore makes one of few bad reads of game for each pick-6, effectively ending the game: 21-30.
  • Longshore throws weak desperation interception to seal the deal of what was already mostly for sure.

The forgotten

  • Longshore hadn’t thrown an interception all game, minus the bogus shared reception that was called wrong, and most of his throws were pretty darned good. People loved to place blame on Longshore for this game but his play was pretty darned good until the big mistakes at the end.
  • I had forgotten that the starter for this game was still a game-time decision. This time Tedford went with Longshore over Riley, which by my estimation was the right decision.
  • There were a TON of penalties in this game. I think Cal ended up with 9 and UCLA had a similar number. Lots of them were pass-interference in a very physical game, but there was lots of sloppy play all around.
  • Also, the turnover count was high as well. Between both teams fumbling and the interception count rising late in the game, this was one VERY sloppy game.
  • Overall it was the sloppiness by both teams that was surprising. Long runbacks, overly-easy completions, biting on play-action, penalties, turnovers, you name it, if there was something sloppy to be done, both teams did it and continually let the opposition back into the game.
  • Cal’s Bend But Don’t Break defense did not have the best day. Not only did it “breaK” a few times to many, there were far too many possessions where UCLA kept marching down the field despite it feeling like the Cal defense was getting the better of them.
  • Repeating my plea from the previous game, I hate it when the Bears are up by 1 at halftime. Two games in a row!

The post-game storyline:
What was at first a disaster the previous week was now an all-out tragedy. In two weeks the Bears had gone from being the assumptive #1 team to being out of the hunt for the Rose Bowl. But it was just too flukes in a row and there was no reason to believe the Bears couldn’t get back on track and make it to the Holiday Bowl or if a couple teams slipped up, get back in the Rose Bowl hunt.

The post-game reality:
The Bears were showing their weaknesses far more thoroughly than most were willing to admit. With both ASU and USC in the next three weeks, the Bears had a lot to overcome if they were going to get back on track, particularly now that both teams had two games of blue-prints on how to beat these Bears.

The 2007 learnings:

  • This was really the first game that showed the weaknesses of the BBDB defense. In previous games it hadn’t left the door open as thoroughly as it did versus UCLA.
  • Jordan Kay was starting to fall apart and he could no longer be counted on as a sure thing, particularly over 35 yards.
  • Another learning was the turnovers. The turnovers really hurt the Bears on this day and there was no reason to see the dropped balls in this game were just a fluke.

The conclusion
This was the first game where the Longshore “haters” really started coming out of the woodwork. I for one, don’t get why this game was the game that set them loose. Sure he make the disaster throw that lost the Bears the game, but SOOOO much had gone wrong throughout the whole game that was in no way Longshore’s fault that blaming this loss on him seems foolish. What was most apparent to me was that the team had lost it’s “edge”. They just weren’t the dominating team that made the trip to Eugene and did what very few people thought they could do no matter how good they were.

That said, there was a LOT more edge to loose.

Looking back on ’07: Oregon State

(Today we pick back up my “Looking back” series. In theory it is supposed to just be last season, but because I tried to squeeze both 2005 and 2007 into the last off-season, I still have some 2007 posts to finish off before moving on to 2008. Note that you can go here to see the last post in the series (the Oregon game) or go here to see all the posts in the series)

The pre-game Storyline:
It was the best of times in Berkeley. A #2 ranking for the Bears and USC looked less than invincible after a stunning loss to Stanford during the bye-week. With USC having to come to Berkeley the question of the week was whether Bear fans would prefer the Rose Bowl or the National Championship game (count me in the Rose Bowl crowd). Oregon State should just be a minor road-bump as long as Longshore’s ankle was good enough to play.

The pre-game reality:
The reality that nobody knew at the time was that Longshore’s ankle was FAR more injured than anyone on the coaching staff was willing to admit. With what amounted more to a ankle fracture with bone fragments chipped off than the quoted ankle sprain. Also overlooked was the formidible defense that Oregon State brought to Berkeley. They were #1 in the nation in rush defense giving up only 40 or so yards a game.

The key plays:

  • Jordan Kay misses 48 yard field goal on first drive of game
  • Forsett fumbles on Cal 15 yard line setting up near certain score for OSU
  • After noble goal-line stand by Bear defense, OSU converts 4th and Goal (less than a yard). Bears in early 0-7 hole.
  • Riley throws nice seam route pass for TD to Hawkins to finish nice Cal drive. Score tied: 7-7
  • LSU lost in 3rd overtime to Kentucky setting up Bears to take over #1 spot. Announcement made over PA system and players definitely heard. A distraction perhaps?
  • Larson kicks a 74 yard punt w/ roll.
  • Riley hit as he throws and sends ball up into air for easy interception. Ball returned from Cal 45 to Cal 17 setting up another easy scoring opportunity for Beavers.
  • Cal defense holds OSU to field goal. Down only 7-10.
  • Riley scrambles on broken play and finds Jordan along the sideline to setup 1st and goal.
  • Riley runs option play for touchdown. Bears on top for first time 14-10.
  • Bear defense too relaxed in final seconds and gives up 40 second field-goal drive. Lead is down to 14-13 after giving up more “easy” points.
  • OSU converts 3rd and 15 on 1st drive of 2nd half to extend drive. Bend But Don’t Break defense playing too soft.
  • Bernard finishes a drive he dominated with power running by scoring on a 1 yard TD run. Bears in a hole again: 14-20
  • Forsett robbed of touchdown on a 1st and goal. Knee was never down before he rolled over defender into the endzone. Play not reviewed.
  • Bears fail to convert on 4th and goal. All 4 downs less than 2 yards and all four downs ran Forsett into the line.
  • Bears keep OSU pinned after failed conversion. Punt only out to OSU 26 yardline setting up another scoring opportunity.
  • Forsett finds redemption in 7 yard TD run. Bears back in front: 21-20
  • OSU converts another 4th and inches TD run.
  • Beavers go for 2-point conversion and succeed to be up by a full touchdown: 21-28
  • Best fumbles ensuing kickoff return at Cal 40 yardline. Minus a weak sideline personal foul call, Bear defense holds. However OSU converts fieldgoal. Bears now in 10-point hold with just over 6 minutes left: 21-31
  • After 3 and out, Bears force 3 and out on OSU, giving them the ball back with 3:30 left and 3 timeouts still unused.
  • Bears get first break of day when 10-15 yard seam pass turns into 65 yard touchdown pass to Hawkins. Bears still in it: 28-31
  • Onside kick fails, but 3 timeouts and 3 and out gives Bears the ball back on own 6 yard-line with 1:27 left.
  • Riley amazingly avoids what would have been a game ending safety getting out of the grasp of the OSU defender and throwing the ball away.
  • Riley completes a 13 yard pass to Hawkins on 4th and 17, who somehow avoids 3 tacklers in route to picking up the 1st down.
  • Pass to Jordan down sideline gets Bears in field goal range with 24 seconds left.
  • Bears get pass interference call on DeSean getting ball down to 12 yard-line.
  • The the play that defined the season occured. Riley tries to run for it with too little time left and no timeouts and the clock expires without the field-goal attempt that would have tied the game.

The forgotten

  • What is forgotten about the last play was just how rushed everything had been on that last drive. The Bears had come all the way from their own 6 yard-line with 1:27 left. They had avoided two game ending moments in the possible safety and the 4th and 17. Then to come up with the long play to Jordan, it lulled the Bears into a false sense of confidence despite being so rushed. It doesn’t seem as boneheaded in real-time as it does when repeated over-and-over on ESPN.
  • I had forgotten that Longshore was a game-time decision. While Riley had been practicing with the 1st team all week, it was still hoped that Longshore was going to play right up until 15 minutes before game-time. What effect that had on the team’s chemistry is unknown.
  • For me, I had forgotten just how well Riley played. In my memory, it took him 3 quarters to get his form going. But really, he had a pretty good 1st half. The 3rd quarter was rough for him, but overall, he more than capably played QB.
  • I also forgot just how many good breaks the Beavers got and how many bad breaks the Bears got. Overall the Bear defense stuffed OSU. They got 16 points off of turnovers including one 4th and goal conversion. Really OSU only had two “self made” scoring drives and one of those also required a 4th and goal conversion. Just those two goal-line conversions were enough to turn the game. Add in that the Bears failed on their 4th and goal shot and it was clear who got all the breaks this Saturday. The Bears wouldn’t have lost this game twice.
  • It was interesting to see some signature plays of the 2008 OSU team in action in 2007, in particular the fly-sweep which they used a few times. While it wasn’t as effective in 2007, it was clear it was a play they refined for 2008.
  • Cal’s Bend But Don’t Break defense was in pretty good form on this day overall, but it was interesting to remember just how different that defense was to the 2008 3-4 attacking defense. It was an entirely different scheme that all too often let the dumpoff passes and underneath stuff work while keeping things in front of the secondary. It seemed to speed up the game and keep the clock running, which was great when the Bears were ahead but was to their detriment when OSU took the lead.
  • Not so much a “forgotten” but I hate it when the Bears are up by 1 at halftime. I’d much rather be down by 1. Their seem to be fewer halftime adjustments and corrections when the Bears have a halftime lead than not, and up by 1 is not a lead to “hold on to”.
  • Another thing that was interesting to watch was Forsett in action. He definitely had his upside but he was not the raw talent that Best is or Marshawn was. He broke a big run in the 1st quarter but was dragged down from behind setting up the missed Kay field-goal. I guarantee you that either Marshawn or Best would have taken it into the endzone. At the same time, Forsett had a certain nimbleness between the tackles that was his strong point. It wasn’t the power of Marshawn but he had a way of getting through small spaces in the line without getting touched that Best doesn’t have.

The post-game storyline:
Disaster had struck in Berkeley. An opportunity to be #1 in the nation had been lost and all because our backup quarterback was too inexperienced (some who be more uncharitable and call him any number of explitives that in short meant ‘stupid’) to know when to get rid of the ball. Luckily our knight in shining armor, the man who the 2006 season was built around and had taken the Bears undefeated thus far including a huge win in Eugene, Mr. Longshore himself, would surely be back and in fine form for next week’s game against UCLA. With USC already having a conference loss under their belt (to Stanford) Cal fans still felt this team could get back on track en route to a Rose Bowl with USC coming to town.

The post-game reality:
Longshore was still far more injured than anyone was letting on and the Bears had two very difficult games in front of them. UCLA always brings their best game when the Bears visit the Rose Bowl and ASU was in fine form in 2007. While many had their doubts about a completely untested ASU team at this point, they were still a formidible opponent in the desert that loomed after the showdown in Pasadena.

The 2007 learnings:

  • It was hard to know exactly what to take from this game. Was Riley any good or not? Was the QB the only problem? While everyone acted as if they had all the answers, in reality, nobody knew exactly what to think.
  • One learning that was not yet obvious but would be a constant complaint moving forward was ineffectiveness around the goal-line. This was the first of many goal-line stands where the Bears just couldn’t punch it in. Later in the season the Bears were more likely to kick the field-goal instead, but in either case, it was points left on the board.
  • Another learning was the turnovers. The turnovers really hurt the Bears on this night and there was no reason to see the dropped balls in this game were just a fluke.

The conclusion
There is probably no game in the Tedford era that evokes such strong emotions as this game. Everyone had their pet complaint and issue with the game. Of all of the games I’ve gone back to watch there was something much more “normal” about the game than my memory had. Yeah the Bears had some bad break and bad plays and yeah OSU escaped Berkeley with a somewhat undeserved win (the caveat being they played an excellent game and although being out-manned talent-wise, they did everything possible to put themselves in a winning position), but this was not a disaster game. It was unfortunate, but not a disaster.

Those were yet to come.

50 Years

(The following was originally posted before the Cal-USC game on November 18, 2006. The situation is not entirely the same: this is not a play-in game, because Oregon State lurks the following week. And yet I feel the need to restate just what’s at stake, in the grand scheme of things. And so here you go: a rerun.)

This is it. The Rose Bowl is on the line. A game that Cal can win to potentially end 50 years of frustration. To help the faithful Cal fans reach one of their lifelong — and, at times, seemingly insurmountable — sports goals.

I have said for many years now that I have only two sports wishes in my life. One is for my beloved San Francisco Giants to win a World Series. (Hope Russ Ortiz still has that ball.) The other is for my beloved Cal Bears to play in (not win, just play in) the Rose Bowl.

And now a (perhaps temporary) sense of calm has settled over me. I can’t play in the game, have no control over the outcome. USC has been, over the last few years, one of the most dominant teams in college football.

And all Cal has to do is win. Win, and erase 50 years of misery. Win, and heal feelings about Bruce Snyder and Roger Theder and Joe Kapp. Win, and give Cal fans something greater to hang their hats on than the crushing of a random trombone player. Win.

Thousands of trees have been chopped down to supply paper for navel-gazing Bostonians to write about what the Boston Red Sox curse, and its exorcism, meant to them. Cubs fans are famous for suffering endlessly at the hands of bad teams interspersed with the occasional moment of hope that’s immediately dashed by painful failure.

I understand what they feel. But it doesn’t go the other way. Most people outside of our little circle do not know the magnitude of what this would mean to us. Cal fans have suffered in silence, suffered through Tom Holmoe and Keith Gilbertson and the Joe Kapp years and many years of poor-to-mediocre play that preceded the appearance of my young self on the benches of Memorial Stadium.

I can’t speak for the new faces that have filled Memorial Stadium the last few years. I’m sure they’re excited, and I’m glad they’re aboard for the ride. But I speak as someone who has seen the lean times, who chanted the mantra “Keep It Close, Lose With Dignity,” who stood outside the stadium and cheered Tom Holmoe because Cal merely lost to Nebraska rather than getting blown out. Who watched Stanford run around with the axe innumerable years and then cap it off with their own inconceivable trip to the Rose Bowl. Who has seen older people from the benches around us disappear from this world during the off-season, never to see the Bears reach that goal.

The other week I was riding the bus to work and began to think about what I would do if Cal played in the Rose Bowl. I really couldn’t even get my arms around it, emotionally. And very quickly I stuffed it all back down under a pillow in a corner of my mind, promising myself that there was no point in running that emotional simulation when the goal was so far off. There would be plenty of time to live the event after it occurred, if somehow a series of ridiculous events that began with Cal hiring a brilliant football coach and recruiting a series of star players culminated in the most ridiculous event of all: a conference championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl.

There would be tears, certainly. And madness, incoherent shouting and whooping. And perhaps the distinct buzzing feeling that we’ve all been transported to some parallel universe where black is white and night is day and man bites dog.

But that’s all hypothetical. And it will remain so unless Jeff Tedford’s team does one thing in the Coliseum. One simple thing.


In The Days Before Tedford

As we prepare for another season, here’s a flashback to an earlier, simpler era. An era where you could get season tickets for pennies. Where you could stretch out across five seats at most home games. An era where Cal was absolutely terrible.

The year is 2001. The coach is Tom Holmoe. The stadium is empty.

Cal in the Pre-Tedford Era

It sure makes me appreciate the era we live in now, crowded and expensive though it may be.

(For the record, this particular final score was Arizona 38, Cal 24. The loss dropped Cal to 0-8.)

Looking back on ’07: Oregon

The pre-game Storyline:
The biggest game of the season in the Pac-10 so far, Cal vs. Oregon would determine the front-runner to challenge USC for the conference championship. With Cal ranked #6 and Oregon ranked #11, it was considered a very even matchup once the home field advantage was taken into account. The game should be a shootout with both team’s offenses being nearly unstoppable all season.

The pre-game reality:
The reality was that Oregon and Cal had the most under appreciated defenses in the Pac-10. Particularly with the matchup between Belloti and Tedford, two coaches who know each other all too well, and hence their teams, well, the game was nearly guaranteed to be more balanced than the pundits thought. Oregon was also a fairly untested team when one took into account the reality that Michigan was in horrible shape when Oregon destroyed them in week 2. Cal, although more tested than Oregon, was also less tested than people believed.

The key plays:

  • Oregon’s QB Dennis Dixon over threw a wide open receiver down the sideline on 3rd down on their first drive. Not only did it force Oregon to punt, it also cost the Ducks an easy touchdown.
  • Jeremiah Johnson slipped some tackles to go for a 26 yard run after Cal had pinned Oregon deep in their territory with a good Larson punt. A couple 1st downs later, Oregon was able to kick a field-goal and put the Bears in an early, albeit small, hole 0-3.
  • Jordan Kay got back on track after a couple shaky weeks, capping a meticulous drive by the Bears to tie the game at 3-3 mid-2nd quarter.
  • A truly, remarkably bad personal foul call on Ezeff turned a 4th and 7 from near mid-field, to a 1st and 10 just outside of the redzone for Oregon. Ezeff’s hit was more than just legal, it was prudent the way Oregon had been tip-toeing up the sideline. The refereeing blunders continued on the next play when a blatant block in the back was not called on a reverse play that gave Oregon the 1st and goal they needed to take back the lead, Cal now down 3-10.
  • Forsett broke a 30 yard run play to get Cal into the Oregon redzone. Unfortunately Kay’s kick went over the short Oregon goal posts and was called no-good on a very close kick leaving Cal down by 7, 3-10.
  • A punt to DeSean never got to him because Oregon interfered with the opportunity to make the catch. That gave the Bears the ball near mid-field. A couple first downs later the Bears were in striking distance.
  • Later on the drive, DeSean broke free on an exceptional post route for an easy touchdown to tie the game at 10-10 with less than 5 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.
  • A Dixon to Colvin slant up the seam went for 42 yards and a touchdown, getting Oregon back their touchdown lead on the ensuing possession. It was clearly a missed assignment by the Cal secondary and the Bears were down again 10-17.
  • DeSean caught a nice fade pattern down the sideline that would have gone for a touchdown had Jackson not had to try and tip-toe down the sideline. Nevertheless it got Cal down into the redzone where the Bears were able to punch it in and tie the game at 17-17.
  • Jackson made an awesome stutter step move to run past the Oregon corner in route to another touchdown and to give Cal their first lead of the game, 24-17 with just over 11 minutes left in the game.
  • Jahvid Best ran down and recovered the fumbled kickoff by Oregon. Cal got the ball back inside the Oregon 30. Unfortunately Cal was unable to make any progress from there and actually went backwards to take the Bears out of field-goal range. However, Cal was able to pin Oregon inside their own 10 yard-line.
  • Back-to-back long passes got Oregon all the way down the field into the Cal redzone where Oregon was able to punch it in to tie the game at 24-24.
  • Anthony Felder did a nice job of disguising his zone coverage and induced Dixon to throw his first interception of the season, giving Cal the ball just outside the Oregon redzone.
  • With Longshore back behind center but obviously gimpy, Forsett and the offensive line took the team on their back and ran the ball in for a touchdown on three consecutive plays putting Cal up 31-24.
  • After Oregon surprisingly easily marched down into the Cal redzone, Mika Kane tipped the ball for Alualu to intercept.
  • Jeremiah Johnson eluded a handful of tackles on a play that would have had him down in bounds (and hence left the clock running) still in Oregon territory. Instead he was able to run across the field for a 30-yard gain and get out of bounds.
  • And of course… the defining play of the game… Marcus Ezeff forced a fumble of Colvin just before the goal-line. The resulting touchback went to Cal because the ball crossed the goal-line and then dribbled out of bounds. This gave the Bears the ball back to take a knee and end the game.

The forgotten:

  • The crowd noise at the beginning of the game rattled Cal on their first possession and was nearly the sole reason that not only did Cal go 3-and-out, but also managed to go backwards on those three plays.
  • Oregon was heavily committed to stopping the run early in the game. Cal’s play calling played right into that with a heavy load of run plays.
  • The 1st quarter had only 3 points, a field-goal by Oregon. Otherwise both offenses were mostly held in check despite both sides getting a fair amount of yards. There was a lot of “Bend But Don’t Break” working very effectively.
  • On Cal’s first drive of the 2nd half, Cal started with a lot of play-action passing to loosen up the Oregon defense. The resulting gains got Cal onto the Oregon side of the field. At which point Cal was finally able to get some production from their running game.
  • Cal’s defense held Oregon to almost zero offense on their first few drives of the 2nd half. That both gave Cal additional possessions and allowed them to wear down the Oregon defense.
  • Although DeSean Jackson never got a good punt return opportunity nor was there a horrible shank trying to punt away from DeSean, his presence did play a big hand in the field-position game. There were a lot of very high and relatively short punts that gave Cal better than average field-position.
  • Oregon fans are whiners about hits along the sideline, arguing for personal fouls when their players are tip-toeing up the sidelines. The most egregious was an extended boo for a play where Dixon was still well in-bounds when he was hit out of bounds inside the 5 yard-line.
  • The game was still tied when Longshore went down injured. The Bears had to punt right away with Riley behind center who was only handing off to Forsett (and that’s what Oregon was expecting/defending).
  • Longshore, although he came back into the game, never threw the ball again on two possessions. Oregon was clearly ready for this and outside of the short-field touchdown, completely shutdown the Cal running game.

The post-game storyline:Cal won a tight fought battle between two excellent teams, making Cal the clear challenger to USC for the Pac-10 title. With USC coming to Berkeley there was much to be hopeful for in a big showdown with USC. All Cal needed to do was beat the handful of mediocre Pac-10 teams that stood between Cal and the USC game.

The post-game reality:This is one of those rare games where the ‘storyline’ pretty accurately reflected the actual situation. The one catch was Longshore’s injury. However, at the time, every indication was that it was a minor sprain and with the bye-week in between the Oregon and Oregon State games, there was little to be concerned about… or so everyone thought.

The 2007 learnings:

  • Marcus Ezeff was going to get a lot of playing time in 2007. He was coming of age as a young safety.
  • DeSean Jackson still was the most electrifying threat on the team. While he had been in a minor slump for a few games, there was no doubt that when we wasn’t being double and triple covered, he was very dangerous.
  • The Bend But Don’t Break defense was working at its best during this game. Both keeping Cal in the game when they were trailing and slowing the Oregon offense when Cal finally got the lead. Additionally it showed its ability to force interceptions with the frequent use of the zone defense in confusing ways that could induce errors by the opposing QB.

The 2008 implications:
Number 1 on the 2008 implications is that the Cal vs. Oregon game in Berkeley will be another good one. Looking at these two teams and both how stocked they are with young talent but also how many experienced players were lost in 2007, there’s every reason to believe that when these teams meet in November, we’ll be looking at two young teams that have come of age during the season. With them both reflecting the similar mindset of Belloti and Tedford, there’s every reason to believe it’ll be another close one.

The conclusion:
This was definitely the highlight of the 2007 season and was an extremely fun game to both be at and watch at home for the looking back series. This is Cal football with Tedford at the helm at its finest. What separates the last few seasons from 2004 was the consistency with which Cal has been able to play at this high level. In all 3 of the most recent seasons, Cal has had some troubling slumps that followed exceptional games like this one. What Cal needs to get over the hump is play with this kind of intensity and consistency through a whole season.

Looking back on ’07: Arizona

Montgomery struggles

The pre-game Storyline:
The Bears had revenge on their mind with Arizona coming to town. Arizona had thought to be on the verge of a turn-around but their season had started with a dud going 1-2 to start the seaason. Would the Cal offense be able to get back on track versus the traditionally stiff Arizona defense? Most people thought so.

The pre-game reality:
The 2006 Arizona upset was on everyone’s mind because the way Arizona plays is trouble if the opposition can’t open up a deeper passing game. With Longshore showing signs of having touch issues down the field so far this season, there was reason to be concerned. However, Arizona was looking weak again early in the season as they often do and the game was in Berkeley. A solid but not inspired Bear performance would suffice to get the win.

The key plays:

  • Arizona’s first punt was all of 18 yards because of a botched angle away from DeSean Jackson, giving Cal the ball on the Arizona side of the field on their second possession of the game.
  • Forsett ran back-to-back slippery runs to get the ball into the endzone from the outside the redzone and put the Bears up 7-0.
  • Lavelle Hawkins was left wide open in the endzone to give Cal an easy touchdown and put them up 14-3.
  • Longshore was intercepted on a poor decision early in the 2nd quarter by Cason in Cal territory. Luckily for the Bears, Hampton was able to intercept Tuitama and prevent Arizona from closing the 28-10 score.
  • DeCoud intercepted Tuitama as Arizona was driving at the end of the 1st half, ending what was likely a field-goal opportunity at the end of the half.
  • Syd’Quan Thompson stripped a receiver to give Cal their 4th Arizona turnover only minutes into the 2nd half.
  • James Montgomery had a nice series of caries after the turnover, capped by a 3 yard touchdown run to put the Bears up 38-10 early in the 2nd quarter.
  • Syd’Quan was called for a 5 yard facemask on a 4th and 1 the Bears had stopped. The drive went on to score a touchdown for Arizona to bring them back within 14, 38-24.
  • Montgomery fumbled on Cal’s first drive of the 4th quarter. It gave Arizona the ball just outside the Cal redzone. Cal was able to hold Arizona to a field-goal and minimize the damage. Cal was down to an 11 point lead, 38-27.
  • Cal was able to yet again effectively execute two time-killing drives in the 4th quarter to end any comeback threat.

The forgotten:

  • The biggest “forgotten” is the video of the majority of the 1st quarter. Missed in that time was a solid touchdown drive by the Bears and an Arizona “drive” where an unrelenting Cal defense forced a fumble that was recovered and ran in the few yards to get a touchdown. When the video came back it was 28-3 with two minutes left in the 1st quarter.
  • Mike Thomas ran a quick touchdown in to start the 2nd half off of a dump-off pass that was called back by a personal foul for hands to the face on an Arizona offensive lineman. It killed a big momentum changing opportunity for Arizona. They would have only been down 14 points with nearly a full half to play.
  • James Montgomery got a lot of playing time in the 2nd half. While it was never explicitly noted, it appeared that Forsett had gotten a minor injury mid-game. He did play late in the game after Montgomery fumbled.
  • Forsett’s coming back into the game after the Montgomery fumble game the Bears offense a spark that they had lacked for the last few drives. The result was the final touchdown of the game for a 45-27 margin.
  • This game was a penalty fest. 14 against Cal for a 121 yards including a number of questionable personal foul calls and 8 against Arizona for 73 yards.
  • After Arizona scored at the very beginning of the 4th quarter, Cal held Arizona scoreless minus the field-goal that was a direct result of the Montgomery fumble.

The post-game storyline:
The Bears were rolling and had avenged their 2006 loss. Arizona was again in trouble, now 1-3 and needing a miraculous run to get bowl eligible and save Stoops job. The Cal offense was firing on all cylinders with another score in the 40’s. The match-up in Eugene was going to be a huge test for both teams.

The post-game reality:
The reality is that this game was won in the 1st quarter and was milked out from there. The Bears were settling into be the team that defined the 1st half of the season at this point. Their offensive rhythm was good and the Bend But Don’t Break defense had found the balance that would keep opponents from lighting up the scoreboard without completely letting the opposition march down the field with nickel and dime plays.

The 2007 learnings:

  • Versus’ TV coverage was not yet ready for prime-time. Hopefully by the time the Big Game came around they’d be more polished.
  • Jordan Kay’s early success may have had a component of beginners luck, missing his 2nd consecutive attempt. In fairness, he did make an attempt later in the game.
  • The Bend But Don’t Break offense continues to give up a lot of yards and associated time of possession. However, it continues to keep point totals down by forcing the opposition to slowly work their way down the field. This has been an effective “prevent” with Cal holding a big lead.
  • Cal’s redzone defense has not been all that good. Even Arizona, who had struggled in the redzone, scored touchdowns on most of their redzone opportunities.

The 2008 implications:
What there was a lot of in this game was 3-4 defense. It was used a lot against Arizona’s spread offense. What was surprising was the amount of pressure that Cal was able to bring with creative blitzing. In this fashion, the 2007 Arizona game is the best blue-print Cal fans have as to what the 2008 defense might look like. As for Arizona in 2008, the pattern of Arizona seems to be a slow start followed by massive improvements late in the season, particularly at home where they love the November upset. This fall the Bears play in Tucson in mid-October, so one should expect to see an Arizona team that is in the process of turning the corner. Their offense should be more polished this season now having a full year of the spread under their belt and most of their talent returning. However, on defense they’ve lost a number of their best players. They might be mighty exposed this year on the one unit that traditionally is the catalyst for their big upsets.

The conclusion:
There were those who felt this was another weak performance for the Bears. I think most of those people watched the game on TV. The game looked a lot less impressive because of the partial blackout mid-1st quarter. I felt this was a pretty solid performance against a team that generally deserves more respect than it gets in Berkeley. Sure we all hate them, but that doesn’t change that they play better ball than their record indicates. All-in-all, there’s nothing in this game that I think points to the 2nd half collapse. The one real worrisome area in this game was the penalties which ironically did not play a big roll in the later collapse.

DeCoud tackle

Would the Bears be good enough to finally good enough to give the Bears their first win in Eugene since 1987? Find out on Tuesday.

Looking Back on ’07: Louisiana Tech

The pre-game Storyline:
After a sub-par performance the previous week, the now #8 Bears would need a better performance against Louisiana Tech to continue to get respect with the pollsters. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs were expected to be an easy team for the Bears to beat.

Forsett TD (2)

The pre-game reality:
Every BCS team should fear playing a solid WAC team early in the season. The WAC is by far the best non-BCS conference and the teams in it are used to playing BCS caliber opponents both in their generally strong non-conference schedules and against the best of the WAC like Boise State and more recently Hawaii. If the Bears came with another performance like they did versus Colorado State, it could be trouble.

The key plays:

  • Lavelle Hawkins able to run fake reverse on kickoff to start the game for a quick touchdown to put the Bears up 7-0, 12 seconds in to the game.
  • Catch and fumble by Bulldogs that was recovered by Cal was called an incomplete pass when it was clearly a catch and fumble… although no damage was done later on that drive.
  • A second review on a low catch by Robert was called incorrectly, saying that the ball hit the turf on what was clearly a catch.
  • Jordan Kay missed a 39 yard field-goal early in the 2nd quarter… his first miss of the year.
  • Bulldog quarterback Champion let the ball slip out of his hands and the Bears were able to pounce on the ball, giving the Bears great field position at the Bulldog 25. Forsett was able to run it in from there.
  • Justin Forsett runs a 39 yard touchdown weaving through the secondary, putting Cal up 21-6 (see photo above).
  • Longshore forced a ball on a throw in the beginning of the 2nd quarter into the endzone giving the Bulldogs an easy interception and killing what had been the Bears best passing drive of the game.
  • Brandon Hampton intercepts an under-thrown ball and runs it down to the Bulldog 17 yard-line. Cal was able to punch it in from there on a throw from Longshore to Stevens to go up 28-6.
  • The Bulldogs completed a 4th and long just outside of field-goal range late in the 2nd quarter that kept the drive alive. However the resulting field-goal attempt was blocked by the Bears.
  • Louisiana Tech had a nice kickoff return to the Cal side of the field after Cal had ramped up the score to 35-12. However, the defense was able to stop them there to prevent any future damage.
  • The Bulldog safety missed what would have been an easy interception over the middle, but the miss distracted DeSean who was behind the defense and would have run it in for a touchdown had he not dropped the ball.
  • Robert Peele intercepted a tipped ball deep in Cal territory late in the 3rd quarter killing the little bit of momentum and field position Louisiana Tech had built up in the quarter.

The forgotten:

  • Noris Melele had 2 false start penalties early in the game, one on each of the first two drives. Both were instrumental in stalling those drives turning 3rd and short into 3rd and long in both cases resulting in a punt.
  • DeSean fumbled a punt return trying to make a quick cut after catching it. Luckily it was recovered by the Bears.
  • Neither team had scored midway through the 2nd quarter with the Cal offense shooting itself in the foot with penalties and mis-throws and the Bulldogs overwhelmed by the Cal defense.
  • After Cal went up 14-0, the Bulldogs came out with determination on their drive and were able to over-power Cal’s defense en-route to a touchdown.
  • Cal had 6 penalties for 50 yards in the 1st half including a personal-foul that took the Bears back to their side of the 50 with just over 30 seconds remaining, killing the chance to get a final score in before halftime. When Tedford was asked in his halftime interview about the penalties, he replied, “That’s exactly what we’re going to be talking about at halftime.”
  • Louisiana Tech opened up the 2nd half with a powerful drive running the ball right at Cal and driving the full length of the field to get a touchdown.
  • Justin Forsett carried the team in the 2nd half getting carry after carry to grind out the win.

The post-game storyline:
Cal was back on track winning easily against a solid WAC team. Although there were moments the offense was stalled and the defense was not completely dominating, overall it was a solid performance that is reflective of their #8 ranking.

The post-game reality:
While the win was solid, there were plenty of moments and mistakes that were troubling to Bear fans who knew the Bears would be facing much stiffer competition once Pac-10 play started. While it wasn’t consistent, one of the more troubling aspects was the times when the defensive line was manhandled by an inferior team. Also troubling was Longshore’s accuracy/touch issues on the long pass. What was not troubling was the domination of the Cal running game.

The 2007 learnings:

  • Longshore’s struggles with his touch were not limited to the high altitude of Colorado, missing a few open receivers, a couple of which in succession on a key drive in the 2nd quarter.
  • Jordan Kay may not be the miracle backup he seemed to be in the first couple of games, missing his first field-goal attempt.
  • Jahvid Best continues to impress and has the potential to be making large contributions every week.
  • The kickoff team continues to struggle with short kicks, putting the coverage team in the difficult position of having to get downfield faster than usual without over-pursuing (that risks a long return).
  • Rulon Davis was injured in this game, having a stress fracture in his leg. The weak defensive line looks really weak at this point.
  • Kevin Riley got his first playing time in the mid-4th quarter. He didn’t look all that sharp and it was clear that Cal’s hopes for 2007 would be pinned to Longshore if at all possible.

The 2008 implications:
Memorial Stadium is a bigger home-field advantage than most of us realize and the difference between the performance against Colorado State and Louisiana Tech reflect that home-field advantage. With two non-conference games at home there is much to be hopeful for in the non-conference schedule for 2008. Beyond that, with the Bulldogs not on the schedule for 2008 and it still being early in the season, there’s not too much to decipher from this game.

The conclusion:
My memory of this game was that the Bears had played flat again. Not as flat as against Colorado State, but still flat and not as crushing a victory as it indeed was. This game was a pretty convincing win that minus the penalties, there wasn’t too much to complain about.

Would the momentum carry over to the Pac-10 schedule? Could the Bears get revenge against Arizona for their 2006 upset of the Bears that cost Cal fans yet another shot at the Rose Bowl? Tune in tomorrow to find out.

Forsett TD (4)

Looking back on ’07: Colorado State

The pre-game Storyline:
After getting redemption against Tennessee the now number 10 in the AP poll Bears look to roll versus a weak Colorado State. Would the high altitude and the road trip get the Bears to overlook the Rams? Most people didn’t think so.

The pre-game reality:
The Bears were clicking on offense after their game versus Tennessee and there was no reason to think that Colorado State, a team early in a slow rebuilding process as a mid-major, would be any sort of a challenge. Those who had minor concerns were concerned about the altitude affecting Longshore’s ability to have good touch on the long ball, but Cal had enough weapons both in the running game and the shorter passing game that CSU shouldn’t provide any trouble.

The key plays:

  • Colorado State forced a 3-and-out on Cal’s first possession, giving them a bunch of momentum and reason to believe they could compete with the Bears.
    Reverse to DeSean Jackson the first play after CSU went up 7-0 goes for a touchdown to quickly tie up the game 7-7 and defuse the majority of the momentum the Rams had gained.
  • Interception by Derrick Hill on wounded duck pass into the endzone ends a dangerous position for the Bears where they could have gone down 7-14. (Although he should have stayed in the endzone to get the ball at the 20 instead of at the 4 yard-line.)
  • Colorado State given touchdown on goal-line stand when the QB clearly was stopped a couple yards short. Ties game at 14-14.
  • Cal had a touchdown on a slant to Hawkins called back on a holding penalty in the mid-3rd quarter with the Bears up only 20-14.
  • Linebacker Anthony Felder had a Follett-esk sack to jar loose the football and give a turnover to the Bears in CSU territory late in the 3rd quarter.
  • Justin Moye intercepted the ball early in the 4th quarter just when it seemed like the CSU offense was getting back on track and gave the Bears the ball in CSU territory.
  • Jahvid Best slipped through a number of would-be tacklers on a 60+ yard touchdown run to give Cal a commanding (and soon to be necessary) 20 point lead, 34-14.
  • CSU throws a deep bomb with good touch to score an easy touchdown with less than 4 minutes left in the game to reduce Cal’s lead to 13, 34-21.
  • CSU then converted on the on-side kick with a good bounce to make it difficult to the Cal good hands team to pull it down.
  • CSU then sent another bomb down the field that although much better covered than the previous one, was still hauled down to give the Rams a 1st and goal from inside the 5 yard-line. The resulting touchdown put CSU within a touchdown, Cal up only 34-28.

The forgotten:

  • Colorado State pinned Cal at their own 2-yard line for the Bears second possession after the CSU punt bounced sideways after landing inside the 5 yard-line.
  • Colorado State ran the same reverse that DeSean Jackson ran their first play after Cal ran it. Although it didn’t go for a touchdown, it did get them 40+ yards down to the Cal redzone.
  • Jordan Kay kicked two lengthy field-goals: A 47 yard field-goal that gave the Bears their 17-14 halftime lead and a 41 yard field-goal early in the 3rd quarter to put the Bears up 20-14. He looked really sharp… albeit at altitude in his second start and the points ended up being the margin of victory.
  • DeSean fumbled a key 1st down completion that by the time he recovered it had lost the 1st down setting up 4th down.
  • The Cal defense played with a completely different personality in the 2nd half, particularly against the run game, forcing frequent punts.
  • Colorado State punted to DeSean on just about every punt but the Ram coverage team did a great job of corralling DeSean.
  • While Longshore did do most of his passing short, he also took his shots down the field. Unfortunately his touch was off at high altitude.
  • There were still 3 minutes left in the game when the lead was within a touchdown. Cal both recovered a 2nd onside kick (well, let it go out of bounds) and then was able to pound the ball to get the two 1st downs needed to grind out the clock and seal the win.

The post-game storyline:Cal escaped from Colorado with a somewhat undeserved win having played the game as a letdown game. Overall there was no reason to doubt that when the Bears came to play, they’d continue to be one of the Pac-10’s best.

The post-game reality:While it was definitely true that the Bears played a flat game, there were also a few aspects to be worried about. The offensive line play left something to be desired. The same was true of the defensive line who let a smaller CSU offensive line push them around and generate an effective run game to keep the ball out of Cal’s hands. The lack of a run game, minus a couple of big plays, was the most disturbing thing.

The 2007 learnings:

  • Marcus Ezeff, getting the start in the game, was clearly going to be a force in the secondary and would get a lot of playing time going forward.
  • Even at altitude, the kickoffs were barely making it into the endzone and were kicked on a pretty low line giving plenty of opportunity for a good return. That was a bad sign for kickoffs when back in the Pac-10 closer to sea-level.
  • The defensive line was not getting much pressure on the CSU quarterback and didn’t seem to be performing well. If they didn’t turn it around in the next couple weeks, it could be a very long Pac-10 season as pressure on the QB is critical to keeping the opposition off the scoreboard.
  • The backup secondary spots left something to be desired. Darian Hagan was burned bad for a long touchdown as was Marcus Ezeff (who although starting this game was still considered a backup at this point).

The 2008 implications:It was still awful early in the season to make too many conclusions about 2008. However, what can be said is that Colorado State should not be overlooked on the Bears schedule. Of course with the game in Berkeley the environment will be very different. Nevertheless, the Bears had better be ready for some very physical play at the line of scrimmage by both the offense and defense. CSU will also be a much more experienced team with so much youth last year now having another year under their belt.

The conclusion:Even in review, I don’t make too much of this game. Yes there were signs of what plagued the Bears later in the season, but overall the only story outside of the slow start in this game was the two late touchdowns that Cal gifted the CSU Rams. Considering that was due to young backups, it’s hard to think it was a trend in the making.

But the next game against Louisiana Tech. would be very interesting if it turned out the same way with that game at home and having already had the scare against CSU. Tune in on Wednesday for my review of that game.

Looking back on ’07: Tennessee

The pre-game Storyline:
Cal was seeking redemption from their previous year’s beating in Knoxville. With the game in Berkeley and Cal now knowing what to expect from the hard hitting SEC team that was coming to town, their high octane offense should have a chance to return the favor.

The pre-game reality:
The real story of the game was whether the Cal defense could do a better job than the previous year. Had it not been for the huge defensive mistakes that plagued Cal the previous year, the game would have been entirely difference. With a rebuilt defense, there were plenty of reasons for Cal fans to be nervous despite the high octane offense.

The key plays:

  • Zack Follett forcing a fumble on Tennessee’s opening drive that was returned for a touchdown by Worrell Williams, putting the Bears up early 7-0.
  • Tennessee ran the kickoff down to the Cal 24 yard-line after Cal had taken a 14-7 lead enabling Tennessee to tie it up again at 14-14.
  • DeSean Jackson’s punt return for a touchdown on the Bears first punt reception of the game and season put the Bears up 21-14.
  • Robert Jordan turned a busted play on 3rd and goal into a leaping touchdown towards the end of the 1st half to put the Bears back up by 7.
  • Forsett’s long screen reception with less than a minute left in the half took the ball down into the Tennessee redzone.
  • Tennessee’s ensuing redzone stop kept them within reach, only down 10 at halftime, 31-21.
  • Cal scored a touchdown to open the 2nd half. When combined with getting the 1st score of the game off the turnover and the last score of the 1st half for 17 points to “bookend” an otherwise evenly played game.
  • Cal’s goal-line stand on Tennessee’s ensuing drive, including the stop on 4th and goal, kept Cal’s lead at 17 points.
  • Forsett took over, starting in the mid-4th quarter, and it was the running game that ground out the 14 point victory.

The forgotten:

  • When Follett sacked Ainge and forced the fumble, Tennessee had already crossed into Cal territory. They also went onto score on their ensuing possession.
  • Longshore did a quarterback sneak on 3rd and 1 from the 2-yard line to score Cal’s 2nd touchdown.
  • After Cal went up 21-14 early in the 2nd quarter, both teams offenses stalled, trading punts until late in the quarter when Tennessee pushed in a touchdown to tie the game.
  • Tennessee out gained Cal both through the air and on the ground in the 1st half. In fact, the Tennessee offense out-scored the Cal offense in the 1st half. The difference was the 14 points from the defense and special teams.
  • Cal ‘s offense stalled for most of the 3rd quarter, giving Tennessee numerous opportunities to get the ball back. 3 times Tennessee was able to drive the field but it only resulted in 10 points.
  • At the end of those 10 points, the Bears were only up by 7 points, early in the 4th quarter.
  • Cal had a 1st and goal after a long time-consuming drive in the 4th quarter when Longshore was unable to pick up the snap on a quarterback sneak on 3rd and goal from the 1 yard-line. The resulting turnover didn’t affect the final result, but did keep Cal from crossing the 50-point barrier.

The post-game storyline:
The Bears got the redemption they had been seeking in a convincing win over an SEC powerhouse program. The Cal offense was everything that it was expected to be and the defense was surprisingly good against a potent SEC offense.

The post-game reality:
The reality is that this game was far more balanced than anyone wants to remember. Tennessee’s offense matched Cal’s offensive point production. The difference was the points off of the 1st quarter turnover and the punt return for a touchdown. Add in the benefits of getting the last possession of the 1st half and the first possession of the 2nd half and the bounces all went the way of Cal. Truth be told, if the game was played again the following week, it would be foolish to assume the Bears would have won again, even if it was played again in Berkeley. The defense, although playing conservatively to protect a lead, left a bit to be desired. 31 points is 31 points and that’s a lot to be giving up.

The 2007 learnings:

  • Cal would have to do without their star field-goal kicker, Tom Schneider after he tore a muscle in his leg in pre-game warm-ups.
  • However, Jordan Kay seemed to be filling in admirably, not missing a single kick including a medium length field-goal
  • After DeSean returned his first return for a touchdown, it was pretty clear that nobody was going to consistently punt to DeSean.
  • The Bend But Don’t Break defense was working as designed: It wasn’t going to force a lot of 3 and outs, but it also was going to be very effective at preventing the big comeback.
  • Justin Forsett seemed to be everything he was as a backup in 2006 and looked to be a more than capable replacement for Marshawn Lynch.

The 2008 implications:
With the game being so early in the season and with so much happening over the course of the 2007 season, it’s hard to come up with many implications for next year from this game. Mostly what I saw of interest was some of the intended starters for 2008 were capable of before they got injured. Rulon Davis and Jahvid Best were particularly notable with their strong performances.

The conclusion:
Overall this game was about what I remembered it to be. The Bears played a solid game and Tennessee’s mistakes were too much for them to overcome. Nevertheless, the victory can not be taken away from the Bears because they played with heart and determination. This game meant a lot to them.

Looking back on ’07

It was the worst of times, it was the best of times… or is it the other way around?

2007 was definitely a season that toyed with the hearts of all Bear fans. It’s been 10 months since last season began and it feels like 3 years have past since Tennessee came to town. So to set the scene here’s a recap of where we were just before the 2007 season began.

The 2006 season had been a meaningful redemption from the 2005 season. Nevertheless there was a bit of a bad taste in the mouth of Bear fans because they were denied a Rose Bowl beth yet again. Unlike 2004, in 2006 it was the short-comings of the teams itself that had held the Bears out of the Rose Bowl. Their collapse against Arizona left them one victory short of what is needed to get an at large berth to a BCS game and their subsequent loss to USC left them a tie-breaker short of winning the Pac-10 outright and the associated prize of a Rose Bowl. Nevertheless a 10-3 season doesn’t come along every day.

The big loss in the off-season was junior Marshawn Lynch who decided that the NFL was the best choice for him. It was the 2nd year in a row that the Bears had lost a Junior to the draft and nobody was a bit surprised. With the exception of Lynch, almost the entire offense was coming back. With Justin Forsett returning at tailback, a player who had filled in admirably when Marshawn was injured during the previous two seasons, everyone expected 2007 to be a banner year offensively. The list of offensive talent was remarkable:

Nate Longshore was coming off his breakout season in 2006. His generally mistake-free play coupled with his good decision making skills and good touch on long passes made him the Pac-10’s most impressive quarterback coming into 2007. The trio of receivers Longshore had to throw to were also remarkable and probably the best trio in the nation. With DeSean Jackson’s amazing speed and fluid route running coupled with Lavelle Hawkins ability to pull-down the tough passes over the middle it was easy to forget just how good Robert Jordan was if it wasn’t for his record setting consecutive games with a catch record. Add in stud Craig Stevens at tight-end and Justin Forsett at tailback and this was an extremely talented offense at the skill positions. Not to be forgotten was the experienced offensive line that was anchored by Alex Mack that was 2nd only to the 2005 team in its promise of keeping Longshore grass-stain free and give Forsett the holes he needed to explode into the secondary.

If there was a weakness coming into 2007 it was the defense. All-American corner Damien Hughes was off to the NFL after graduation as was Desmond Bishop and Brandon Mebane. Cal would need SydQuan Thompson to continue his strong play late in 2006 as well as have Brandon Hampton smoothly make the transition from safety to cornerback. They would also need Worrell Williams to fill Bishop’s shoes and for Zack Follet to find the consistency he needed to live up to his promise as an outside linebacker. Finally the Bears would need to rebuild it’s defensive line. With a number of candidates to fill the holes left behind including former military man Rulon Davis there was a great deal of hope that this too could be done.

If the Bears could at least play respectably on defense, and it seemed it had enough tools to pull that off, the offense should be able to lift the Bears to glory. Particularly with USC looking vulnerable yet again in 2007, it seemed that the Bears had the potential to make another run at the Pac-10 title and that elusive Rose Bowl. Adding to the anticipation, Bear fans would find out just how realistic those asperations from Day 1 when Tennessee, the team that had destroyed the Bears in Knoxville the previous year, came to Berkeley to open the season. Tune in tomorrow to see my analysis on Tennessee.

Flying through 2006 on the way to 2007

For those who followed my series on the 2005 season, I’m about to do the same thing for the 2007 season. But I figure since I’d be jumping over 2006 I’d post links to all of my ‘looking-back’ posts on 2006 from the old Cal blog to give the more thorough fans an oppotunity to have a bridge between the two seasons:

The other reason to review this as the format will more closely follow the format of the 2007 review I’m about to undertake.

Looking back on ’05: Wrapping it up

In the last 6 1/2 weeks I’ve written 24,000 words of blog posts on the 2005 football season. (For what it is worth, an average book is between 50,000 and 100,000 words, so I wrote (and you have read) about 1/2 a short book.) In all of those words, did we learn anything?

First of all, I found that Ayoob wasn’t as bad as I had remembered except for a couple games. Tedford’s analysis that he lost his confidence was more true than I remembered. In his worst games he was tenative, throwing late and without any authority. In contrast, he showed signs of being a solid QB at other points in the season. While I think going with Longshore for the 2006 season was the right choice, I think those with an open mind (of which there were few after 2005) would have been pleasantly surprised if Ayoob was given the reigns in 2006. Sometimes an off-season is very valuable to recover from confidence problems and also to help the game slow down. All of that said, he would never have been as consistent as any of us expect.

The other thing I saw regarding the quarterbacks was that Levy was both every bit as good a replacement as I remembered and somewhat limited in his ability. I’m pretty confident that if Levy was forced into the position Longshore was in 2007 (a difficult to play through injury), he would not have had the fall Longshore did. Levy was a no-excuses, we’re going to get this done, QB. I’m pretty confident he’d be one of those QB’s who could have willed his way through just about any injury. On the other hand, I don’t think he has the talent to ever be a Rodgers or even a Boller.

As for other observations, the offensive line, although very good, was not as dominant as I remembered it being. I remembered it being just a beast of a line, unequaled in Cal history. Now I don’t quite think that was the case. Their pass-projection was not the best and they could have opened more holes for Lynch if they were really the beasts my memory had pinned them as.

Who had more of my respect than before I watched was the defense. Minus the corner problems against WSU, they played a solid season and always kept the Bears in games they never deserved to be in. It was clear that they were expected to carry the load and they rose to the occassion. Unlike 2007 where the defense was just supposed to keep the bleeding to a minimum and the offense was expected to put the Bears over the top, in 2005 there was no doubt the defense was the strong suit.

But more than anything, I spent a lot of time comparing 2005 to 2007 in my mind. The similarities are too hard to ignore. Both seasons started 5-0 and both had their first loss at the hands of an inferior opponent in a game that came right down to the wire. Both seasons went downhill fast from there, losing 4 of the next 5, with the only victory being an at home victory over a weak WSU squad that made all too close of a game of it. Both seasons ended with a bowl victory that went a long way to saving face.

With the similarities, it naturally begs the question, which season was worse? I’m going to go on record and say 2007 was far worse. There was no excuse for losing to Stanford last year. In 2005, the turn-around at the end of the season wasn’t just the last three quarters of the bowl game. It was a full two games including a convincing win over Stanford in Palo Alto. Additionally, while both Air Force and BYU were over-achievers for the bowl games they were slotted in, there is no doubt in my mind that BYU was the better of the two teams. Despite being the better of the two teams, Cal played a much more dominant game against BYU and never looked as vulnerable as they did against Air Force.

To further the point, it seems to me that the 2007 team was a much more proven team when the collapse happened. In 2005 the Bears suffered from a very back-loaded schedule. None of the non-conference opponents was very challenging and the slide started with the first capable team on the schedule. In 2007 the Bears however had beaten two very good teams in Tennessee and Oregon, the latter being on the road.
In addition, the quality of opponent during the slide was vastly different in the two seasons. In 2005, 3 of the 4 losses were to the best teams in the conference, USC, Oregon and UCLA. The 4th loss to Oregon State, was a loss to a very capable team. In 2007 the six losses included a crummy UCLA, a way over-rated ASU who the Bears had against the ropes and a ridiculously beatable Washington. Add in an inexcusable loss to Stanford and there’s no comparing the difficulty of games between the two seasons in the slide.

Vote in the new poll on the right with your opinion and tune in a day or two with my 2008 game-by-game predictions before I start my 2007 review next week.

Looking back on ’05: The Las Vegas Bowl

After the reversal of fortunes at the Big Game, confidence was high for the Las Vegas Bowl. Not only was it thought that Levy would improve on his more than acceptable performance against Stanford, but also that BYU would be an easy opponent to beat, not measuring up to the average quality of Cal’s opponents throughout the year. However, those who watched football closely knew that it was dangerous to underestimate BYU who had played an impressive season despite playing in a mid-major conference. There was also that fear in the back of all Bear fan’s minds that the Bears would not come to play, just as they had the previous year in the Holiday Bowl.

While the announcers seemed to indicate that the stadium was packed with BYU fans, the reality was that although BYU had more than half, both teams were well represented. Neither team had a substantial crowd advantage. Additionally, Bear fans were desperate for a reason to cheer after such a disappointing second half of the season.

Cal got the ball to start the game, getting the ball on the 35 yard-line after the kick sailed out of bounds. Lynch didn’t waste any time generating some offense getting the ball into BYU territory on the first play with a 22 yard catch and run. Two relatively easy 1st downs later with a couple of out patterns and the Bears were in the redzone. A personal foul on BYU for a late shove out of bounds and an offside penalty again on BYU gave the Bears a 1st and goal from the 3 yard-line. Lynch was able to run it in from there giving the Bears an all too easy touchdown to start the game, up 7-0.

BYU got the ball at the 20 after it was downed in the endzone. They proceeded to run three very ineffective plays, all intended to be passes, and although two were complete, none got more than a couple yards. BYU was given a reprieve when Harrison Smith ran into the kicker on the punt when he nearly blocked the punt. Nevertheless BYU made even less of the next series taking a sack, having a pass nearly picked off and an incomplete had BYU punting for a second time. Cal looked ready to romp.

On the Bears next drive they continued to show the domination they had on the first drive. However, after the Bears got a 1st down at the BYU 37 yard-line, the drive stalled. For the first time in his two starts Levy missed his targets on two consecutive plays setting up a 3rd and 10 where the BYU blitz was able to force Levy to pull the ball down and run, coming up well short of the 1st down. The Bears punted despite being in range for a 54 yard field-goal, pinning BYU at their own 6 yard-line.

BYU was able to generate some offense on their next possession, starting with a rush to the outside that went for 15 yards. Then on the next set of downs, Cal forced a 3rd and 2 before BYU’s leading receiver pulled down an amazing catch to extend the drive. On the next 3rd down it seemed like the Bears had BYU on the ropes when there were 4 defenders boxing in the receiver on the dump out pattern. Somehow the receiver managed to slip between two of them to setup a 4th and 1 that BYU was able to convert. After getting another 1st down on a broken play where the quarterback was able to scramble, BYU was all the way down into the Cal redzone where they completed a nice crossing route pattern to tie the game at 7-7.

Cal didn’t waste any time striking back. First they were able to get the ball out to the 48 yard-line on the kickoff. Then Jackson and Forsett were able to combine on two plays to get the ball down to the BYU 38. Then Levy threw a great pass to Jordan in the endzone where the defenders only option was to foul or give up the touchdown. After the penalty was assessed, Marshawn was able to run it in from just outside the redzone, breaking it outside when the inside seam didn’t open. The Bears offense was back on track, up 14-7.

All of the pressure the Bears had been putting on BYU quarterback John Beck bore fruit on their next possession when a rushed throw gave Harrison Smith an easy opportunity to intercept the ball. Unfortunately a botched handoff between Levy and Forsett set the Bears back on the resulting 1st down for the Bears when the ball retreated a few yards back in the pocket before Forsett could jump on the ball. After an incompletion setup a long 3rd down attempt, the Bears were forced to punt when the promising screen pass to Lynch didn’t get the 1st down with Lynch getting tangled with one of his blockers.

After BYU was forced to punt on a 3 and out, the Bears went back to work with the run game, picking up good chunks on each run. However, after picking up a couple 1st downs, a passing play was called on 1st down and Levy was sacked. With Cal playing behind the chains, BYU was able to force the punt.

BYU was pinned inside their own 10 yard-line again, this time from a block in the back penalty that negated a good return. BYU got away with one on 1st down when Beck was under great pressure. He tried to throw the ball away while he was falling down and it should have either been a safety if his knee was down (and it was close on the replay) or intentional grounding because the throw was to no one in particular and did not make it past the line of scrimmage. In either case, the refs missed the call and BYU got a second chance. Unfortunately for Cal, BYU made the most of the break on two plays. The first was a nice slant completion where the receiver was able to drag the corner for another 10 yards to the BYU 37. On the next play Beck aired it out to Todd Watkins for a 52 yard pass completion where he got well behind the safeties and was only tackled because the ball was under-thrown. The Bears seemed to have BYU in a bad spot when a holding penalty set 1st down and 20 from the 21 yard-line. However a busted play again resulted in a big gainer for Beck as he scrambled down to the Cal 6 yard-line. On 3rd down BYU was able to pound the ball into the endzone, tying the game yet again, this time 14-14.

With only 38 seconds left in the half, it seemed unlike the Bears could strike back before halftime. However, when the kickoff was returned to the 42 yard-line and a 15 yard pass-interference call got the ball into BYU territory with over 20 seconds left, there was reason to hope. Two incompletions later, Levy threw a nice out pattern to Jackson that was designed to get the ball past the 1st down marker and out of bounds to setup a field-goal attempt. However, the defender over-pursued and Jackson was able to cut it back inside and sprint to the endzone with 3 seconds left putting the Bears back up by a touchdown going into the locker room.

Summing the half, the Bears had been the dominant team and looked somewhat in control. However, the score was far tighter than the play on the field would suggest. BYU it seemed was making the most of their few opportunities as well as threading the needle when a tight play was needed. On the other side, while the Bears were executing on their opportunities, they seemed to only barely be taking what BYU was offering. It seemed that Cal should have been exploiting BYU more than it was. Nevertheless confidence was high that Cal could and would take control of the game in the 2nd half.

After BYU got the ball to start the 2nd half and could only muster one 1st down, the Bears went back to the run game on the first two plays. With BYU expecting more of the same on the next play the completion to Jackson for 19 yards was all too easy. Two plays later Lynch busted what was one of his signature plays of his Cal career. Slipping up a seam in the middle he was hit by two defenders 15 yards out from the endzone. He then dragged them both down to the 5 yard-line where he dove into the endzone with the two defenders being sloughed off. The Bears were up by more than a single score for the first time, up 28-14.

BYU was able to get a couple of 1st downs on their next possession, again threading the needle on a couple of critical and drive sustaining completions. However, the Bears were able to force a punt on the third set of downs. The downside of having given up those 1st downs was that BYU was in position to punt the ball deep in the Cal redzone, forcing the Bears to start from their own 4 yard-line.

The bad field position didn’t bother Lynch who dragged BYU defenders for a 9 yard gain on the 1st play and then squirted through a small hole for a 25 yard gain on the second play. Two plays later DeSean Jackson turned what was supposed to be a quick out-pattern into an inadvertent reverse getting the ball down to the BYU 22. Levy rewarded Jackson for his effort with a nice fade pattern to the corner of the endzone that Jackson was able to dive for, putting the Bears well ahead with just over a quarter left, up 35-14.

BYU was able to chip away at the Bears on their next possession. The Cal defense was clearly determined to keep everything in front of them. Nevertheless, it was a disappointing drive because the Bears could never come up with the stop, with BYU able to complete the touchdown drive with a quick wide receiver screen for a touchdown pass from the 7 yard-line. The Bears were down to a 2 score lead just into the 4th quarter, the Bears up 35-21.

The Bears continued to move the ball on their next drive. An impressive tackle busting catch and run by tight-end Eric Beegun was partially called back by a downfield holding penalty taking nothing away from the impressiveness of the play but losing the Bears 14 yards. With the ball at midfield, Cal ran it on all three plays of the next series with Lynch being stuffed on 3rd and 5, forcing the punt.

Lonie was able to punt yet another one inside the BYU 5 yard-line, again forcing BYU to go the full length of the field if they were going to score. BYU got themselves out of the shadow of their own endzone on a swingout pass that went for 22 yards. They were then able to get out to midfield on a bogus personal foul against Bishop who shoved Beck out of bounds just as Beck was getting there himself. Three plays later, after Cal had forced an incompletion on 3rd and 10, BYU went for it on 4th down from midfield. For some reason, Mixon was playing way off the receiver and was unable to come back to the play giving BYU not only a 1st down but an 18 yard completion down to the Cal 31 yard-line. Then another bogus penalty on the Bears, a facemask penalty where the defender had grabbed the shoulder pad to whip the receiver around, got the ball down to the Cal 7 yard line and a 1st and goal. On 1st down, BYU’s run play was caught in the backfield for a loss of 2. On 2nd down the pass was deflected, setting up a critical 3rd and goal from the 9. The fade to the endzone was well defended and dropped incomplete. Cal had an opportunity to end the comeback on 4th down but somehow the out-pattern got around Mixon’s attempted slap-down and BYU was back in the game, the Bears lead now only a touchdown, 35-28.

With 5:35 left in the game, Cal went to the run game to try and run out the clock. Back to back runs by Lynch and Forsett went for 23 yards. After Lynch was held up on 2nd down, Levy completed another pass to Beegun who again ran it down the sideline breaking through a tackle for what would have been a 20 plus yard gain. However, yet again, a downfield hold brought the ball back to midfield. When Forsett ran for another 1st down, BYU started calling timeouts with 3:29 remaining. As if the BYU defense triggered on the timeout calls, they were finally able to slow the Cal running game and Cal was forced to try the 50 yard field-goal with 2:20 remaining to go up by two scores. For whatever reason, although the kick was true, it was well short and Schneider was unable to put the game away.

BYU was able to complete 4 consecutive passes, although one of them was called back for a holding penalty. Additionally, just as Cal had done on the previous possessions, they were able to keep the ball in front of them and only 1 of the 4 completions was for longer than 5 yards. On Beck’s 5th pass attempt, he made his second big mistake of the game, throwing the ball as he was grabbed from behind. The resulting wounded duck of a pass was easy pickings for Damien Hughes for his 5th interception of the season.

With that the game was over. Had Cal had someone checking the stats on the sideline, they would have run at least one down, giving the ball to Forsett to get him over the 1000 yard hump instead of his official 999 yards. But Cal didn’t and instead it was 3 consecutive kneel downs to end the game and the season.

Summing the game, the Cal offense finally got in gear in the 3rd quarter and likely would have been prolific throughout the 2nd half had it not been for the grind out the clock play calling in the 4th quarter. The defenses 2nd half performance, although good enough to get the job done, left something to be desired. In some sense they were just following orders and running the yet-to-be-named Bend But Don’t Break defense. On the other hand, they gave up two late touchdowns on long drives that should never have been. Nevertheless, after the mid-season struggles for the Bears, any victory, particularly over a team that gain the respect of many a Bear fan during the game, was one worth celebrating.

Tune in later today for a wrap-up of the 2005 season and later this weekend for my 2008 game-by-game predictions and the introduction to my 2007 season looking-back series.

Looking back on ’05: The Big Game

With Ayoob completely falling apart against USC, Tedford was left with little choice but to play Steve Levy at quarterback for the Big Game. Despite having a respectable showing in the few playing opportunities he had, Tedford had been very reluctant to make the switch. Stanford came into the Big Game with a great deal of confidence. After being picked to finished 9th in the Pac-10, they were 4-3 in conference play and only one win from bowl eligibility. They were actually ahead of Cal in the Pac-10 standings. Nevertheless it was assumed that Cal was the better team with Stanford having had some pretty unimpressive games in their record including a 17-20 loss to UC Davis. (Something Bear fans should never feel shy about rubbing in the face of CardinalNecks.)

Cal got the ball to start the game and decided to start with some trickery, a reverse to DeSean Jackson. However, Stanford’s lack of team speed worked to their advantage and their lack of pursuit left them in position to make the play. With Lynch able to get 5 yards on 2nd down, the Bears faced a 3rd and 3. Expecting Stanford to play the run against the inexperienced Levy, Tedford decided to call a quick slant which fell incomplete. The Bears were already looking weak.

Stanford had much better success on their first drive. They picked up one 1st down rushing the ball on both downs of the series, and another on a 15 yard pass to a wide open Mark Bradford. However, on their 3rd set of downs the Bears were able to clamp down and force the incompletion on 3rd down and the Cardinal had to punt.

On the ensuing series the Bears went back to the run game handing the ball off to Lynch on consecutive plays that both went for 9 yards. After a pass to provide some balance and a 5 yard rush by Forsett that gave Cal their third 1st down of the drive, Tedford decided it was time to test Levy’s arm calling for a deep pass down the sideline to Jackson. Cal fans everywhere went nuts as the under thrown ball was hauled in and doubly nuts when Jackson eluded the tackle of the corner and waltzed into the endzone. The Bears found themselves with a lead for the 1st time in 9 quarters, up, after the extra point attempt was blocked, 6-0.

Stanford’s next possession only buoyed the excitement of Bear fans. Although a good kickoff return got the ball out to the 37 yard-line, Stanford’s entire offense consisted of quarterback Trent Edwards scrambling for his life. Twice he avoided the rush and was able to run for a positive yards, including picking up a 1st down. However, the trend wouldn’t continue and Edwards was sacked on their second 3rd down, forcing another punt.

The Bears next offensive series was a dud with a screen on 3rd down not working, giving Stanford back the ball. Again, Stanford couldn’t make any progress and again Cal didn’t make the most of their possession, with both teams trading punts a total of 2 times each. However, Stanford had been winning the punting and hence the field position game, getting the ball on Cal’s 47 yard-line at the end of that exchange of punts. All it took was a couple of 1st downs by Stanford and they were in field-goal position. After Cal was able to stuff a rush by J.R. Lemon, Cal was able to pin their ears back with Stanford playing behind the chains. A dump off pass and an incompletion later, Stanford converted the 37 yard field-goal shirking the Cal lead to 3, up only 6-3.

After the Bears had another 3 and out without finding any significant success, Bear fans began to worry that the long pass from Levy to DeSean had been a fluke and the Cal offense would be meager at best. The upside was that Stanford was fairing no better. In fact, as with previous years, the Stanford quarterback found himself getting hit and hit hard play after play, taking yet another sack before punting back to the Bears.

On the Bears next possession, the punishing run style of Lynch started to bear some fruit, picking up big chunks on consecutive plays. After Levy ran for the second 1st down of the drive, the ball was out to near midfield. However, on the next set of downs, Stanford clamped down on the run. They stuffed Lynch on 1st down and Levy was sacked on 2nd down and then took a coverage sack on 3rd and 17. Nevertheless, even though the Bears had to punt again, the offense was showing signs of life.

After Stanford was forced to punt again, Cal got the ball back with 46 seconds left on the clock. While Cal was content to run out the clock, Stanford insisted on trying to get the ball back one more time. After Cal was unable to get the 1st down, it looked like Stanford had played things right, getting the ball with about 30 seconds left. However, a roughing the kicker penalty negated the plan and Cal was able to go to the locker room without any more damage done.

Summing the 1st half, the Bear offense had been less than inspiring. However, there were signs that the running game was starting to bear fruit because of Lynch’s bruising style. Also, although he had made his share of mistakes, Levy looked to have more promise than Ayoob and had not make the critical errors that had crippled the offense. The defense on the other hand had played remarkably well. The pressure on Trent Edwards was unrelenting and Stanford was unable to generate any offense of note.

Stanford’s first possession of the 2nd half was also Trent Edward’s last. The pounding he had taken all 1st half finally caught up with him and he limped off the field with a shoulder injury. Without Edwards, Stanford was forced to go to the ground and was soon forced to punt.

Cal continued with their strategy of pounding the ball to Lynch. After working somewhat effectively, Stanford forced a 3rd and 5. When Levy dropped back to pass and saw the linemen over-pursue, he took his experience as a fullback with him as he ran not only for a 1st down but for 21 yards down to the Stanford 34. Levy then ran a designed quarterback draw on the next play for another 10 yards putting Cal just outside the redzone with a 1st down. Forsett capped the drive with Stanford now on their heels on a 21 yard touchdown run. While Cal fans were hoping for a bunch more offense from their Bears, with the lack of Stanford offense, there was great hope that the 13 points the Bears had scored at this point would be enough, the Bears up 13-3.

After Stanford was forced to punt again, Levy made two big completions, the bigger of the two being a 26 yard pass to Craig Stevens taking the ball well into Stanford territory. Unfortunately Levy made the kind of mistake that inexperienced quarterbacks are known to make, trying to pass the ball back across the field after rolling out. Instead of hitting Stevens for another 1st down, it was intercepted, for Levy’s first big mistake of his Cal career.

Stanford was unable to make anything out of their possession off the turnover. Cal, with the 3rd quarter winding down, went back to the run game to run down the clock. After getting one 1st down, the Bears were saddled with a 10 yard penalty that had the Bears playing behind the chains and the Stanford defense was able to hold the Bears and force the punt.

Stanford was able to get two big plays on their next possession. The first was a 22 yard pass to the outside that got the ball onto the Cal side of the field for the first time in a long while. The second was a marginal catch along the sideline that got the ball down to the Cal 15 yard-line, the Cardinal’s first visit of the game. At that point the Cal defense stiffened and forced the field-goal attempt. Luckily for the Bears, the Stanford kicker pushed the kick and it sailed wide right, keeping intact the Bears’ two score lead.

The Cal offense found some life on the next series. Forsett escaped a facemask to run for a 29 yard run that with the penalty got the ball down to the Stanford 21 yard line. Then Robert Jordan had a nice catch and run for 13 yards down to the 8 yard-line, setting up 1st and goal. Marshawn then finished off the drive with a walk-in touchdown off the edge to put the Bears up by a commanding 20-3.

What slim hope their was for Stanford when, after crossing midfield, Ostrander was sacked yet again and the ball popped loose, giving Cal the ball back with less than 6 minutes left in the game. Cal continued to pound the ball with Lynch busting a 22 yard run down to the Stanford 17 yard-line. Cal then officially put the dagger in with a halfback pass from Terrell Williams to Craig Stevens for a touchdown, the lead up to 27-3.

After Stanford was unable to make anything of their next possession Cal was able to run out the clock.

Summing the game, Steve Levy had provided a spark that excited all Cal fans. However, it bears noting that although his performance was good enough to force the Cardinal to play Cal balanced, it was still an uneven performance. Minus the early long TD pass that will stick with long time Bear fans forever, farily little of the meaningful offense for the Bears was through the air. Although Ayoob’s last few games had been a disaster and there was no reason to think the Big Game would have had any better, his performance against some early teams, notably Washington, were better performances than Levy had against Stanford. However, Cal fans had lowered their expectations as the season had continued. This win really belonged to the defense getting the ball back to the offense time and time again, giving them ample opportunity to wear down the Stanford defense and easily win the game.

Would Levy’s performance be good enough to win a bowl game? Tune in on Wednesday to find out.

Looking back on ’05: USC

When the 2005 season started, every Bear and every USC fan had this game circled on their calendar. For that matter, just about every one in college football had it circled on their calendar. It was one of two games that might trip up the mighty Trojans. The last time USC had played in Berkeley they had lost in triple overtime. Additionally, the previous year had Cal nearly pulled the upset down in LA. If this was going to be the year that Cal broke their Rose Bowl drought, the day that was going to be accomplished was the day they beat #1 USC.

However, while USC had met their side of the deal and came into Berkeley undefeated, Cal, as has been well documented here, had not lived up to expectations. In fact, after the Oregon game, the ugliest game of the season for the Bears, there was little hope that the Bears would beat a rolling USC team. There were even student commentators who went so far as to say that it would be a good thing for the Bears to lose this game for the good of the conference.

Cal got the ball to start the game. What little optimism there was amongst Bear fans was buoyed on the first play when Lynch was able to run off tackle for a solid 8 yard gain. In 2003, it had been the dominance of the Bears on the line of scrimmage that had vaulted them to victory. After the fullback crash got more than enough yards to convert on 3rd and 2, there was reason to believe the offensive line had come to play. After Lynch got 6 yards on 2 rushes on the next set of downs, Ayoob crushed all Bear fans by throwing an interception. Ayoob and Jackson were not on the same page with Jackson cutting out and Ayoob throwing the quick slant right into the safety’s hands.

USC quickly showed Bear fans what their offense would look like if they had Matt Lienart instead of Ayoob. While the Cal defense did a great job of not allowing the big play, Leinart always found the open receiver including completing two 3rd down throws to keep the 47 yard, 9 play touchdown drive alive. Cal found themselves in a hole early against a team they could afford no mistakes against, down 0-7.

Cal went back to the ground game on their next drive. Forsett and DeSean Jackson on a reverse got a 1st down for the Bears and a 15 yard facemask penalty put the Bears quickly in USC territory. Lynch then busted a 12 yard run to the USC 29 yard line. USC’s defense then emphatically declared that they had had enough of the Bears man-handling them in the running game. Two consecutive rushes to Lynch were stuffed and then Ayoob’s scrambling completion was only good for a couple yards setting up the 49 yard field goal attempt which Schneider easily made, getting the Bears on the scoreboard now down only 3-7.

On USC’s next possession, Lienart and LenDale White were able to again chip away at the Bear defense getting the ball down the Cal 36 with a 1st down. The Bears were able to nearly sack Lienart on 1st down, however Lienart was able to throw the ball away after slipping out of the first tackle. On 2nd down the Bears were able to finally get to Lienart as he struggled to pick up a bad snap. After offsetting penalties gave USC a second chance at 3rd and 14, the Bears had great coverage forcing Lienart to over throw his outlet receiver, forcing the punt.

After the 1st down run was stuffed run and Ayoob was tripped coming away from center on 2nd down, Ayoob ran on what appeared to be a quarterback draw on 3rd and 11. The play was only good for 5 yards and the Bears had to punt, giving USC the ball back far too quickly to give the defense a chance to rest. Nevertheless the Bears came up with a 3rd down stop after a couple of 1st downs. However, with the ball on the Cal 30, USC went for it on 4th down. Unfortunately a bogus pass interference call on Hughes both because his hand play was not enough to warrant the penalty and the catch would have been out of bounds regardless, kept the drive alive. USC kept chipping away at the Bears. The drive was capped on 3rd and goal from the 6 when the Bears had all the receivers well covered but Leinart was able to elude the pursuit and run it in for an easy touchdown. The Bears were in a sizeable deficit midway through the 2nd quarter, 3-14.

The Bears didn’t do anything to help their defense on the next offensive possession again going 3 and out with Ayoob again throwing a dangerous pass on 3rd down that narrowly avoided being intercepted. The Bear defense came up with a 3 and out stop of their own, getting the Bears the ball back. Unfortunately it was another 3 and out for the Bears with the boo-birds starting to come out when Ayoob missed two different receivers on 2nd and 3rd down.

Proving that you just can’t give USC this many offensive opportunities, they got their first big play of the game with Dwayne Jarrett catching a 44 yard pass setting up a 1st and goal from the 8 yard-line. On 2nd down Leinart, who is not known for his running skills, beat the Cal defense scrambling to the endzone. As much as the defense was accounting for all of USC’s weapons, it couldn’t additionally account for Leinart running the ball. The score was now a nearly unassailable 3-21.

Manderino gave the offense their first spark since the 2nd drive of the game, finding a nice seam down the middle to exploit on the fullback rollout pass. But just like the previous time the Bears seemed to get something going, Ayoob killed all of the little momentum the Bears had generated by throwing another interception. While this one was tipped, it was both a bad read, throwing into double coverage and off the mark.

With just over two minutes left in the half, USC was in position to really break the game open, giving the Bears no hope for recovery in the locker room. However, the Bears were able to force the 3 and out, giving the Bears one last chance with just under a minute left and the ball on their own 34 yard-line after the punt and short return. The Bears could only get the ball to the USC 41 yard-line when they had to throw their desperation throw into the endzond. While the interception that resulted hurt even further Ayoob’s stats and was not the hail mary pass that Tedford had wanted, instead throwing a bullet, it was not a play that was likely to have any success had it been executed properly.

Summing the half, Ayoob continued his decline in dramatic fashion. While in past games Ayoob had been a liability in the sense that he couldn’t do anything positive allowing the defense to focus on stopping the run, in this game just about every throw he threw was a disaster with two horrendous interceptions. On the positive side, the Cal defense had played pretty well against one of the best offenses in recent college football history. Only giving up 21 points in the 1st half when the offense wasn’t doing anything to shorten the game, was something to be proud of particularly their efforts to ensure that USC earned each of their touchdowns, refusing to give up the big play. For the 2nd year in a row they had held Reggie Bush in check, something no other team seemed to be able to do.

USC got the ball to start the 2nd half. Cal forced a 3rd and 10 early in the possession. Again another busted play hurt the Bears. This time it was Leinart buying time running sideways down the line of scrimmage instead of trying to run for the 1st down and finding LenDale White open past the chains who was not only able to get the 1st down but run the ball down a seam in the secondary for 49 yards all the way down to the Cal 6 yard-line. Two plays later USC had scored another touchdown and the game was more than effectively out of reach, Cal down 3-28.

The Cal offense seemed to have better rhythm on their first possession of the 2nd half. A screen pass to Lynch went for 22 yards and Ayoob completed two additional passes both designed to get Ayoob some confidence back. Lynch then dropped an acceptably well thrown pass that would have gotten the Bears into the USC redzone for the first time all game. Instead the Bears were forced to attempt a 41 yard field-goal. Unable to get a break, Schneider’s kick hooked late and just missed outside the up-right.

USC was again able to chip away at the Cal defense getting the ball down to the Cal 30 again. Again the Bears held on 3rd down and again USC went for it with the ball barely in long field-goal range. This time the Bears were not robbed by a bogus call as Cal was able to sack Leinart and get the ball back.

Unfortunately while Ayoob avoided another painful mistake, Forsett did not. After making a good gain up the middle, he fumbled the ball as he was hit right at midfield. However, for the first time all game, USC themselves made a mistake. Leinart made another good throw down the middle but the receiver let it bounce off his hands and into the hands of Harrison Smith who was able to run the ball back out to midfield.

Lynch then got the ball down into the USC redzone busting a nice run to the outside and out running a number of USC defenders on his 35 yard run. Another 1st down got the ball down to the 8 yard-line. After the teams switched ends to start the 4th quarter, Cal got the ball down to the 3 on two runs. Tedford called a passing play on 3rd down and after Ayoob scrambled to buy time, he refused to get rid of the ball when no one was open and took a sack back to the USC 11 yard-line. Being at the desperation point, Cal went for it on 4th down. Ayoob threw yet another terrible pass to a well covered David Gray that was easily intercepted, Ayoob’s 4th, ending what was the Bears best offensive opportunity to this point in the game.

USC again chipped away at the Bear defense. After USC had crossed midfield, the frustration of the Bears set in. They were hit with two personal foul penalties for late hits. In combination with another few rushing attempts, those penalties got the ball into the Cal redzone. The tired Cal defense was no match for the powerful USC rushing game and 3 plays later the Bears were facing their worst deficit of the season, 3-35.

With Joe Ayoob having completely lost his touch and his confidence, Steve Levy got his first shot at playing time in a long while. Levy completed his first pass on a rollout to Manderino. Unfortunately on the next play as Levy was scrambling forward for some yardage, he was stripped of the ball as he was being tackled. His inexperience had caught up with him and USC got the ball back.

With USC putting in their backups with less than six minutes left in the game, Cal was able to force the punt and get the ball back. Levy threw another completion on his next attempt, the first play of the next drive on a quick slant. Two consecutive completions later, the USC defense had to play the running game more balanced and the running game opened up. First Williams ran for 7 yards and then Levy ran for 19 yards on a busted play, getting the ball down to the USC 1 yard-line. From there Manderino got the touchdown on the fullback crash giving Cal their only touchdown of the game with 1:34 left, the score 10-35.

From there USC was able to run out the clock.

Summing up the game, Ayoob played by far his worst game, just when it seemed impossible for him to play worse than the Oregon game. Unlike so many other Tedford quarterbacks who were, after a painful learning curve, able to turn the corner and be a successful QB, Ayoob just continued to get worse and worse. But despite the ugly game, there were two significant positives. The first was the play of the defense. The final score of 10-35 reflected the Cal defense doing everything in their power to keep USC in check. There performance was perhaps their best of the season. The second positive was the play of Steve Levy who had come in after Ayoob flunked out and performed admirably.

Would Ayoob be replaced by Levy for the final game of the season, the Big Game? Find out on Sunday.

Looking back on ’05: Oregon

The Bears instantly became a new nemesis of Oregon Duck fans when they took Oregon’s offensive coordinator as their head coach. Every Oregon game in the Tedford era had been a nailbiter including the previous year’s 28-27 victory in Berkeley. With the surprisingly difficult victory over WSU, there wasn’t much hope for a victory from realistic Bear fans until they found out that Oregon was going to be without their veteran quarterback Clemens who had a season ending injury the previous week. Dennis Dixon would be starting his first game in Clemens place. Perhaps Oregon being without a quarterback would level the playing field…

The Bears received the ball to start the game at the 35 after the kickoff was out of bounds. The rainy conditions showed their ugly head on the first play as Ayoob couldn’t hold on to the snap. Saving the team from disaster, Ayoob astutely dove on the ball. After Lynch was stuffed on 2nd down with Oregon loading the box, Ayoob was unable to complete the 3rd and long pass forcing the Bears to punt right away.

Oregon went straight to the quarterback draw on 1st down to loosen the Cal defense. The fruit of that strategy came on the next play when their running back was able to bust a big play over right tackle getting all the way down to the Cal 21 yard-line, instantly threatening to score. After a false start penalty and a poorly throw incompletion setup 2nd and 15, the Bears were able to clamp down and force the field-goal attempt. Life got even better for the Bears when the 37 yard kick sailed wide, keeping the game scoreless.

The Bears didn’t help their cause on their next possession when Lynch’s predictable runs on 1st and 2nd down netted only two yards. After a false start penalty setup 3rd and 13, the Bears opted for a screen to keep the pressure off Ayoob which would have been successful had it not been 3rd and 13, picking up only 9 yards before having to punt.

Oregon got the ball back just on their side of midfield. After the Bears defense pursued well on both 1st and 2nd down setting up a 3rd and 11, Dixon showed why he had so much promise completing his 1st 3rd down conversion as a starter. The Ducks escaped disaster of their own when the replay officials didn’t review a fumble that would have given the Bears the ball. The Ducks made the most of the opportunity on two plays, the first a swing out pass that got the Ducks in the redzone and the second a slant into the endzone for the Ducks first touchdown of the game. The Bears were in a hole early, 0-7.

The Bears found a way to get Lynch the ball in a way that Oregon wasn’t expecting, having him lineup in the slot receiver position but coming back to run a “narrow reverse”. That play seemed to loosen up the defense as both Lynch and Forsett were able to power their way down to the Oregon 22 yard-line. Ayoob made his first big mistake of the game on 1st down trying to make a desperate completion as he was about to step out of bounds instead of just throwing it away. To add insult to the injury of the interception that resulted was that the receiver had no shot at catching the ball.

The upside for the Bears was that Oregon was forced to start from their own 3 yard-line. It was all the Ducks could do to get some punting room in 3 plays. The Bears got the break they were looking for when DeCoud took a great route to the punter and was able to block the ball and it went flying out of bounds at the 1 yard-line. It only took the Bears one play running Lynch up the middle to tie the score at 7-7.

The Ducks got a good kickoff return out to the 40 yard-line. While the Bears were able to prevent the big play, the Ducks were able to chip away at the Bear defense getting the ball down to just outside the redzone when the 1st quarter ended. Another quick out pattern got the ball into the redzone, setting up 1st and 10 from the 13. The Bears sniffed out the next set of plays well, capped by a rushed throw on 3rd down when Mebane got through the line quickly. This time the field-goal attempt was good, although just barely and the Bears were back in a hole, this time 7-10.

The Bears half squandered what would have been great field position on kickoff when a 15-yard penalty (assumably a late hit personal foul) put the ball at the Cal 33 yard-line. Ayoob hit a nice out-pattern to get the Bears into Oregon territory. A misdirection play to Lynch then got the ball down to the Oregon 35. Unfortunately a sack on 3rd and 6 pushed the Bears out of marginal field-goal range. Lonie and Hughes did their best to make the most of the punt with Hughes batting the ball back out of the endzone after it landed at the 3. In the pros, the ball would have been at the 2 yard-line, but in college since it crossed the goal-line the ball came out to the 20.

After the Ducks got a single 1st down, the Bears brought a lot of pressure on every down of the next set and were able to force a punt with Dixon unable to find the open men in the few moments he was given. A short punt and a middle return by Mixon put the ball just on the Cal side of midfield. Sadly, Ayoob tried to force a 3rd down out pattern to DeSean Jackson which was intercepted at the Oregon 37 yard-line.

The Bears defense forced Dixon out of bounds for a 7 yard loss on 1st down. After a misdirection pass didn’t work as well as Oregon had hoped, Dixon tried to force a pass of his own. This time it was Hampton who was able to step in front of it and managed to run it all the way down to the Oregon 1 yard-line. Unfortunately an illegal block penalty brought the ball all the way back out to the 40 yard-line, killing what was likely a sure touchdown. Ayoob completed a 3rd and 8 pass to Jordan to keep the drive alive and Lynch ran a surprisingly quick outside run to get the Bears in the redzone. That allowed the Bears to salvage at least a field-goal after the 3rd down screen pass came up a couple yards short, tying the game 10-10.

Summing the 1st half, Ayoob had played yet another mediocre half and his two interceptions were ugly as they get. To some degree his first interception was ignorable because of the blocked punt on the ensuing Duck possession setup a Cal touchdown. The bigger picture however was that the Ducks were able to dramatically slow the Cal rushing game because they didn’t respect Ayoob’s passing game and Ayoob had done nothing to punish Oregon for taking that risk. The defense had played reasonably well, keeping the Bears in the game and getting the key stops necessary to prevent two redzone opportunities from turning into touchdows and only one being converted for a field-goal.

The Ducks went right to work after receiving the 2nd half kickoff. Again the running-back Whitehead had another big middle of the field running getting the ball down to the Cal 32. After Cal held at that point Oregon attempted a 49 yard field-goal which just cleared the crossbar by no more than a yard. The Bears were behind again, not 3 minutes into the 2nd half, down 10-13.

Ayoob made a big mistake on the 2nd play of Cal’s ensuing drive. On a 3 step drop he held onto the ball too long and instead of either throwing it away or taking the sack he tried to scramble just as he was being hit. The ball popped loose where Oregon was able to jump on top of it before Cal fans could throw up their hands in disgust. One play later a tired Cal defense put up little resistance to the 18 yard run by Whitehead and the Bears were in serious trouble, down 10-20.

After the Bears and Ducks traded punts, the Bears finally got some offense going. Manderino started off with a nice 14 yard catch and run off the rollout. Lynch kept it going with a another run where he bounced it outside going for 26 yards. After a stuffed run, an incomplete pass and a false start penalty setup a 3rd and 18 from the 35, Tedford called for a run play to ensure they got into field-goal range. Schneider rewarded the confidence with a near perfect 45 yard kick with plenty of leg to spare. The Bears were within one score, 13-20.

After the Bears forced a second consecutive 3 and out for the Ducks, Lynch busted a long touchdown run off right tackle where he found a sizeable hole to explode through and got to the endzone untouched. The Bears had unbelievably tied the game towards the end of the 3rd quarter, 20-20.

The Bear defense yet again held Oregon from making a 1st down. Ayoob had another chance to redeem himself when DeSean Jackson was streaking down the center of the field more than 5 yards behind his defender. Instead of Ayoob laying out a catchable ball, he over threw him yet again, for at least the third time in the game. One play later the Bears were forced to punt.

Although the Ducks were able to manage a 1st down on their next possession, they were still forced to punt by the ever stiffening Bear defense. Mixon nearly broke the return all the way only being barely forced out of bounds by the punter after Mixon had returned it for over 40 yards. For once Ayoob was not to blame for the mistake that killed the drive however. DeSean bobbled a well thrown ball and Oregon’s safety was able to cradle the ball before it hit the turf. It was the third interception of the game and yet another one in Oregon territory.

Oregon and Cal again traded punts. The one notable aspect in the trade was that Cal yet again missed an opportunity to pin the punt deep in Oregon territory. Lonie punted the ball where it bounced about the 7 yard-line in a textbook punt. DeCoud unfortunately decided to catch the ball instead of bat it back into play. It was unfortunate because while DeCoud was able to get to it before it crossed the goal-line he was unable to stop his momentum from crossing the goal-line and the ball came all the way out to the 20.

After Oregon got a couple 1st downs, the Bears again forced a punt with just over two minutes remaining. Of particular note was the final 3rd and 1 where Desmond Bishop shot through the line and caught Whitehead 4 yards in the backfield, not even giving Oregon a chance to think about going for it on 4th down around midfield.

The first key play of Cal’s final drive of regulation was a delayed handoff that got the ball from the 13 to the 45 yard-line. The next key play was a non-call on fairly blatant pass interference on a deep ball to DeSean Jackson. However, DeSean got a retribution pass interference call on the next play, a 3rd and 2 where instead Ayoob sent another deep pass after fake. With the ball now on the Oregon 33 with just under a minute remaining, Cal was marginally in field-goal range. However, Lynch was not only stuffed, but caught behind the line for a 7 yard loss back to the 40 yard-line, a key loss of field position. To make matters worse, a shovel pass was also caught in the backfield and the Bears were now at the 44 yard-line. Additionally, both of the previous plays left the clock running so timeouts had to be called, leaving Cal timeout-less with 30 seconds remaining. On 3rd down Cal needed approximately 10 yards, preferably 15 yards, and the clock stopped after the play. Instead a busted play had Ayoob running up the center of the field dragged down at the 37 yard-line. Miraculously, the special teams unit managed to both get on the field and get the kick off. Schnieder’s rushed attempt was long enough but a bit wide-left, missing by no more than a few feet. It was a noble attempt, but a failed one nevertheless.

Summing regulation, the heroes for Cal were the defense and Marshawn Lynch. Lynch was responsible for the vast majority of the offense in the game, and managing nearly 200 yards when the defense knows that Lynch is all the Bears have made it particularly impressive. The defense however was the more important of the two heroes, holding Oregon scoreless for nearly the entire 2nd half. Even the point total of 20 for Oregon was only half of their normal production. Sadly the offense as a whole was not living up to their side of the bargain with Ayoob under center.

With Brady Leaf taking over at quarterback in overtime (he had played a few series during the game), Oregon’s pass offense had the precision of a traditional Cal offense and on 6 plays, Oregon was in the endzone. With Cal needing a touchdown to match, desperation had set in. With Oregon determined not to let Lynch beat them, Ayoob was forced into action on 2nd, 3rd and 4th down after the rush on 1st down only gained 2 yards. Of particular note was the 4th down pass which worked to perfection, minus Ayoob’s execution. Ayoob over-threw the ball and had no touch on a ball that should have been dropped in there.

And so Cal lost another game. Another game that was eminently winnable. Ayoob continued to look worse and worse with each game instead of improving with each game as most Tedford coached quarterbacks, even the mediocre ones, seemed to do. To make matters worse, unlike the WSU game, a game that gave some hope that despite being inconsistent Ayoob may have some clutch throws in him, Ayoob was anything but clutch in overtime.

To make matters worse, the next game on the calendar was USC instead of some patsy. The USC game was supposed to be the showdown for the conference championship and it was in Berkeley. Instead it was a desperate and unlikely opportunity to get back on the winning path instead of falling through the floor.

Would Cal pull off the now unlikely upset? Find out on Thursday.

Looking back on ’05: WSU

The UCLA game had been a letdown, but because UCLA was thought to be good, there was still hope for the program after the loss. The Oregon State loss was devastating. There was no excuse for the loss. Oregon State hadn’t even played a particularly good game. They had given the Bears plenty of opportunities to put away the game. The fallout was felt throughout the entire athletic program.

With Washington State coming to town, the general consensus was that the Bears should win by grinding out the run game. However, the confidence in that consensus was weak with plenty thinking that it was all too possible that the Bears could lose the game and if they did, there wasn’t a game left on the schedule that the Bears would win. Was it possible that a 5-0 team could go 5-6?

Tedford showed confidence in his team by deciding to take the opening kickoff. He also had Ayoob throw the ball on quick out patterns on two out of the first three plays, both of which were complete with WSU playing the run aggressively and hence playing the corners soft with very little protection behind them. However, after completing two 1st downs, Lynch was stuffed on 1st down and Ayoob sacked on 2nd down when his protection broke down early, the Bears were faced with a 3rd and 13 of which the screen play fell 3 yards short.

The Cougars took over at their own 16 yard-line after the punt and didn’t waste any time testing the secondary throwing a bomb to Jason Hill on 1st down. To prevent the big play McCluskey committed the pass interference penalty, limiting the damage to 15 yards. After Cal forced a 3rd and 6, WSU made another attempt at the long play. This time the receiver out ran Mixon to the ball for an easy 66 yard touchdown pass. Bear fans around the globe were in a panic less than five minutes into the game, down early, 0-7.

The Bears got 8 yards on their first play of their next possession, but Forsett was stuffed for no gain on 2nd down. Luckily in 2005 the Manderino fullback crash was still a guaranteed 1st down on 3rd and 2. However, faced with the same scenario 3 downs later, WSU was ready for Manderino on his 2nd attempt. Luckily in 2005, the 4th down quarterback sneak was still working on 4th and inches. Two plays later, the patience in the running game paid off when Lynch found a big hole on the right side and was able to sprint to the endzone to tie the game, 7-7.

The Bears forced a 3 and out on the Wougs* next possession, giving the Bears the ball back on the WSU side of the field after Mixon was able to get a fairly good return on the outside. On 2nd down Ayoob made a bad read and tried to force it to his receiver on the inside slant route. The back was able to tip the ball up where it was intercepted, giving the ball back to WSU just as Cal looked to be taking control.

WSU went for the kill on the next play throwing another bomb to Hill who was able to beat Damien Hughes down the sideline for another long pass play, this one being forced out of bounds at the Cal 5 yard-line. The Bears were able to hold WSU out of the endzone forcing the chip-shot field goal, the Bears in a hole again, 7-10.

Cal went straight back to the run game and just as Cal seemed powerless to stop the deep passing game of the Wougs, WSU was incapable of stopping the run game. After a 34 run by Forsett got the ball down to around the WSU 30, Ayoob was able to find a hole in the now run-focused defense getting a well thrown and timed pass to the rarely used David Gray in the endzone putting the Bears back on top with less than two minutes left in the 1st quarter, 14-10.

The Bears were able to hold WSU to a single 1st down before forcing the punt, which sailed into the endzone. After a few plays re-establishing the run, Tedford loosened the leash on Ayoob yet again. Two consecutive pass plays, the first on 3rd and 9, got the ball down to the WSU 17 yard-line. Unfortunately a personal foul penalty on the following 1st down put the Bears behind the chains and they were forced to attempt a long field-goal. To add to the struggles the attempt was pushed wide right resulting in zero points.

The Bears went back to the run game on their next possession. Minus a 3rd down completion mid-drive by Ayoob, Lynch was responsible for all of the Bears yards getting the ball down to the WSU 43. After WSU locked down the run game and a delay of game penalty set up a 3rd and 15 that Ayoob was unable to convert, nearly throwing a pick, but ultimately resulting in a punt downed inside the 20 yard-line.

WSU quarterback Alex Brink made his first mistake of the game on 3rd and 7 on the next drive’s first set of downs, throwing a pick to Greg VanHoesen who jumped the route and ran it in for an easy touchdown and increasing the Bear lead to 21-10.

Brink was unable to correct his ways on the next series. Trying desperately to get some points on the board before halftime, he threw another ill-advised pass that Mixon was able to jump. Unlike the previous interception, Mixon was only able to get the ball down to the 3 yard-line before being dragged down. Ayoob got away with an ill-advised pass of his own throwing to a well covered Manderino, nearly throwing it at his feet. Manderino was able to adjust down to the ball and grab the weakly thrown touchdown pass, putting the Bears up 28-10.

Summing the 1st half, the WSU offense had consisted entirely of two long pass plays. Otherwise the defense had shut the Wougs down as well as adding 14 points to the Cal point total. On the other side of the ball, the Cal offense had played mediocre, but it seemed to be good enough for the opponent being played. Ayoob had been inconsistent again, showing some signs of brilliance, but also plenty of moments of incompetence. Nevertheless, everything seemed to be going the Bears way as long as Cal could prevent WSU from getting the 3 or 4 big plays it would need to get back in the game.

The first of those big plays came on WSU’s first possession of the 2nd half. After getting a couple first downs with a nice mix of run and pass, Brink threw another bomb to Hill. This one was well contested by Hughes, but a nice last minute adjustment by Hill gave Hill a touchdown on the slightly under thrown ball. The Bears lead was cut to 28-17.

Ayoob didn’t come out of the locker room well, throwing the ball at the feet of Hawkins on 2nd and 7 on a quick out pattern. After a sack took Ayoob down when WSU brought an effective blitz on 3rd down, the Bears were forced to punt.

WSU continued on their comeback on the second play of their next drive throwing yet another bomb to Hill who had beat Hughes yet again. This time he was able to streak down the sideline for another easy touchdown. On two big plays, in relatively quick succession, WSU had undone the damage of the two interceptions in the 1st half. After WSU completed the 2-point conversion, the Bears lead was down to a field-goal, 28-25.

The Bears went back to the run game again. This time with Lynch on the bench taking a quick breather, Forsett busted two quick runs to get the ball down to the Woug 30 yard-line. The next set of downs was hampered by an over-throw by Ayoob on 1st down in the endzone. After a Lynch run setup 3rd and 5, Ayoob tried to run for a 1st down, coming up just short. Tedford uncharacteristically went for it on 4th and inches, again running a QB sneak for the 1st down. Lynch ran a both unremarkable and signature 8 yard run, spinning out of 4 or 5 tackles after being stopped in the back-field, making something out of nothing. Unfortunately, his determination was not rewarded when Manderino was stripped on 2nd down, turning the ball over to WSU when the offense had the ball in the redzone.

The defense saved face for the offense, forcing a 3 and out. Ayoob made sure to keep his collapse alive, throwing 3 consecutive incompletions. The first was a slight over-throw to Hawkins. The 2nd and 3rd were screen plays that were broken up from the get-go that Ayoob forced in there anyway, both nearly being intercepted. The Bears were forced to punt.

WSU caught a break on the punt after the returner dropped the ball. Cal was poised to jump on the ball with three or four guys in position to pounce on it. Unfortunately it bounced sharply off one of those Cal players out of bounds, giving the ball back to WSU. The Cougars then broke the game open on two consecutive plays. First their running back Harrison had his only good run of the game, getting the ball to the Cal side of the field. On the next play Brink went back to his favorite target Jason Hill. With Mixon now covering Hill after Hughes proved not up to the challenge, he tipped the ball. Unfortunately it went up into the air and Hill was able to adjust to the ball to get yet another touchdown. The Bears were trailing for the first time since the mid-1st quarter, down 28-32.

The Bears refused to let Ayoob continue his slide on their next drive and were rewarded by Forsett and Lynch combining for over 30 yards on 3 consecutive plays. After Lynch was stuffed on the following 1st down and Ayoob threw another ball at the feet of his receiver on 2nd down, it setup a fairly important 3rd and 10 at midfield. Ayoob proceeded to both throw behind and lack any touch on his pass on 3rd down and the Bears were forced to punt with the 3rd quarter nearly over.

With Ayoob one for seven in the 2nd half, the play calling continued to heavily emphasize the run. Again Lynch got the ball out to midfield and again Ayoob made another mistake, forcing the ball to a well covered DeSa. After it bounced off of DeSa’s knee, it was free for the WSU safety to intercept it. WSU was now in position to ice the game away with the ball just on their side of midfield.

The Cal defense made the adjustments to their defense to prevent the deep pass from burning them yet again. However, WSU was instead able to chip away getting just outside the Cal redzone. Brink was then able to throw a nice pass into the endzone while rolling out after avoiding pressure. While it wasn’t Hill who caught the ball, it was nevertheless another 2nd half passing touchdown for WSU. After the extra-point was botched, Cal was down more than one score in the 4th quarter for the first time all season, 28-38.

After the Bears went 3 and out on another pathetic series of downs, WSU was able to get a couple of 1st downs. The most troubling aspect is that the running game was working for WSU for the first time all game. The Bears finally forced 4th down around midfield on the back of a big sack on 1st down. WSU tried a fake punt out of the same playbook that UCLA used, doing a short snap. This time the Bears were waiting and the Bears got the ball back around their own 45.

Ayoob, fresh off stinking up the 3rd quarter, reminded all Cal fans just why he was so frustrating. He through a nice crossing route pass to Cunningham on 1st down that he was able to break past the safety for a WSU-like easy touchdown, the Bears back in it with 5:20 left in the game, down 35-38.

The Bear defense was re-invigorated by the improved situation and forced a 3 and out. After a short punt and 10 yard return, the Bears were in business with over four minutes remaining at the WSU 45 yard-line. Ayoob connected again with his new favorite receiver, Cunningham, on yet another slant down to the 20. Lynch then took it well into the redzone on 1st down, getting 7 yards. The Bears were now in position to at least tie the game and the clock down to just under two minutes after Lynch ran for another 1st down setting up 1st and goal at the 9 yard-line. Just when everyone thought Cal was going to ram it down WSU’s throat while running out the clock en-route to a touchdown, Tedford gave Ayoob a chance to win the hearts back of Cal fans. Ayoob delivered a strike to Hawkins on a quick slant for the go-ahead touchdown, the Bears up by 4 after the extra-point, 42-38.

The Wougs were unable to score the desperation comeback touchdown with the minute and a half they had to work with.

Summing the game, Ayoob’s performance only confirmed the worst fears of Bear fans who had witnessed his unraveling against Oregon State. While Ayoob was able to salvage some respect with his late comeback, everyone who understood the situation knew that it was not a positive game for him. More relevant to this game was the atrocious play of Damien Hughes. Hughes has gone on to win our hearts in later seasons, but in this game he nearly cost the Bears the game single handedly. I’ve never witnessed a game where an offense was so one-dimensional as the WSU offense was on this night in ’05. Take away 5 ridiculously easy long plays and WSU would have only had 7 points on the board. Add on that Cal had a 28-10 lead where playing the deep ball should be a top priority and it was inexcusable how poorly the secondary as a whole and Hughes in particular played.

Would the secondary be able to get their act together against Tedford’s old team? Would Ayoob finally put the pieces together against Oregon?

Find out on Saturday.

(* At the 2007 WSU game, there was a set of 5 shirtless guys in the WSU section with letters painted on their chests that was not easily visible from our seats on the other side of the stadium. Using my telephoto lens by brother tried to read the letters and said “something ‘O’ ‘U’ ‘G’ ‘S’ what’s that spell, WOUGS!?!”. Apparently he didn’t remember their nickname was the Cougs and had assumed the first letter was a ‘W’ for WSU. Nevertheless, neither of us has been able to call the Cougars anything but the Wougs ever since.)

Looking back on ’05: Oregon St.

After the heartbreaking loss to UCLA, the overall feeling about the Bears was still good. UCLA was ranked 16th at the time of the game after all. Minus the special teams mistake and some only minorly concerning redzone effectiveness issues, the Bears played pretty well, scoring 40 points. With a lowly regarded Oregon State coming to town, it was assumed the Bears would get back on track. All it would take is for the still suspect UCLA to lose a couple and the Bears were still on track to meet USC at home for the rematch that could send Cal to their first Rose Bowl.

The Bears got the ball to start the game. After a steady dose of running loosened the OSU defense enough to get the ball on the OSU side of the field, OSU keyed on the run on 1st down, stuffing Marshawn Lynch. After a sack on 2nd down setup a difficult 3rd and 13 that Ayoob was not able to complete, the Bears had to punt.

OSU only accomplished one 1st down before the Bears clamped down and forced a punt, getting the ball back deep in their own territory at the 12 yard-line. The Bears went straight back to the running game on 1st and 2nd down, setting up a 3rd and 5. Ayoob did his best to run for the 1st down after the pass-coverage broke down, falling one yard short.

Unfortunately on the punt, Bears fans were forced to re-live their all too fresh special teams mistakes, allowing OSU to run it back to the Cal 21 yard-line, instantly in position to score. After a 3rd down completion on a nice out-pattern gave the Beavers 1st and goal from the 9 yard line, the Bear defense clamped down and forced the field-goal attempt. The 24 yard field-goal was good, putting the Bears in an early yet small hole 0-3.

On the Bears next possession, although switching things up on 1st down resulted in an incompletion, the fruit of that choice was realized on 2nd down when Lynch was able to run for 24 yards to the outside, getting the ball out to the Cal 38. Cal used the same strategy on their 2nd set of down with much less success with the same 1st down incompletion but Forsett being stuffed on 2nd down and Ayoob sacked on 3rd down, forcing the punt.

The Beavers didn’t waste any time taking advantage of the Bear ineffectiveness, throwing a deep slant for 58 yards down to the Cal 9 yard-line. The Beavers again found the going more difficult deep inside the redzone, settling for another field-goal, this one from 25 yards, adding to the Bears deficit, now down 0-6.

On the Bears next drive, the Bears were saved from disaster twice. First, an instant replay kept things going on 2nd and 10, giving DeSean Jackson a catch setting up 3rd and 1. After the 1st down, a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by the Beavers was overturned by a 15 yard facemask penalty. Two additional personal foul penalties, one for an extended tackle after the whistle on a Manderino run play and another on a blatant pass-interference shoving DeSean out of bounds on a fade pattern to the endzone, got the ball just outside the OSU redzone. After a sack on Ayoob, the 3rd of the game, the Bears busted out some trickery. A run play to the right by Lynch was turned into a pass back across the field to Ayoob who streaked down the left sideline for a touchdown, putting the Bears in front for the first time, 7-6.

OSU was able to chip away at the Bears defense getting the ball out to midfield. The Bears had the drive stopped when a complete pass 3rd down came up 7 yards short when a very marginal personal foul penalty on Zack Follett when he threw the receiver to the ground just as he had stepped out of bounds. The Bears defense was able to cover their mistake on the next play when Pimentel stepped in front of a pass up the middle, intercepting it on the Cal 32 yard line.

Sam DeSa prevented OSU from returning the favor by breaking up an interception two plays into the Cal drive when Ayoob made a bad read. After Lynch was stuffed on the following run play and Ayoob missed Lynch on the screen play, the Bears had to punt.

The Beavers were able to get a couple more 1st downs, getting the ball back out near midfield again before they were forced to punt. Unfortunately for the Bears, they gave the Beavers a gift on their first play of the next drive. Lynch allowed the ball to be stripped after he had a 4 yard gain, giving the ball back to the Beavers with a 1st and goal from the 8.

After the Bears held again on 1st and 2nd down a desperate Matt Moore, wanting to see the Beavers finally get a touchdown in their 3rd redzone appearance, forced a ball on a slant that Pimentel was all over. To add insult to injury for the Beavers, Pimentel was able to run the ball all the way down to the OSU redzone. Adding to that, a block in the back penalty gave the Bears the ball at the OSU 8 yard line. Two plays later Ayoob found DeSean in the back of the endzone on a fade pattern to put the Bears up 14-6.

After the Bears forced a 3 and out with the Beavers inside their own redzone, it looked like the Bears were in a position to extend their lead before halftime. However, after a great punt gave the Bears the ball at their own 41, Lynch fumbled yet again, again stripped as he was stood up. To make matters worse, the ball was run down to the Cal 12 yard-line off of the fumble setting up the Beaver’s fourth redzone appearance. Again the Bears held and again the Beavers kicked a field-goal, this one as time expired in the 1st half, putting the halftime score at Cal 14, OSU 9.

Summing the 1st half, the Bears were lucky to have the lead. The offense had been inconsistent and the two fumbles by Lynch were very troublesome. Also troublesome was how frequently the Bears had let OSU into the rezone. Whether escaping with only 9 points on the opponent’s scoreboard was a result of good defense or good luck, it was not a position that left Bear fans feeling very comfortable with the slim 14-9 lead the Bears had. If the Bear offense couldn’t generate more yards, having only gained 122 in the 1st half, and points, there could be trouble in the 2nd half if OSU could resolve their offensive woes.

The halftime break proved to be very valuable for the OSU offense. After they converted on a 3rd and 5 with a nice pass under pressure that went for 17 yards, running back Yvenson Bernard took the team on his back. On his 3rd consecutive play getting the ball he busted the run to the outside, picked up a great block and ran it into the endzone on a 31 yard run play, proving that the best way for the Beavers to get into the endzone was from outside the redzone.

On the first possession of the half for the Bears, Justin Forsett came in as the running back, an indication that Lynch was being held out of the game for fumbling twice late in the 2nd half. However, with Lynch out, Cal mostly went to the air, moving the ball out to about midfield including a 27 yard post pattern to DeSean. After another pass to Robert Jordon got the ball down to the OSU 39, Ayoob decided to pull his best Lynch impression by scrambling to get some extra yards and then coughing the ball up, giving OSU back the ball.

OSU went right back to work. Between the power running of Bernard and a personal foul on Ma’afala the Beavers quickly had the ball inside the Cal redzone yet again. Bernard then ran the ball down to the Cal 7 yard-line setting up their 5th 1st and goal. This time it was not the Cal defense that kept OSU from converting the touchdown but a fumble into the endzone where it bounced out of bounds before it could be recovered by wide-receiver Mike Hass, that gave Cal the ball back at the 20 yard-line.

The Bears continued to shoot themselves in the foot on their next possession when a holding penalty called back a touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson. Luckily for the Bears, with Ayoob now seeing how to expose the weaknesses in the OSU secondary, the Bears were able to get back down into the redzone on the back of passes to Jackson and Marcus O’Keith. Ayoob was then able to run it into the endzone on a quarterback draw, giving the Bears the lead back. The Bears attempted the 2-point conversion to try to extend to a 7 point lead but the fade pattern was slightly overthrown, leaving the Bears up only by 4, 20-16.

The Cal defense stiffened on the next OSU possession. Unfortunately the Beavers punt rolled down to inside the Cal 1 yard line. Cal was unable to work out of their short field and the best they could do was to punt the ball to midfield. However, the Bears were able to significantly improve their situation on the next play when McCluskey intercepted a ball intended for Hass giving the Bears the ball at the Cal 45.

The Bears looked to be capitalizing on the good fortune after Ayoob completed a pass to David Gray getting the ball down to the OSU 34. Sadly, Ayoob threw an interception of the type he will always be remembered for. Under pressure without a good receiver to throw to, instead of throwing it away or taking the sack, he threw up a wounded duck that landed in the defenses hands, negating the momentum swing the Bears had gained.

After the defense forced a 3 and out, Ayoob showed just how shaken he was from the previous interception. Working again out of his own endzone after another great punt, he skipped a ball to an open Robert Jordon on 2nd down. After a mediocre completion on 3rd down gave the Bears another set of downs, Ayoob threw another interception, this time way too close to the Bear goal-line, giving the Beavers the ball at the Cal 32.

After OSU got into the redzone on a screen pass, OSU put the ball into Bernards hands again on 3 consecutive plays under the premise that he was the only one to be effective in the redzone. Sure enough, minus the fumble into the endzone, he was able to duplicate his previous redzone performance giving OSU back the lead, the Bears needing a field-goal with 6:41 remaining to get back into the game, down 20-23.

What transpired in the next four possessions was a exercise in futility for both offenses. 4 consecutive 3 and outs where Ayoob looked more shaky with every incompletion and OSU was unable to run the ball with the Cal offense keying on the run with the clock winding down.

Cal was able to get the ball back one final time with 1:02 left in the game and the ball on the Cal 11 yard line after another good punt, the 5th to land in the Cal redzone. Ayoob then threw a fairly good pass to DeSean Jackson who was unable to go up and get it with his shoulder injury from earlier in the game. On the next play pressure on Ayoob forced him to throw it away. On 3rd down Ayoob was given plenty of time but was unable to find an open receiver. Finally on 4th down Ayoob broke his 9 pass incompletion streak (if you’re willing to count an interception as an incompletion), hitting DeSean for a 1st down. Ayoob then threw another one of his signature under pressure wounded ducks that should have been intercepted had it not been dropped. Two more incompletions later, Cal turned the ball over on downs, effectively ending the game.

Summing the game, while there had been minor lingering doubts regarding Ayoob, the OSU game was the turning point in the criticism of Ayoob. His performance in the 2nd half clearly sunk the Bears. While there was plenty of blame to go around between fumbles and giving the Beavers too many redzone opportunities, it was impossible to deny that Cal had 3 end of game possessions to make up a 3 point deficit in which Ayoob was unable to shake his nearly back-to-back interceptions from just prior to those possessions.

The Bears had now lost two in a row, including a loss to a team thought to be in the bottom half of the conference. With another home game against a bottom of the Pac-10 WSU the next week, would the Bears be able to correct their mistakes in time to turn it around?

Tune in on Wednesday to find out.