Cal Season Isn't Lost
The e-mails I’ve gotten suggest that at least some alumni think the world has fallen off its axis with the loss to UCLA. Here are some specific complaints I’ve heard, with comments by me and Bears head coach Jeff Tedford.
--The Bears should have been better prepared for the fake punt in the fourth quarter which set up the Bruins’ go-ahead touchdown because it was obvious UCLA would do that.
Well, it wasn’t obvious to the TV announcers, who were talking about UCLA playing for field position with about 9 ½ minutes to go. I had the advantage of knowing what was going to happen because I watched only the first half live and Tivo’d the second half to watch later. Had I been watching live, I would have expected a punt because there was plenty of time left.
The play succeeded because of an unusual development, as Tedford explained at yesterday’s media lunch..
“One of our young players (Tedford didn’t mention a name) was supposed to go in but he heard one of our veterans telling players to get back from the sidelines. The player got confused and thought he was supposed to stay out, so we wound up with only 10 players on the field – and he was the one who was supposed to watch the wing.”
Tedford went on to say that one of the coaches should have noticed that and called a timeout, but at that point, with all that was happening, I can understand why no coach could notice in time.
--Cal should have punted the ball out of bounds instead of to Maurice Drew, who had one punt return for a touchdown and another that set up a touchdown.
“We were trying to do that, but it didn’t work out,” Tedford said. “It’s not always as easy as it looks. If we’re on the right hashmark, it’s easy for the ball to go off the side of the punter’s foot (as it did one time for David Lonie, for only a 25-yard punt). UCLA did a good job of setting up a wall of blockers on the first return. The second time, our guys were so intent on not getting caught up in that wall that they got down too fast and Drew was able to burst through.”
--Tedford stayed too long with the run, and Joe Ayoob had to throw too often in third-and-long situations because of that.
--Tedford should have stayed with the running game until UCLA showed it could stop it, instead of having Ayoob throw so much.
Hmmm. So, it seems Tedford (1) Called too many running plays; and (2) Didn’t call enough running plays. Frankly, I think it’s hard to criticize playcalling when a team scores 40 points and racks up 545 yards of total offense against a quality team.
There’s no question that the Bears’ running attack has been more effective than its passing. “We’d like to have a balanced offense,” Tedford said yesterday, “but I’m not going to call more passes just to get balance. We’re going to call the plays that are best for that game.”
He also commented on Ayoob. “I think he’s getting more comfortable all the time. I thought he made good decisions against UCLA, and he was throwing well downfield. He was a little excited at the start of the game, but he settled down quickly.”
That jibed with what I saw, too. I thought this was Ayoob’s best game.
And, we all need to be aware of one important factor: UCLA is a very good team, easily the best the Bears have played this season. The Bruins are 5-0 and averaging 44 points a game. Losing to them on their home field is hardly a disgrace.
THE SEASON is far from lost, and the Bears can get back on track Saturday with a win over Oregon State, a good team but hardly a great one.
One of the keys to the rest of the season will be the Bears’ resiliency, and Tedford was pleased with what he saw in the Monday practice. “They really practiced hard,” he said. “They’re eager to get that bad taste (from the UCLA loss) out of their mouths.”
Earlier, I had figured that the three toughest games on the Cal schedule were USC at home and Oregon and UCLA on the road.
The Oregon game had worried me because it’s the week before the USC game. If the Bears had been undefeated at that point, I thought it was inevitable that Cal would be looking past Oregon.
The dynamic has changed. The possibility of an undefeated season is gone, so the Bears won’t be looking past anybody. And, they’ll have a bye before the Oregon game, so they’ll have extra time to prepare. I think they’ll win that game.
The young Bears should have learned a lesson from the UCLA defeat, too. All season, Tedford has been talking about how they need to avoid the mistakes they’ve been making, but sometimes, it’s hard for that message to sink in with young players if they’re winning. Now, they’ll be more receptive.
Often, these young players are in totally unfamiliar positions. While officials were reviewing the play on which DeSean Jackson was ruled out of bounds on the UCLA one, though he fumbled when he reached over the goal line, Tedford talked with Jackson on the sidelines. “He was just trying to get into the end zone,” Tedford said, “and he asked me what he should have done. I told him to keep both hands on the ball because otherwise, it could be called a touchback. He didn’t realize that.” My guess is that play never came up in Jackson’s prep career because he was usually far ahead of defenders.
Special teams play has been a season-long problem, but Tedford noted that it isn’t because of a lack of effort. He has talked this week about possible changes in the special teams, but not because he’s unhappy with specific players. “We may decide we’re asking too much of players who are also playing on either offense or defense,” he said. “Maybe they’re tired and, even though they’re trying to make plays, just don’t have enough left to do it.”
THIS IS MY 50th season of watching Cal football. In the previous 49, I’ve seen only five seasons in which the Bears won at least eight games, two of those in the last two years. Now, the Bears still have a shot at an 8-3 season, maybe even 9-2. Would I be happy with that? You bet. I hope the rest of you can have that same perspective.
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