2012 California Football Week 5: Purgatory [27-17L]by Nam Le on Sep, 30 2012
If there was any still hope that the Bears could make a bowl game or contend in the Pac-12 North, those hopes met a definite demise on Saturday afternoon, impaled at the end of one of Sparky’s pitchforks.
It was a hellish, torturous performance, to say the least – and a baking, intense heat that caused several players to cramp didn’t help those comparisons. Adding to that torture? The fact that Cal fans had seen it all before – just like their three other losses this season, the Bears were doomed by familiar demons: horrible pass protection, self-inflicted penalties, an inability to get off the field on third down, and most importantly, a lack of execution in the game’s biggest moments.
With California trailing by 10 and barely 6 minutes left in the game, for example, the Bears began a critical drive from their own 20. After throwing an incompletion on 1st down, Maynard uncorked two catchable passes on consecutive plays. He had only a few of those on Saturday, completing a horrendous 9 of 26, but these managed to find their way to the normally sure-handed Keenan Allen and freshman wideout Chris Harper.
Both were dropped.
Harper’s was particularly painful, as he had beaten the defense down the field for what would have been a momentum-changing 40 yard gain. But, as we have seen so many times this season, the Bears came up just a little bit short. And if that weren’t frustrating enough, California coach Jeff Tedford then elected to punt, effectively conceding the game to Arizona State.
Unfortunately, Cal’s anemic passing game overshadowed what was a very strong performance from their running backs. Even with Brendan “The Fresno Flash” Bigelow sidelined for most of the day, Isi Sofele contributed with his best game of the season, rolling up 105 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, while CJ Anderson tossed in another 78. What made those numbers more impressive was the fact that the Bears’ were pushed around and out-physicaled up front nearly all afternoon; Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton made plays behind the line of scrimmage so often, it seemed as if he had bought property in the Cal backfield.
With the offense already struggling to sustain drives, the California defense was tasked both with slowing Sun Devil quarterback Taylor Kelly and keeping the score close, which they did with moderate success. A week after being gashed for 296 rushing yards against USC, the Bears looked much improved there, giving up only 2.4 yards a carry. Sophomore safety Avery Sebastian was a large part of that, as he seemed to be in the right place at the right time on nearly every play. But it wasn’t enough. Oh yes, the Bears sacked Kelly twice, hit him six other times, and flushed him out of the pocket quite regularly. But the tricky Devil consistently kept drives alive by finding receivers that broke back to the ball, helped by a secondary that rarely reacted fast enough to make a play. The result was an alarming 9 of 20 third down conversions for ASU, allowing the Sun Devils to hold the ball for 35 minutes and eventually ice the game.
Now 1-4, the Bears are effectively in college football purgatory; clearly not good enough to compete or go bowling this season, yet needing to finish it anyway. The offensive line has looked from mediocre to awful, depending on the game. The same can be said for the secondary…and that’s not even beginning to discuss the quarterback play. Hard to imagine all those aspects improving over the last 7 games, let alone winning 5 of them.
So, where, then, does salvation lie? Many would say with a new coaching staff. Perhaps that’s true. It certainly looks more and more like it, as “Fire Tedford” chants began yesterday and are likely to grow louder each passing week. But that decision won’t come until the end of the season, at the earliest.
No, salvation and solace can both be found in the team’s future. Certainly, freshmen Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs continue to be impressive at wide receiver, but they are not the only bright spots – Chris McCain’s passion, Brendan Bigelow’s blistering speed and potential, Avery Sebastian’s athleticism…the list goes on and on. The growth of those young Bears is reason enough to watch and support the rest of the way, even if victory is no longer to be expected.
Even as those cubs offer hope for next year, there still remains the sad, final fate of this one – the Bears are heading nowhere in 2012. The Sun Devils made sure of that.
Cover credit – SF Chronicle