After stressing execution all week long, the Golden Bears did everything but. They committed two turnovers, were flagged 12 times for 106 yards, had numerous special teams breakdowns, and generally played unintelligent, undisciplined, uninspired football to allow an outmanned FCS opponent to hang around.
Cal ultimately used a 23-point fourth-quarter burst, with three touchdowns of 61 yards or longer, to pull away for a 50-31 win, but didn't exactly inspire confidence ahead of its trip to No. 14 Ohio State next weekend.
"That brings you back to earth," said Tedford of the impending game against the Buckeyes. "This game is another lesson. The one (lesson) that came out of this was the penalties."
Wide receiver Chris Harper had a 44-yard catch-and-run touchdown negated by two blocking penalties. Cal (1-1) was called for pass interference, allowing Southern Utah (0-2) to score on a miraculous 37-yard Hail Mary from quarterback Brad Sorensen to receiver Cameron Morgan. The senior jumped over two defenders to come down with the reception in the back of the end zone on an untimed down to end the first half.
There was also a false start on offense after taking back-to-back time outs, another late hit by an offensive lineman, plus two offsides penalties covering kickoffs.
"It was very frustrating," said quarterback Zach Maynard, who completed 17-of-23 passes for 229 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. "We got to stay mentally locked (in) and stay in the game the whole time."
And while there were positives – another strong performance from Harper, and a dramatically improved running game as Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson combined for 150 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries – it wasn't enough to erase the sense of dread headed to Columbus, Ohio.
Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorensen completed 31-of-45 passes for 292 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. The one-time BYU Cougar was 26 for 31 in the second half, one week after Nevada's Cody Fajardo shredded the Cal defense as a runner and passer. Who knows what Braxton Miller, who topped 100 yards rushing for the second straight game and has completed 66 percent of his passes this season, could do at home?
Cal players were repeatedly asked what they had to do to match Ohio State, which looks more and more like the class of the Big Ten after Wisconsin and Nebraska flamed out in trips West. They could only come up with basic platitudes.
"I would say we have to play more consistent, not put ourselves in long third down situations by doing a great job on first and second down," Maynard said.
"I think we just have to execute," Harper said. "Coming to practice, we have to run every play hard. We have no time to slack off. We got to do all our assignments the right way."
"Every practice makes perfect. We just got to come out here and make it happen on the field," wide receiver Keenan Allen said.
The better answer is just playing smarter, especially when it gives Allen more chances to show off his talent. The junior had an easy 19-yard touchdown reception on the first play of the fourth quarter to push the lead to 27-17, then added a 69-yard punt return for a score.
Allen bobbled it initially, but then came the fun part "once you find out it didn't go bad" by bouncing it to the outside and running past the Thunderbirds to salt the game away at 44-17.
"Keenan, we all know what Keenan can do," Tedford said. "That was an unbelievable return. He's a special player without a doubt."
Cal will need more of that and less of what plagued it for the first three quarters.
"We got to execute," Harper said. "That's the key word."
McKay would agree.
Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and covers the Pac-12 for Fox Sports/Scout.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.