Discipline deserts Bears in defining moment

Plentiful penalties in 27-17 loss to Arizona State are one glaring sign that Jeff Tedford's tenure at California could soon be coming to an end by the end of this season.

BERKELEY, Calif. – College football's meme de jour is Georgia head coach Mark Richt losing control of anything and everything.

Player arrested? Mark Richt has lost control. Special teams breakdown? Mark Richt has lost control. Tennessee briefly takes the lead on the Bulldogs? You guessed it, and "Mark Richt has lost control of Derek Dooley's job security" makes the rounds on Twitter.

But Jeff Tedford has lost control of California, the program he rescued from irrelevance and brought tantalizingly close to the promised land of New Year's Day in Pasadena for the Rose Bowl. Not a meme, just the sad and honest truth.

It was plainly evident Saturday, as the Golden Bears stumbled their way through another lackadaisical effort before falling to Arizona State, 27-17. It was the Sun Devils' first win in Memorial Stadium since 1997, their first win over Cal in the last five years. It was the first time Tedford has started a season 1-4 in his head coaching tenure.

It was evident Tedford lost control as Cal had 12 penalties for 119 yards, lost a fumble, allowed six sacks, completed 9-of-28 passes, and just got pushed around.

What was once a program a mere half step below USC as the Pac-10's elite is perhaps the second-worst in the Pac-12, or at least in the conversation with Washington State, not the kind of company one wants to keep.

It was most evident in terms of penalties, especially when sharing the field with Arizona State. Todd Graham took a team that finished dead last out of 120 teams in flags and penalty yards per game last season and has instilled discipline and accountability, and molded them into one that had two penalties for 20 yards.

Cal had one less yard in penalties in one game than Arizona State had in its first four games this season.

And it's not like this hasn't been a point of emphasis. Tedford and his players have been harping on penalties since the first game of the year as the root of their struggles, especially in the first quarter and causing unmanageable third downs.

Oh, Cal ranked 119th in penalties per game last season, 85th the year before, so this has been an issue building and bubbling over time.

That means either the players are tuning out the message of coaches or aren't capable of getting better. Either way, it is a damning sign that Tedford's time is running out.

Graham fixed the issue in one spring practice and fall camp. Tedford can't do it in years.

And that's before trying to explain the decline in quarterback play, in offensive line play, on defense, on special teams, to say nothing of the zero offensive touches for sophomore running back Brendan Bigelow, the team's second-most explosive offensive weapon.

A turnaround this season is all but out of the question, with games against UCLA, Stanford, Washington, Oregon, and Oregon State still to come. A turnaround like the one Mike Riley has engineered for the Beavers after last year's 3-9 debacle seems out of the question, as one well-heeled donor told the San Francisco Chronicle that Tedford will almost assuredly be bought out after a sub-.500 season.

The only question left is whether Tedford lose control of the dignity of his exit. He has done too much for Cal to leave at the end of some long losing streak, the renovated Memorial Stadium a testament to his importance and legacy.

And he has enough pieces to put together a competitive team, with talent at the skill positions, and a defense that had 14 tackles for loss and in position for perhaps a half-dozen others but failed to finish them off.

Jeff Tedford has lost control of 2012. Not a joke, not a meme, just the facts.

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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