Kansas State 42, Cal 28

<p class=txt>When I first heard Cal was playing Kansas State in the Black Coaches Association Classic in Kansas City, my initial reaction was, "Uh oh."

After all, the Wildcats are ranked #7 by AP and #5 by the coaches, have won 11 games in five of the past six seasons, return potential Heisman candidates in senior QB Ell Roberson and junior RB Darren Sproles from an offense that averaged 45 points per game in 2002, and run a version of the option that gave us so much trouble in the Air Force game last season. Playing KSU essentially on its home turf would be a tall order for anyone, especially a Cal team in transition with the well-chronicled loss of 24 seniors. The 28-point spread indicated that the college football world expected a blowout. However, Coach Tedford has brought the mentality of "We'll play anyone, anywhere, anytime," which in the long run will be a good thing. And the Bears acquitted themselves respectably in a 42-28 loss, thereby fueling hope that future success may not be as far away as prognosticated (the highest I have seen us picked in the Pac-10 in preseason magazines is eighth).

Many game summaries from the Midwest media used words like "rout" when describing the game. In some respects, that's true, as KSU built a 21-point lead and, after the second quarter, was never in danger of losing the game. However, the difference was heavily influenced by two key opportunities on which the Bears did not capitalize: an unsuccessful attempt on fourth-and-inches from the KSU 1 and a dropped interception that may have resulted in a touchdown. Otherwise, the outcome could have been in doubt. I am not saying that Cal would have won the game had we made those plays, and fully realize that successful execution is what separates the victors from the vanquished; nevertheless, the point is that the game was not as one-sided as the Midwesterners would like to believe. They gave us about as much respect as they would to Troy State, McNeese State, or UMass, which are the next three teams on the Wildcats' schedule.

At the beginning, we did play like a Division I-AA school in awe of the opposition. The Bears took the opening kickoff and were promptly whistled for a false start prior to the first snap. QB Reggie Robertson then threw two incompletions sandwiched around a short run by RB Marcus O'Keith, and soon new punter Lucas Everett was forced to punt. On KSU's first play from scrimmage, Sproles broke free up the middle for a 53-yard gain before DB Donnie McCleskey finally caught him at the Cal 7. On third down, Roberson tossed an option pitch to Sproles, who scored an easy touchdown. Just over two minutes into the game, the Wildcats had a 7-0 lead, the fans were going crazy, and the mascot was doing pushups on a board carried by the yell leaders. Good grief, maybe the point spread was too low!

But the Bears' opening jitters settled quickly as the offense got down to business. On third and 9 from the Cal 24, Robertson hit diving WR Vincent Strang for a 17-yard gain. Cal got a couple more first downs before striking on a beautiful 34-yard Robertson-to-Strang TD pass where Strang again dove for the catch. Former punter turned placekicker Tyler Fredrickson booted the extra point, and the score was tied at 7.

KSU recaptured the lead on its second possession, a drive keyed by a 53-yard bomb from Roberson to WR James Terry. Terry had CB Harrison Smith beaten, and if he had not stumbled after catching the long pass, he would have had a touchdown. An 11-yard run by Roberson took the Wildcats to the Cal 5 before the Bear defense stiffened, and KSU had to settle for a 22-yard Joe Rheem field goal and a 10-7 lead.

Cal al-l-l-most answered in the drive that defined the game. Starting from the 20, the Bears picked up two first downs on passes to WR Geoff McArthur and, of all things, a 7-yard option run by Robertson. Cal stalled at its own 44, but on the ensuing punt, KSU was whistled for a dubious roughing-the-kicker penalty. A running-into-the-kicker call, which seemed more appropriate, would not have given us a first down, but the personal foul did. (As it turned out, I wish we hadn't gotten the first down.) With new life at the KSU 41, Cal resumed its march toward the goal line. Several plays later, a third-down run by Jonathan Makonnen put us at the 1, and the measurement indicated that we were inches short. The first quarter ended, giving us ample time to ponder the alternatives. During the break, Mark and I both thought of one of our principal tenets when we play EA football: don't call slow-developing plays in short-yardage situations. We tried one, though, as Robertson ran the option to his right. Unfortunately, LB Josh Buhl dragged Robertson down behind the line of scrimmage, and the drive ended tantalizingly on the KSU 1. Clearly, Tedford has forgotten more about football than any of us will ever know, and he implied that a QB sneak probably would not have worked either since the KSU defenders were plugging the gaps. But we still lamented the missed opportunity. Because our defense had not slowed down the Wildcat attack, though, I doubt many Cal fans objected to the idea of going for fourth down in the first place.

Being in the shadow of its own goalpost didn't faze KSU at all. Roberson led a 98-yard shredding of the Cal defense by running for 70 yards and passing for another 16, the final 5 of which came on a play-action pass to wide-open FB Travis Wilson for a touchdown. The Bears had a chance to stop the Wildcats when Josh Beckham forced Roberson to fumble at the end of a 32-yard run, but Wilson recovered at the Cal 11.

The Bears went three and out, which was bad news because that meant the Wildcats got the ball back. On the first play of the possession, Sproles torched us again on a 36-yard run to the Cal 24. We dodged a bullet when Roberson had Terry open on a third-down misdirection pass but the QB missed the touchdown by overthrowing the ball. Rheem knocked through a 36-yard field goal for a 20-7 KSU advantage.

It felt like the Cal wheels were coming off when, on the first play following the kickoff, Robertson lofted a long pass into double coverage and DB James McGill easily intercepted the ball at the KSU 43. On the next play, golden opportunity #2 slipped through our fingers; Roberson threw a bullet toward a WR with his back turned, and CB Tim Mixon was right there at the 40 with nothing except green grass ahead of him. But he dropped the sure interception. Though it would not have been a routine catch, as the ball was thrown very hard, this was a play we needed to make against a team like KSU. On the next snap, Roberson completed a 52-yard TD bomb to Terry, who completely faked out Smith and was probably 10 yards ahead of the befuddled Cal CB when he caught Roberson's pass in stride. The Wildcats, having scored on their first five possessions, extended the lead to 27-7.

Cal quickly regained its composure and got within striking distance again. From the Cal 35, Robertson passed the ball to McArthur, who was running side-by-side with a defensive back. At the last second, the DB leapt for the ball, missed, and staggered somewhat, while McArthur caught the ball in stride and raced the final 45 yards or so down the sidelines and into the end zone. The 65-yard TD reception closed the gap to 27-14 with just under two minutes remaining in the half.

At long last, the Cal defense stopped KSU with a little help from KSU. On third and 6, Roberson completed a 14-yard pass to WR Antoine Polite for a first down, but the play was called back because of holding. Roberson's third-and-16 pass fell incomplete, and the Wildcats finally sent their punter onto the field.

With only 48 seconds left, the Bears would have to hurry to get a chance to score. Robertson completed passes to Burt Toler and O'Keith to get us as far as the KSU 35, but a holding penalty and then a sack cratered the drive and the period expired.

We had a brief opportunity to seize momentum in the second half when Sproles fumbled the opening kickoff, but KSU recovered the ball at the 30. The elusive Roberson soon struck again on third and 5, as he cut through a seam in the defense for a 33-yard option run to the Cal 32. A holding penalty nullified a would-be first-down run by Sproles to the Cal 19, and the first decent pass pressure of the day later helped to end the drive. However, the Bears quickly went three and out and Everett shanked a 14-yard punt out of bounds, with KSU taking over at the Cal 39. Four plays later, Roberson torched the Cal defense again on an 11-yard TD run. Coach Snyder elected to go for two, and Roberson easily converted on an option run. Almost halfway through Q3, Kansas State had a commanding 35-14 lead.

Before the kickoff, a KSU fan wearing nothing but a purple grass skirt ran onto the field. I imagine that the TV cameras cut away to avoid giving this (presumably) drunk dude any publicity, so viewers probably missed what we saw: a big, big security guard being the first to arrive and giving him a full-body slam tackle. It was reminiscent of Tony Siragusa landing on Rich Gannon, and gave us a much-needed laugher.

Perhaps because of the distraction, or due to complacency from the bulging lead, the KSU kickoff cover team that had been flawless finally cracked somewhat. Bethea broke free on the return and had only the kicker Rheem to beat as he passed midfield. Rheem just managed to slow him up and throw him off balance, and Bethea went down at the KSU 38 after a 62-yard return. Tedford saw our great field position as an opportune time to insert juco QB Aaron Rodgers and RB J.J. Arrington, whom Cal fans have been anxious to see. Their debuts were less than auspicious, as Arrington's first carry went for no gain, Rodgers escaped a heavy pass rush for a 2-yard gain, and then he got sacked on third down.

The Wildcats began marching after the Cal punt, and momentarily looked to have broken the game wide open when Roberson hit Terry on a beautiful 35-yard TD strike; Terry somehow managed to catch the pass despite the presence of the luckless Smith on his back, and we were flagged for pass interference. Luckily, KSU was also called for holding, and the touchdown was nullified due to offsetting penalties. Blitzes enabled Monte Parson and McCleskey to sack Roberson on first down and force Roberson into an incompletion on second down, and Polite dropped his third-down pass at the Cal 20.

Following the KSU punt, Rodgers returned for his second series. It went marginally better than the first, as he completed a 14-yard sideline pass to McArthur before two incompletions and a sack ended the possession. The Wildcats punted themselves, thanks to a nice tackle by Wendell Hunter on a third-down screen pass, and the third quarter ended shortly thereafter.

Rodgers then led his first career scoring drive that covered 76 yards over 10 plays. The biggest gains were a 31-yard pass to McArthur and a 13-yard run by O'Keith before Rodgers hit Arrington for a 22-yard middle-screen touchdown pass. The Bears trailed, 35-21, with 12:34 remaining.

The Wildcats vaporized any hope for a miracle Cal upset on the next drive that covered 80 yards in 7 plays. Runs by Roberson and Sproles, a pass-interference penalty on Mixon, and a 28-yard TD reception by WR Davin Dennis returned the margin to 21. The Bears managed a final consolation score on a 90-yard drive noteworthy for several items: 1) Arrington rushed for 10 yards, his first gains as a Bear; 2) WR Chase Lyman caught his first pass since 2001; and 3) Rodgers was knocked out of the game midway through the drive. Rodgers took a hard hit and sustained a bruised sternum, so Robertson returned. Reggie finished the drive with a 21-yard pass to a leaping Makonnen at the KSU 16 and a 7-yard shovel-pass touchdown to Arrington, thus closing out the scoring with 4:27 remaining. We had one chance left, as Tyler Fredrickson's hard onside kick bounced off three KSU guys and a diving Byron Storer just missed recovering the ball. The teams then played out the string.

Obviously, the defense did not have a good day, and it wasn't just the fact that we yielded 535 total yards and 42 points. After all, we beat Arizona State on the road last year despite giving up 475 total yards and 38 points. The key difference was that we did not force any turnovers; we could not recover either of the KSU fumbles and Mixon dropped our one chance at an interception. Also, our pass rush was almost nonexistent, which didn't help corners Smith and Mixon who were both making their first career start. The Wildcats piled up a total of 205 passing yards (averaging 11+ yards per attempt), with Roberson tossing a career-high 3 TD passes, and 330 rushing yards, including a career-high 175 by Sproles and 145 by Roberson (each averaged 8 yards per carry). Terry also exceeded the century mark with 116 receiving yards on just four receptions, and he also lost a brilliant 35-yard TD catch to offsetting penalties. We were exceedingly vulnerable to the big play, as KSU had seven plays that gained 30 or more yards and three plays that gained over 50. Hopefully, by the end of the season, we will be able to attribute Saturday's defensive struggles to the quality of KSU's offense and/or inexperience.

On the other hand, the offense showed promise, as the Bears rang up 28 points against a defense that has ranked in the top five nationally in each of the past six years. In fact, in 2002 the Wildcats were #1 in points and touchdowns allowed and #2 in total and rushing yards allowed per game. KSU did lose NFL first-rounder Terence Newman at CB and second-rounder Terry Pierce at linebacker, as well as several other players, but nevertheless the 378 passing yards between the Robertson & Rodgers duo was impressive. Another encouraging sign was that our receivers, who have suffered from bad cases of the drops in recent years, hauled in almost every catchable pass and made several difficult receptions to boot. Geoff McArthur's 169 receiving yards represented the 11th-highest figure in Cal history and his total was the most since Michael Smith had 177 in the fantastic 29-28 comeback vs. #15 Arizona in 1989. (Yes, I was at that game - as a senior - and yes, I am old!) McArthur could blossom into the next Bobby Shaw or Dameane Douglas, who each excelled as upperclassmen. The bad news was that we tended toward feast or famine, as the Bears had five drives that exceeded 75 yards (four ending in touchdowns and the other being KSU's goal-line stand) but could only muster an aggregate 36 yards on the other eight possessions. Hopefully, we can get more consistent as the season progresses.

Trip Notes:

For native Californians unaccustomed to the summer heat in the Midwest, any discussion of the atmosphere in Kansas City must begin with the weather. The Kansas City Star reported that the game-time temperature on the playing surface was 106 degrees, which is too bloody hot. It was like standing in front of a heated oven with no door to close. I was impressed that the Bears didn't collapse late in the heat, for it had to be extremely uncomfortable to run around in uniform. Even in T-shirts and shorts, we were wilting.

The game program read, "Both Kansas State and California should enter tonight's game with plenty of 'giddy up' in their steps." Yeesh, we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto… though we were just over the border in Missouri. After shooting the bull with three Cal fans at the airport on Saturday afternoon, we saw almost all KSU fans until we arrived at Cal's pre-game tailgate. Precious few of the purple-and-white-clad fans were shy about accosting us, either. Before lunch that afternoon, an old man wearing a Royals hat saw our Cal shirts and snorted, "Give me a break! You guys are going to lose 60-0." My buddy Mark responded, "Give me 30 points and a business card and I will bet you any amount of money you want." Speechless, the guy rapidly walked away, and it was a good thing for him, too. We were thus somewhat prepared for the Arrowhead parking lot, where we were heckled by almost everyone we passed - some in a friendly way, some not. One college-aged girl actually hit me in the head with an empty paper cup, though she quickly apologized after I turned around and gave her a look of surprise. I hope we are not that hostile and unwelcoming to visiting fans at Memorial. I hate to bring up this comparison, but the experience was similar to our visit to Fresno State in 2000.

Clearly, if it was all of us against all of them, we were in big trouble. Of the announced crowd of 50,823, my guess is that there were 50,000 people in purple and white and 823 in blue and gold. It was amazing that nearly every KSU fan wore the team's colors. We saw many cars with the Wildcat logo emblazoned on the doors and there was even a big purple van in our hotel parking lot. These people take their Wildcats seriously, and yet I can't help but wonder how many of them were around when Kansas State was the laughingstock of college football and went to one bowl game over the 48-year span before coach Snyder arrived.

The stadium looked to be filled to about two-thirds of capacity. The lower bowl was pretty full except for a bunch of empty seats behind one of the goalposts. The upper bowl had a bell-shaped curve of fans; it was packed in the middle but the crowd thinned out around the end zones. I had expected a sellout, though tickets were not cheap at $45 a pop. The best thing about Arrowhead was that it has large, clear video screens over each end zone. The most annoying aspect was the PA announcer, who was a blatant homer in the worst neutral site since Cal basketball played Oklahoma in Oklahoma City in the NCAA Tournament. We got so sick of him crowing, "And that's good for another Wildcat…" with the crowd finishing either "First Down!" or "Touchdown!"

Our seats were incredible. My friend's brother John is a Bear Backer, and we figured he would have access to better seats so we had him buy our tickets through the Cal ticket office. It might be time to start cutting checks to the Athletic Department! If we had walked into an empty Arrowhead Stadium and were told we could sit anywhere, those may have been the seats: right on the 50-yard line, 35 rows up. We were on the dividing line between the Cal and KSU fans, though, which made for some lively conversations. Like anywhere else, some of their fans were nice and friendly and some were jerks, including an obnoxious lout who yelled at a young Cal fan when he celebrated a touchdown and throughout the game seemed more intent on taunting us than cheering for his own team.

I love BBQ, and Kansas City's restaurants can hold their own against anyone. Before the game, we went to Fiorella's Jack Stack - which advertises that Zagat rates it the best barbecue in America - and wolfed down beef and pork ribs plus a delicious side called a cheesy corn bake. Also, the service was superb, even for two Cal fans in the heart of Wildcat country. Prior to our flight home, we hit KC Masterpiece and I had burnt ends, the food about which writer Calvin Trillin rhapsodizes in The Tummy Trilogy. On my previous trip to K.C., I visited the legendary Arthur Bryant's, but though the taste was fine, the cleanliness left much to be desired. I like most dives, but the guy who was cutting up the food was coughing and sneezing, and if I weren't determined to eat there because I had read so much about it, I would have left. Next time, if there is one, I'll give Arthur Bryant's another shot and make a run for Gates.

Note that future reports will usually be posted much earlier than this, hopefully by the following Sunday or Monday unless I travel to the game. On this trip, we embarked on a long drive to visit friends in Chicago and catch a Cardinals/Cubs game in St. Louis, and we didn't return to Oakland Airport until almost midnight on Wednesday. I am still pondering whether to return to Champaign for the Illinois game and am definitely planning to drive to the UCLA game in October. Maybe I can bring home a victory next time, but if nothing else, more BBQ restaurants await in Chicago, Southern California, or wherever!

Go Bears!

Please feel free to contact me at calvinbear@yahoo.com if you have any comments.

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After all, the Wildcats are ranked #7 by AP and #5 by the coaches, have won 11 games in five of the past six seasons, return potential Heisman candidates in senior QB Ell Roberson and junior RB Darren Sproles from an offense that averaged 45 points per game in 2002, and run a version of the option that gave us so much trouble in the Air Force game last season. Playing KSU essentially on its home turf would be a tall order for anyone, especially a Cal team in transition with the well-chronicled loss of 24 seniors. The 28-point spread indicated that the college football world expected a blowout. However, Coach Tedford has brought the mentality of \"We'll play anyone, anywhere, anytime,\" which in the long run will be a good thing. And the Bears acquitted themselves respectably in a 42-28 loss, thereby fueling hope that future success may not be as far away as prognosticated (the highest I have seen us picked in the Pac-10 in preseason magazines is eighth).

Many game summaries from the Midwest media used words like \"rout\" when describing the game. In some respects, that's true, as KSU built a 21-point lead and, after the second quarter, was never in danger of losing the game. However, the difference was heavily influenced by two key opportunities on which the Bears did not capitalize: an unsuccessful attempt on fourth-and-inches from the KSU 1 and a dropped interception that may have resulted in a touchdown. Otherwise, the outcome could have been in doubt. I am not saying that Cal would have won the game had we made those plays, and fully realize that successful execution is what separates the victors from the vanquished; nevertheless, the point is that the game was not as one-sided as the Midwesterners would like to believe. They gave us about as much respect as they would to Troy State, McNeese State, or UMass, which are the next three teams on the Wildcats' schedule.

At the beginning, we did play like a Division I-AA school in awe of the opposition. The Bears took the opening kickoff and were promptly whistled for a false start prior to the first snap. QB Reggie Robertson then threw two incompletions sandwiched around a short run by RB Marcus O'Keith, and soon new punter Lucas Everett was forced to punt. On KSU's first play from scrimmage, Sproles broke free up the middle for a 53-yard gain before DB Donnie McCleskey finally caught him at the Cal 7. On third down, Roberson tossed an option pitch to Sproles, who scored an easy touchdown. Just over two minutes into the game, the Wildcats had a 7-0 lead, the fans were going crazy, and the mascot was doing pushups on a board carried by the yell leaders. Good grief, maybe the point spread was too low!

But the Bears' opening jitters settled quickly as the offense got down to business. On third and 9 from the Cal 24, Robertson hit diving WR Vincent Strang for a 17-yard gain. Cal got a couple more first downs before striking on a beautiful 34-yard Robertson-to-Strang TD pass where Strang again dove for the catch. Former punter turned placekicker Tyler Fredrickson booted the extra point, and the score was tied at 7.

KSU recaptured the lead on its second possession, a drive keyed by a 53-yard bomb from Roberson to WR James Terry. Terry had CB Harrison Smith beaten, and if he had not stumbled after catching the long pass, he would have had a touchdown. An 11-yard run by Roberson took the Wildcats to the Cal 5 before the Bear defense stiffened, and KSU had to settle for a 22-yard Joe Rheem field goal and a 10-7 lead.

Cal al-l-l-most answered in the drive that defined the game. Starting from the 20, the Bears picked up two first downs on passes to WR Geoff McArthur and, of all things, a 7-yard option run by Robertson. Cal stalled at its own 44, but on the ensuing punt, KSU was whistled for a dubious roughing-the-kicker penalty. A running-into-the-kicker call, which seemed more appropriate, would not have given us a first down, but the personal foul did. (As it turned out, I wish we hadn't gotten the first down.) With new life at the KSU 41, Cal resumed its march toward the goal line. Several plays later, a third-down run by Jonathan Makonnen put us at the 1, and the measurement indicated that we were inches short. The first quarter ended, giving us ample time to ponder the alternatives. During the break, Mark and I both thought of one of our principal tenets when we play EA football: don't call slow-developing plays in short-yardage situations. We tried one, though, as Robertson ran the option to his right. Unfortunately, LB Josh Buhl dragged Robertson down behind the line of scrimmage, and the drive ended tantalizingly on the KSU 1. Clearly, Tedford has forgotten more about football than any of us will ever know, and he implied that a QB sneak probably would not have worked either since the KSU defenders were plugging the gaps. But we still lamented the missed opportunity. Because our defense had not slowed down the Wildcat attack, though, I doubt many Cal fans objected to the idea of going for fourth down in the first place.

Being in the shadow of its own goalpost didn't faze KSU at all. Roberson led a 98-yard shredding of the Cal defense by running for 70 yards and passing for another 16, the final 5 of which came on a play-action pass to wide-open FB Travis Wilson for a touchdown. The Bears had a chance to stop the Wildcats when Josh Beckham forced Roberson to fumble at the end of a 32-yard run, but Wilson recovered at the Cal 11.

The Bears went three and out, which was bad news because that meant the Wildcats got the ball back. On the first play of the possession, Sproles torched us again on a 36-yard run to the Cal 24. We dodged a bullet when Roberson had Terry open on a third-down misdirection pass but the QB missed the touchdown by overthrowing the ball. Rheem knocked through a 36-yard field goal for a 20-7 KSU advantage.

It felt like the Cal wheels were coming off when, on the first play following the kickoff, Robertson lofted a long pass into double coverage and DB James McGill easily intercepted the ball at the KSU 43. On the next play, golden opportunity #2 slipped through our fingers; Roberson threw a bullet toward a WR with his back turned, and CB Tim Mixon was right there at the 40 with nothing except green grass ahead of him. But he dropped the sure interception. Though it would not have been a routine catch, as the ball was thrown very hard, this was a play we needed to make against a team like KSU. On the next snap, Roberson completed a 52-yard TD bomb to Terry, who completely faked out Smith and was probably 10 yards ahead of the befuddled Cal CB when he caught Roberson's pass in stride. The Wildcats, having scored on their first five possessions, extended the lead to 27-7.

Cal quickly regained its composure and got within striking distance again. From the Cal 35, Robertson passed the ball to McArthur, who was running side-by-side with a defensive back. At the last second, the DB leapt for the ball, missed, and staggered somewhat, while McArthur caught the ball in stride and raced the final 45 yards or so down the sidelines and into the end zone. The 65-yard TD reception closed the gap to 27-14 with just under two minutes remaining in the half.

At long last, the Cal defense stopped KSU with a little help from KSU. On third and 6, Roberson completed a 14-yard pass to WR Antoine Polite for a first down, but the play was called back because of holding. Roberson's third-and-16 pass fell incomplete, and the Wildcats finally sent their punter onto the field.

With only 48 seconds left, the Bears would have to hurry to get a chance to score. Robertson completed passes to Burt Toler and O'Keith to get us as far as the KSU 35, but a holding penalty and then a sack cratered the drive and the period expired.

We had a brief opportunity to seize momentum in the second half when Sproles fumbled the opening kickoff, but KSU recovered the ball at the 30. The elusive Roberson soon struck again on third and 5, as he cut through a seam in the defense for a 33-yard option run to the Cal 32. A holding penalty nullified a would-be first-down run by Sproles to the Cal 19, and the first decent pass pressure of the day later helped to end the drive. However, the Bears quickly went three and out and Everett shanked a 14-yard punt out of bounds, with KSU taking over at the Cal 39. Four plays later, Roberson torched the Cal defense again on an 11-yard TD run. Coach Snyder elected to go for two, and Roberson easily converted on an option run. Almost halfway through Q3, Kansas State had a commanding 35-14 lead.

Before the kickoff, a KSU fan wearing nothing but a purple grass skirt ran onto the field. I imagine that the TV cameras cut away to avoid giving this (presumably) drunk dude any publicity, so viewers probably missed what we saw: a big, big security guard being the first to arrive and giving him a full-body slam tackle. It was reminiscent of Tony Siragusa landing on Rich Gannon, and gave us a much-needed laugher.

Perhaps because of the distraction, or due to complacency from the bulging lead, the KSU kickoff cover team that had been flawless finally cracked somewhat. Bethea broke free on the return and had only the kicker Rheem to beat as he passed midfield. Rheem just managed to slow him up and throw him off balance, and Bethea went down at the KSU 38 after a 62-yard return. Tedford saw our great field position as an opportune time to insert juco QB Aaron Rodgers and RB J.J. Arrington, whom Cal fans have been anxious to see. Their debuts were less than auspicious, as Arrington's first carry went for no gain, Rodgers escaped a heavy pass rush for a 2-yard gain, and then he got sacked on third down.

The Wildcats began marching after the Cal punt, and momentarily looked to have broken the game wide open when Roberson hit Terry on a beautiful 35-yard TD strike; Terry somehow managed to catch the pass despite the presence of the luckless Smith on his back, and we were flagged for pass interference. Luckily, KSU was also called for holding, and the touchdown was nullified due to offsetting penalties. Blitzes enabled Monte Parson and McCleskey to sack Roberson on first down and force Roberson into an incompletion on second down, and Polite dropped his third-down pass at the Cal 20.

Following the KSU punt, Rodgers returned for his second series. It went marginally better than the first, as he completed a 14-yard sideline pass to McArthur before two incompletions and a sack ended the possession. The Wildcats punted themselves, thanks to a nice tackle by Wendell Hunter on a third-down screen pass, and the third quarter ended shortly thereafter.

Rodgers then led his first career scoring drive that covered 76 yards over 10 plays. The biggest gains were a 31-yard pass to McArthur and a 13-yard run by O'Keith before Rodgers hit Arrington for a 22-yard middle-screen touchdown pass. The Bears trailed, 35-21, with 12:34 remaining.

The Wildcats vaporized any hope for a miracle Cal upset on the next drive that covered 80 yards in 7 plays. Runs by Roberson and Sproles, a pass-interference penalty on Mixon, and a 28-yard TD reception by WR Davin Dennis returned the margin to 21. The Bears managed a final consolation score on a 90-yard drive noteworthy for several items: 1) Arrington rushed for 10 yards, his first gains as a Bear; 2) WR Chase Lyman caught his first pass since 2001; and 3) Rodgers was knocked out of the game midway through the drive. Rodgers took a hard hit and sustained a bruised sternum, so Robertson returned. Reggie finished the drive with a 21-yard pass to a leaping Makonnen at the KSU 16 and a 7-yard shovel-pass touchdown to Arrington, thus closing out the scoring with 4:27 remaining. We had one chance left, as Tyler Fredrickson's hard onside kick bounced off three KSU guys and a diving Byron Storer just missed recovering the ball. The teams then played out the string.

Obviously, the defense did not have a good day, and it wasn't just the fact that we yielded 535 total yards and 42 points. After all, we beat Arizona State on the road last year despite giving up 475 total yards and 38 points. The key difference was that we did not force any turnovers; we could not recover either of the KSU fumbles and Mixon dropped our one chance at an interception. Also, our pass rush was almost nonexistent, which didn't help corners Smith and Mixon who were both making their first career start. The Wildcats piled up a total of 205 passing yards (averaging 11+ yards per attempt), with Roberson tossing a career-high 3 TD passes, and 330 rushing yards, including a career-high 175 by Sproles and 145 by Roberson (each averaged 8 yards per carry). Terry also exceeded the century mark with 116 receiving yards on just four receptions, and he also lost a brilliant 35-yard TD catch to offsetting penalties. We were exceedingly vulnerable to the big play, as KSU had seven plays that gained 30 or more yards and three plays that gained over 50. Hopefully, by the end of the season, we will be able to attribute Saturday's defensive struggles to the quality of KSU's offense and/or inexperience.

On the other hand, the offense showed promise, as the Bears rang up 28 points against a defense that has ranked in the top five nationally in each of the past six years. In fact, in 2002 the Wildcats were #1 in points and touchdowns allowed and #2 in total and rushing yards allowed per game. KSU did lose NFL first-rounder Terence Newman at CB and second-rounder Terry Pierce at linebacker, as well as several other players, but nevertheless the 378 passing yards between the Robertson & Rodgers duo was impressive. Another encouraging sign was that our receivers, who have suffered from bad cases of the drops in recent years, hauled in almost every catchable pass and made several difficult receptions to boot. Geoff McArthur's 169 receiving yards represented the 11th-highest figure in Cal history and his total was the most since Michael Smith had 177 in the fantastic 29-28 comeback vs. #15 Arizona in 1989. (Yes, I was at that game - as a senior - and yes, I am old!) McArthur could blossom into the next Bobby Shaw or Dameane Douglas, who each excelled as upperclassmen. The bad news was that we tended toward feast or famine, as the Bears had five drives that exceeded 75 yards (four ending in touchdowns and the other being KSU's goal-line stand) but could only muster an aggregate 36 yards on the other eight possessions. Hopefully, we can get more consistent as the season progresses.

Trip Notes:

For native Californians unaccustomed to the summer heat in the Midwest, any discussion of the atmosphere in Kansas City must begin with the weather. The Kansas City Star reported that the game-time temperature on the playing surface was 106 degrees, which is too bloody hot. It was like standing in front of a heated oven with no door to close. I was impressed that the Bears didn't collapse late in the heat, for it had to be extremely uncomfortable to run around in uniform. Even in T-shirts and shorts, we were wilting.

The game program read, \"Both Kansas State and California should enter tonight's game with plenty of 'giddy up' in their steps.\" Yeesh, we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto… though we were just over the border in Missouri. After shooting the bull with three Cal fans at the airport on Saturday afternoon, we saw almost all KSU fans until we arrived at Cal's pre-game tailgate. Precious few of the purple-and-white-clad fans were shy about accosting us, either. Before lunch that afternoon, an old man wearing a Royals hat saw our Cal shirts and snorted, \"Give me a break! You guys are going to lose 60-0.\" My buddy Mark responded, \"Give me 30 points and a business card and I will bet you any amount of money you want.\" Speechless, the guy rapidly walked away, and it was a good thing for him, too. We were thus somewhat prepared for the Arrowhead parking lot, where we were heckled by almost everyone we passed - some in a friendly way, some not. One college-aged girl actually hit me in the head with an empty paper cup, though she quickly apologized after I turned around and gave her a look of surprise. I hope we are not that hostile and unwelcoming to visiting fans at Memorial. I hate to bring up this comparison, but the experience was similar to our visit to Fresno State in 2000.

Clearly, if it was all of us against all of them, we were in big trouble. Of the announced crowd of 50,823, my guess is that there were 50,000 people in purple and white and 823 in blue and gold. It was amazing that nearly every KSU fan wore the team's colors. We saw many cars with the Wildcat logo emblazoned on the doors and there was even a big purple van in our hotel parking lot. These people take their Wildcats seriously, and yet I can't help but wonder how many of them were around when Kansas State was the laughingstock of college football and went to one bowl game over the 48-year span before coach Snyder arrived.

The stadium looked to be filled to about two-thirds of capacity. The lower bowl was pretty full except for a bunch of empty seats behind one of the goalposts. The upper bowl had a bell-shaped curve of fans; it was packed in the middle but the crowd thinned out around the end zones. I had expected a sellout, though tickets were not cheap at $45 a pop. The best thing about Arrowhead was that it has large, clear video screens over each end zone. The most annoying aspect was the PA announcer, who was a blatant homer in the worst neutral site since Cal basketball played Oklahoma in Oklahoma City in the NCAA Tournament. We got so sick of him crowing, \"And that's good for another Wildcat…\" with the crowd finishing either \"First Down!\" or \"Touchdown!\"

Our seats were incredible. My friend's brother John is a Bear Backer, and we figured he would have access to better seats so we had him buy our tickets through the Cal ticket office. It might be time to start cutting checks to the Athletic Department! If we had walked into an empty Arrowhead Stadium and were told we could sit anywhere, those may have been the seats: right on the 50-yard line, 35 rows up. We were on the dividing line between the Cal and KSU fans, though, which made for some lively conversations. Like anywhere else, some of their fans were nice and friendly and some were jerks, including an obnoxious lout who yelled at a young Cal fan when he celebrated a touchdown and throughout the game seemed more intent on taunting us than cheering for his own team.

I love BBQ, and Kansas City's restaurants can hold their own against anyone. Before the game, we went to Fiorella's Jack Stack - which advertises that Zagat rates it the best barbecue in America - and wolfed down beef and pork ribs plus a delicious side called a cheesy corn bake. Also, the service was superb, even for two Cal fans in the heart of Wildcat country. Prior to our flight home, we hit KC Masterpiece and I had burnt ends, the food about which writer Calvin Trillin rhapsodizes in The Tummy Trilogy. On my previous trip to K.C., I visited the legendary Arthur Bryant's, but though the taste was fine, the cleanliness left much to be desired. I like most dives, but the guy who was cutting up the food was coughing and sneezing, and if I weren't determined to eat there because I had read so much about it, I would have left. Next time, if there is one, I'll give Arthur Bryant's another shot and make a run for Gates.

Note that future reports will usually be posted much earlier than this, hopefully by the following Sunday or Monday unless I travel to the game. On this trip, we embarked on a long drive to visit friends in Chicago and catch a Cardinals/Cubs game in St. Louis, and we didn't return to Oakland Airport until almost midnight on Wednesday. I am still pondering whether to return to Champaign for the Illinois game and am definitely planning to drive to the UCLA game in October. Maybe I can bring home a victory next time, but if nothing else, more BBQ restaurants await in Chicago, Southern California, or wherever!

Go Bears!

Please feel free to contact me at calvinbear@yahoo.com if you have any comments.

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