Since the mid-70s, the series has gone in streaks - Cal won six, OSU won five, Cal won six, and OSU now has won four. And the Beavers may be able to keep it going as long as they can keep Dennis Erickson, who is now 7-0-1 against Cal dating back to his tenure Washington State and Miami.
The absence of a TV broadcast meant it was a Starkey & Grosscup kind of day, and BearlyBreathing and I listened to KGO while watching USC trounce Oregon on TV. Frankly, the Trojans-Ducks game was more interesting, if only because you could actually see what was happening. Our loss to OSU didn't really have many highs or lows; mostly, it was just a physical butt-kicking in which the Beavers dominated both lines of scrimmage and ran the Bears into the ground. Though Starkey & Grosscup groused about the officiating on several key plays, it seemed like Cal simply couldn't handle OSU. You don't win many games when your defense yields over 300 rushing yards, including a career-high 239 to one guy, while your own ground game nets only 16 after subtracting 42 yards for sacks.
The game started badly for the Bears when an illegal blocking penalty nullified Ward's long kickoff return to midfield. The teams traded punts, and then Cal struck first thanks to a gutsy call; on fourth and one from the OSU 48, Coach Tedford called for a play-action fake and Kyle Boller completed a 36-yard pass to Tom Swoboda to the OSU 12. The drive bogged down, and Mark Jensen booted a 27-yard field goal to give Cal an early 3-0 lead.
The teams traded punts again, with OSU going three-and-out for the second time. On the Beavers' third possession, they looked to be trapped again after a personal-foul penalty backed them up to the 9. But suddenly, the Cal defense couldn't stop 6'1", 227-pound running back Steven Jackson. He almost broke free on an 11-yard run, added another 11-yard run with a 5-yard Cal facemask penalty tacked on, and then burst for a 42-yard gain all the way to the Cal 7. Starkey and Grosscup groused that there was holding on the Beaver OL on the latter play, but the people whose opinion matters (a.k.a. the refs) didn't agree. From there, Jackson finished the job himself on a 7-yard TD run, and the Beavers had a 7-3 lead.
Cal returned the favor on our next series that carried into Q2, as the Bears marched 80 yards for our only TD of the day. A 47-yard bomb and run from Boller to WR LaShaun Ward covered much of the real estate, as did three more completions to Swoboda, whose 20-yard reception to the OSU 1 gave him a whopping 7 catches for 77 yards. Unfortunately, it sounded like Swoboda came down with an injury of some sort (I missed the explanation), and he didn't catch another pass the rest of the way. Out of a wishbone set, Joe Igber punched the ball into the end zone, and Cal recaptured the lead at 10-7.
RB Jackson continued his assault on the Cal defense, surpassing 100 yards early in Q2, before the Beavers were forced to punt. Cal followed suit, and then Jackson resumed dominating the game. On the next OSU drive, which only took the Beavers 4 plays and 1:03 to cover 82 yards, Jackson had a 47-yard scamper and a 4-yard TD run that gave OSU a 14-10 lead with just under five minutes remaining in the half.
The Bears threatened to retake the lead after Ward returned the kickoff 55 yards to the OSU 45. It sounded like we should have had another 15 yards for a late Beaver hit out of bounds that wasn't called. Cal reached the OSU 34 before disaster struck; on first down, Boller fumbled the ball as he was sacked and the Beavers recovered at the OSU 41. That meant Jackson was back on the field, and that was bad news for the Bears. He trampled the Cal defense further on a 32-yard run to the Cal 20, and then brought the Beavers down to the Cal 6 before a huge penalty went against the Bears. On third and goal, QB Derek Anderson threw an incomplete pass but Jemeel Powell was flagged for pass interference, though Starkey and Grosscup complained that it was a horrible call. Given a reprieve, with first and goal at the 4, OSU capitalized when Jackson plowed through the defense for another TD run with 46 seconds left. For the first time this season, Cal trailed at the break, 21-10. Jackson's halftime stats were an amazing 16 carries for 168 yards and 3 TDs.
At the beginning of the third quarter, OSU gave Cal a huge gift when Jackson fumbled the ball away to DL Daniel Nwangwu at the OSU 29. An Igber run gave us a first down at the OSU 18, and we seemed to be in business given that we had scored on all but one of our red-zone chances this season. But after an 11-yard Beaver sack and two incompletions, we were right back where we started and Jensen was called upon for a 47-yard field-goal attempt. Jensen, who had previously converted FGs at an 80% clip, missed wide left, and the Bears missed a golden opportunity to close the gap.
The Cal defense made adjustments during halftime, and it showed, as OSU punted on its next three possessions and netted only 39 yards of total offense for the third quarter. Perhaps due to his fumble, Jackson only touched the ball once (for an 11-yard run) during that span; otherwise, the OSU offense was comprised of an ineffective Anderson throwing incompletions (he finished 8 of 24 for 80 yards). But the Cal offense wasn't much better against the OSU defense, which had pretty much shut down the Cal running game and was rushing Boller with abandon. With several penalties and sacks, Cal's total forward progress was a total of 10 yards for its first three Q3 possessions. The Bears squandered good field position when they took over near midfield after the partial block of an OSU punt: the drive, which reached the OSU 33, was squelched by two incompletions, a false-start penalty, and a 12-yard sack on third and long. Cal did manage a 50-yard Jensen field goal just before the end of the third quarter, trimming the OSU lead to one possession at 21-13.
The game was still in tantalizing reach, but our offense returned to fizzle mode. We went three and out, netting one yard, on our first possession of the fourth quarter. After OSU drove to the Cal 9 on the strength of Jackson's running and a 15-yard personal foul on the Bear defense, the Beavers tacked on an important 26-yard field goal for insurance to increase the gap to 24-13. Boller threw three straight incompletions. The defense held, but our offense went three and out for the third straight time. With fewer than five minutes remaining, things were getting desperate. The Beavers ran more time off the clock before lining up to punt, and then Cal threatened to make the waning minutes interesting. Jeremy Drake blocked the OSU punt, and Cal took over at the OSU 42. Boller quickly fired passes to Geoff McArthur for 11 yards, Ward for 20, and Terrell Williams for 8 down to the OSU 2. But on third and 1, Boller threw an interception in the end zone where DB Dennis Weathersby stepped in front of Ward for an easy pick. To make matters worse, Starkey said that Kyle probably could have run the ball in for the score. Even if we'd have scored a TD, though, we still would have had to make a two-point conversion, recover an onside kick (which we never, ever seem to do), and boot a field goal just to force overtime, and the odds of such a sequence were low. In any case, the INT effectively ended it, as the Beavers ran out most of the clock. Fittingly, Boller was sacked for a 12-yard loss on the last play of the game.
Boller's interception meant that we committed more turnovers than we captured for the first time this season. Not coincidentally, we lost. It's evident by now that Cal does not have the talent to overcome a negative turnover margin; if we don't win that battle, we'll likely lose.
We get a week off to recover before taking on surprising Arizona State, which squares off against Washington State on Saturday for the Pac-10 lead. November has not been kind to us, as our late collapses have given us a 5-22 record in the month since our last winning season in 1993. But hopefully Tedford can get the offense untracked to help us pick up that sixth win which eluded us in 1998, just in case the NCAA's bowl ban penalty is overturned.
Go Bears! Beat the Sun Devils!
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