CalvinBear's Game Report

<p class=txt>When I got home from Berkeley, I had to check my calendar to see if we were in fact in 2002 or had time-warped back to 2001. For the Cal team that played Arizona resembled the hapless 2001 squad that specialized in mistakes of every kind. Turnovers. Special-teams breakdowns. Missed tackles. Blown coverages. Dropped passes. Key penalties. And just plain bad luck.

We had many of those problems in last week's game against Arizona State, but the Sun Devils committed more blunders. This time, we weren't so lucky. In fact, the patterns of the Arizona and Arizona State games were very similar - few points in Q1, a flood of scoring in Q2 & Q3, tie score entering Q4, one team fell apart down the stretch - except that this time, the Bears were the ones who collapsed. The quarter-by-quarter results read:

Cal 3 14 14 10 - 41
Arizona 0 24 7 21 - 52

Cal 7 14 17 17 - 55
Arizona State 0 17 21 0 - 38

It's hard to say whether the Wildcats were fired up over Coach Mackovic's public apology, or the Bears suffered from overconfidence, or Cal was looking ahead to the Big Game, or the match-ups favor Arizona, or the Cats simply had a good day while the Bears did not. Whatever the reason(s), the result was that Cal didn't play well in any phase of the game and suffered its worst loss of the season. We were 16.5-point favorites against a team that was 0-6 in the Pac-10, scored only 15.5 points per game, and looked to be in shambles after a tumultuous week that saw the players nearly revolt against the head coach. And we got torched on our home field, giving up almost twice as many points as Arizona had scored in its previous four games combined. The loss was brutal - there's no way to sugarcoat it. And yet, if Cal learned the lesson that no opponent can be taken lightly, regardless of its record, then this fiasco will have been well worth the pain and suffering. For the 2-8 Cardinal comes to town next weekend, and though most of the current players weren't here for the 1998 debacle in which 2-8 Stanford upset 5-5 Cal in Berkeley, then at least the memory of winless Arizona beating us on our turf will be fresh in their minds. Thank goodness Tyrone Willingham is gone! But I'm getting ahead of myself here, as perhaps the players did, in looking past the Arizona game.

Obviously, the worst thing the favored team can do is let the underdog have hope that snowballs throughout the game. With all that's happened to Arizona, if Cal could have leapt ahead early, the Wildcats might have thrown in the towel. But we couldn't, and they didn't. On the first series of the game, DB Nmandi Asomugha did get Cal off to a good start when he intercepted a floater from UofA QB Jason Johnson at the Cal 42. And we did convert that turnover into a 43-yard Mark Jensen field goal. However, that was one of our last leads of the game, for we were almost constantly playing catch-up thereafter.

The Wildcats quickly proved that the rumors of a player boycott or work slowdown were unfounded. I'd also read that Arizona fans were calling for more playing time for redshirt freshman QB Nic Costa, who threw a 92-yard touchdown pass to WR Andre Thurman against UCLA on his third collegiate snap from scrimmage; that would definitely speak to Johnson's ineffectiveness. In addition, the stat sheet showed that UofA's offensive line gave up the most sacks in the conference. You'd never have guessed any of those things from watching Saturday's game. After Jensen's kickoff, Johnson, generally facing little pressure, started carving up our defense with precision, including a 33-yard pass to Thurman. UofA actually reached the end zone except Johnson's 27-yard touchdown pass to TE Justin Levasseur (one of the most vocal Mackovic critics after the Arizona coach called him an embarrassment to his family) was called back because of holding. That 10-yard penalty, a subsequent false start, and a Matt Nixon sack pushed the Wildcats out of field-goal range, and UofA punted.

The Bears managed a couple of first downs before an old bugaboo, the dropsie, plagued us. On third and 13 from the 34, Kyle Boller threw a pass to LaShaun Ward, who was open about 15-20 yards downfield. But he dropped the ball, and we punted.

Ward's mistake was, as it says on our money, e pluribus unum. If I knew which Latin word meant "many," I'd repeat it twice - e pluribus pluribus unum? E pluribus unum unum? Whatever. From the Cal 24, Johnson again had all day to sit in the pocket and heaved a long pass to star wideout Bobby Wade, who hauled in the pass around the Cal 30. Powell missed the tackle, another Bear defender whiffed near the 10, and Asomugha finally hauled Wade down at the Cal 3. On the first play of the second quarter, Arizona had second and goal at the 2. And then a huge penalty cost us big time, on the scoreboard, in momentum, and every way possible. Johnson dropped back to pass and the ball slipped out of his hand for a fumble that Cal recovered. That could have been a crushing blow to UofA's psyche. But the Bears were flagged for lining up in the neutral zone, giving Arizona the ball back at the 1 and an invaluable morale boost. Johnson found Levasseur for a short TD pass, and UofA had a 7-3 lead.

Additional Cal frustration was not far behind. On our next possession, Boller threw a pass directly to Arizona's Ray Wells, who returned the interception 42 yards for a touchdown. In two minutes, the Wildcats had picked up 14 points.

Ward answered with an electrifying 94-yard touchdown return on the ensuing kickoff. He caught the ball near the west sideline, slanted across the field toward the east sideline, turned the corner, and outran the white shirts in pursuit. The fantastic play closed our deficit to 14-10. Unfortunately, it also had unintended consequences that later included a key Cal turnover that sealed our doom.

UofA came right back with a 72-yard drive that ended in a 30-yard field goal by Bobby Gill. Those Wildcat points were also preventable. On third and 5 from the UofA 20, Johnson threw a short pass to Thurman and Asomugha looked to have him wrapped up a couple yards short of the marker. But Thurman fought his way free and gained 12 yards to the 32. On the next play, Johnson connected with Thurman again, this time for 48 yards, the last 10 of which came after another missed tackle. At the end of that possession, with 8:42 remaining in Q2, wideouts Thurman and Wade each had already surpassed 100 receiving yards. Wade would end up with an insane 222 while Thurman "only" would compile 151.

Fearing another long Ward return, Arizona decided to eschew the usual kickoff method and kick low, hard line drives. It worked, for Ward had trouble handling the bounces and would not be heard from on special teams again until garbage time. The teams traded punts, with UofA's possession ending when Johnson overthrew a seriously wide-open Wade on third down, until the Cal offense finally got untracked. After running Joe Igber up the middle on seemingly every first down play (actually, it was 10 of the first 11), the Bears began firing. On three consecutive plays, Boller hit Ward for 26, Geoff McArthur for 12, and Brandon Hall for 14 until Cal reached the UofA 23. From there, we tried a trick play where Boller handed off to Igber, who was supposed to throw a halfback pass downfield. I'm guessing he intended to throw it to Hall, but no one was open, and Igber smartly kept the ball while losing two yards. On third down, the Bears returned to conventional strategy and had Boller fire a 25-yard TD pass to a slanting Ward. With 3:15 remaining in the half, Cal had knotted the score at 17.

But we were behind much of the afternoon, and it only took UofA just over a minute to surge ahead again. Following the kickoff, Arizona picked up 22 yards on a 7-yard reception by Wade coupled with a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty on Cal. That put the Wildcats into our territory, and Johnson soon finished the drive with a 31-yard TD pass to WR Lance Relford; Relford ran a short curl route, CB James Bethea slipped just enough, and the Arizona WR ran untouched into the end zone.

Ward fumbled the ensuing kickoff and was only able to reach the Cal 12. Two minutes remained, though, and Cal still had its timeouts. Our first two plays were Boller completions of 19 yards to Tom Swoboda and 26 yards to Ward, quickly getting us to the UofA 41. But then the pass protection broke down, as Boller was sacked for losses of 8 and 7 on consecutive plays. We punted, and Arizona still had enough time to drive past midfield and reach our 38; luckily, a holding penalty nullified the last 12-yard gain and the Wildcats had to settle for a 24-17 halftime lead. At the break, Johnson already had 291 passing yards, blowing away Arizona's average of 256 per game.

That Cal would continue to struggle was evident on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. Boller threw a second interception right to Wells, who returned the ball 3 yards to the Cal 26. The defense held, and then our special teams hit paydirt again. Kick-blocker extraordinaire Lorenzo Alexander knocked down Gill's 44-yard field goal attempt, and Bethea scooped up the loose ball and zigged and zagged his way through a sea of white shirts for a 60-yard touchdown. Cal caught the Wildcats again, this time at 24.

Both teams' offenses sputtered, and soon Cal was forced to punt from its 48. Then it was Cal's turn to break down on special teams. Fredrickson took a high snap, sensed an outside rusher, took a few steps forward, tried to kick the ball away, and had it squarely blocked. Arizona's Lamon Means returned the ball 27 yards for a touchdown, and the Cats went ahead again.

The foreshadowing of our demise occurred on the following kickoff when the low line drive hit one of the Cal up-men, and we were very fortunate to recover the ball at the UofA 47. Despite great field position, though, our third-quarter offense was virtually non-existent, as we had a total of 7 yards to show for our first four possessions. It was especially distressing because we started at our own 48, the UofA 47, and the UofA 48 on back-to-back-to-back sequences but could do nothing. The most frustrating play occurred when, on third down from the UofA 43, Ward found a seam in the coverage and was all alone in the middle of the field. It appeared that Boller had enough time to get off a good pass, but he threw a low bullet for which Ward had to dive, and the officials ruled that he trapped the ball. Any decent loft pass in the vicinity almost certainly would have resulted in a touchdown, or at the very least a first down inside the 10.

In the meantime, our defense had held, but we needed points. Late in the period, we finally made some noise. With good field position at our 39, Cal went 61 yards in four plays, the last of which was a sweet 38-yard TD run by Igber on which the he made several cuts to fake out the Wildcat defenders. The Bears thus tied the game for the third time, 31-31.

By then, the game was very reminiscent of ASU, and once again Cal broke a tie on a late Q3 quarterback sack/fumble that the Bears recovered deep in enemy territory. This week, it was Tully Banta-Cain who nailed Johnson and Paul Ugenti recovered at the UofA 11; oddly enough, last week it was Ugenti who plastered Walter and Banta-Cain who recovered at the ASU 13. This week, the third quarter ended with Cal facing fourth and 1 from the UofA 2; last week, the third quarter ended with Cal facing second and goal from the ASU 2. Both times, we had to settle for a short Jensen field goal. This week, though, the three points weren't nearly enough for unlike last week, when Cal shut out ASU 17-0, Cal was the one who was dominated on its home turf to the tune of 21-10 (and 7 of our points were during garbage time).

For a short time, it appeared that momentum was on Cal's side. DE Tom Canada sacked Johnson for a loss of 9, and soon Arizona faced third and 19 from its 23. But then came the killer sequence, again marked by Bear miscues. First, the indomitable Johnson fired a pass to Wade, who slipped behind Asomugha for a 41-yard gain to the Cal 36. Then Donnie McCleskey was flagged for pass interference and we were also called for a dead-ball personal foul on the same play; as a result, UofA gained 24 penalty yards and a first and goal from the Cal 9. On the next play, Johnson found Levasseur for a TD, and Arizona retook the lead at 38-34.

Many times over the years, I've groused about crazy things going wrong can only happen to Cal. Pat Barnes botching the snap at the Wazzu 1 on first and goal with the game in the balance. Joe Igber falling untouched at the ASU 1 after a 79-yard run and Ryan Stanger fumbling the ball away on the very next play. The preposterous swinging-gate disaster at the end of the Oregon debacle. To that list, I am adding one of the most bizarre plays you'll ever see - or if you didn't, consider yourself lucky. I didn't process what happened very well, though here's my best guess. UofA placekicker Ryan Slack kicked the ball low, as he had the past several times. The ball ricocheted off of a Cal up-man ten yards away, hard, and returned to Slack, who recovered the ball and started running with it. Everyone in our group thought it looked like the Cal guy kicked the ball backward, given the velocity with which the ball rebounded; later, I read that Tedford said the ball hit him in the leg as he was trying to get out of the way. I'll defer to Tedford's description since I was sitting near the top of the stadium and, in the fracas, failed to see whether they showed the play on the video board. But good night, that was one of the damndest plays I'd ever seen. And it led to the sequence that broke our backs.

The Cal defense forced UofA into a third-and-3 play but again couldn't close the deal, as Johnson found unguarded WR Gilbert Harris for a 32-yard gain to the Cal 19. Banta-Cain sacked Johnson again, and after a false start pushed Arizona into a second-and-24 situation, the Bears appeared as though they would hold UofA to a field-goal attempt and keep the margin to one score. But on third-and-13 from the 22, McCleskey was flagged for pass interference on a play where he just stood there and got in the way of the wide receiver. The crowd booed loudly, though one of my Cal buddies agreed with the call because the luckless DB, having no clue where the ball was, impeded the progress of the Wildcat player. On first and goal from the 7, Johnson tried a fade to Wade over Powell and the pass fell incomplete; he repeated the play on third down and this one was complete for a demoralizing TD and a 45-34 UofA lead.

With almost nine minutes remaining, the Bears still had time to mount a comeback, and we were somewhat encouraged when Ward returned the ensuing kickoff 41 yards to the UofA 46. Cal quickly fizzled, though. A couple of short plays only netted 1 yard and then Boller got sacked for a 10-yard loss, ending any thoughts of going for fourth down.

The dispirited Cal team then watched the Wildcats drive 76 yards for a clinching score on a drive that included two more Wade receptions for 48 yards. McCleskey gave the Bears one last hope when he swatted the ball away from running back Mike Bell at the Cal 16, but true to form, the ball rolled out of bounds before the Bears could get to it. Some dude named Beau Carr ran the final 4 yards for a touchdown that bloated the UofA lead to 52-34.

The game was over, though Boller padded his stats with 95 more passing yards and the Bears added a meaningless score on a Boller-to-Swoboda TD pass with 37 seconds left. Before that drive, there was one amusing moment (sort of) when the mic-man started the "C-A-L" chant, asked "Who are we?", and then paused before finishing with "Who's gonna win?". Most people did manage to choke out "Cal!", though we didn't.

And I'll be dogged if the Wildcats didn't carry Mackovic off the field. Unbelievable.

Once again, the Bears have served as a panacea for the Wildcats; when UofA can't beat anyone else, it finds solace in Berkeley. Entering last year's game, UofA had lost ten consecutive Pac-10 games until the Cats clocked us by 14. This year, Arizona had lost six straight conference games, and the Cats whipped us by 11. Good grief, I'm not looking forward to 2003, during which UofA comes to Memorial Stadium yet again due to a quirk in the Pac-10 schedule. Perish the thought of Wildcat TE Levasseur, who said, "I'd like to move all our home games here next year."

For the second straight week, Cal played a great game against the run, holding UofA to -5 rushing yards after ASU's net total was -2. You have to wonder why in the world anyone would ever waste time running the ball against us. Outside of the quarterbacks, UofA had 43 rushing yards on 25 plays (1.7 per attempt) while ASU had 39 rushing yards on 18 carries (2.2 per attempt) for an aggregate 1.9-yard average. On the other hand, combining Johnson's 31-of-45, 492-yard effort and Walter's 29-of-50, 477-yard outburst yields an average yield of 10.2 yards per passing attempt. If you count our 11 sacks as pass plays, and subtract our 85 yards of sack yardage from the passing total, you're still looking at 8.3 yards per down. Also, our QB pressure has been sporadic. Though we had five sacks against Arizona and six sacks against ASU, the pass rush has been inconsistent. On Saturday, other than the times Johnson was sacked, he had plenty of time to pick apart our secondary. Even when we blitzed, the UofA offensive line picked up the rushers and gave Johnson enough time to complete quick passes, the damage from which was exacerbated by our numerous missed tackles.

Though the upset was disheartening, the team needs to regroup in time for Stanford. Cal has responded fairly well after losses, with the Bears only having one two-game losing streak this year, and the back end of that streak was a close defeat to #3 Washington State. Once again, Tedford & Co. are fighting a history of Cal failures; this time, it's our tendency to fold late. Except for the rescheduled game against a hopeless Rutgers team last September, the Bears have posted at least a three-game season-ending losing streak down the stretch since 1996 (96 - 4, 97 - 3, 98 - 3, 99 - 3, 00 - 3, and 01 - 10). My friend Mark darkly pointed out that we can continue that run of misery this year since we lost to Arizona and our two remaining opponents are the NCAA appeals committee and Stanford. Unless I hear otherwise, I'm approaching the Big Game as our bowl, because even if we win the appeal, we might not get a bid with a .500 record. No one reading this writeup needs to be reminded of our Big Game failures over the past seven years, and for that matter, almost every year since The Play (Cal has only won three times). My take is that the teams are fairly evenly matched, records and point spreads notwithstanding, and that Cal has overachieved while Stanford has underachieved (in part due to injuries). Needless to say, we had better bring our "A" game, and like always, whoever commits the fewest turnovers/colossal screwups will win.

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