Lesson Learned

With right around five and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter of Cal's 35-21 road victory against Minnesota yesterday, the Bears proved it…

They proved that they've learned from mistakes.

They proved that they have what it takes to be an elite team on college football's national stage. They proved, again, that this team is different.

Jump back two years, to a chilly September night in Eugene.

Then-sophomore Tyson Alualu had just intercepted a Dennis Dixon pass deep into California territory, seemingly sealing the Bears' 31-24 win in Autzen.

With 2:20 left on the clock and the Ducks still holding on to all three of their timeouts though, Cal rode Justin Forsett into the dirt on first, second and third down, eventually punting after a drive that took just 26 seconds.

Two minutes proved to be plenty of time for Dixon, as he drove his team 75 yards downfield, with every indication of a score.

Had Cameron Colvin not fumbled the Ducks' hope out of the corner of the end zone that afternoon, there's absolutely zero doubt in my mind that Oregon wins that football game in overtime.

Lesson learned.

Yesterday, a similar scenario arose in brand new TCF Bank Stadium, following Cal's go-ahead score near the seven-minute mark of the fourth quarter.

Following a Mike Mohamed pick that gave the Bears possession on the Gophers' 44 yard line, Cal did exactly what everyone expected: they ran the football. Three times.

But what came next was arguably the most telling sign that 2009 could be special.

After converting on a one-yard, fourth down try, Kevin Riley took the snap and didn't hand it off.

Instead, he found a wide-open Anthony Miller 25 yards downfield, who hauled in a one-handed circus grab to put the Bears inside the Minnesota 10-yard line.

Now, you can look at this in one of two ways:

You can see Riley's near disastrous throw that, had Miller not reeled it in probably would have been heading the other way, as reckless play calling by offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, or you can see it as Cal going for the throat…playing for the win and not looking back.

The Bears' bout with Oregon two years ago wasn't an isolated incident.

In fact, Cal's fourth-quarter play in close ball games has always seemed to be marred with passivity and panic.

Guess how many carries Forsett would get in the fourth quarter against Stanford two months later?

Two.

With plenty of time (15 minutes) and trailing an anemic Cardinal offense by 10, the Bears' coaching staff abandoned the Pac-10's top rusher.

But this time, in front of 50,805, Cal looked like the team that knew it would claw its way through a fourth quarter grudge match and come out victorious on the other side.

"I'm almost glad that situation came up where they tied it up," Riley said. "Last year and the year before, when [opponents] came back and tied it up and took the lead, we didn't win those games."

Yet another reminder; this isn't last year.

Cal Sports Digest is the new home of lead writer Jon Doss' award winning Daily Cal column "Who's the Doss". Jon will weigh in on hot topics pertaining to Cal and the Pac-10 conference throughout the season.

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