BEARLY BREATHING: A look at California

A microcosm of the California Golden Bears' season-to-date can be covered in the final two minutes of the first half of their game against Brigham Young back on September 8.

Saturday, September 29 -- 2:00 PM
Memorial Stadium -- Berkeley, CA
Last Meeting: October 1, 2000 – Washington 36, California 24
Series All-Time: Washington leads, 44-32-4


With the teams level at 7-7 and the Bears on a promising late drive, Joe Igber fumbled at the BYU 19. Four plays later, BYU quarterback Brandon Doman ran it in from four yards out, turning a likely Cal lead into a 14-7 deficit with 52 seconds left.

But it didn't stop there. Bears' QB Kyle Boller fumbled at his own 47 with 14 seconds remaining as Cal scrambled to get into field-goal range. And instead of kneeling to end the half, Doman stunned California with a quick slant to Brian McDonald, and 53 yards later it was 21-7 BYU.

Two minutes, two fumbles, two scores. Like their season opener, when Cal gave up 28 second-quarter points to the Illini, the fight was gone, replaced by stunned disbelief.

Boller was distraught afterwards. "Fumbles and interceptions are things you just can't do," Boller said. "But it always seems like it is something here (at Cal)."

"We just can't have that 'something' happen if we expect to win."

So last week in Pullman, ‘something' happened again. This time, it was a second-quarter Jason Gesser-to-Jerome Riley 41-yard TD strike that, innocently enough, pulled Washington State even at 13. But inexplicably, it caused a once-proud Cal defense to shy away –- in both scheme and effort -- from their blitzing attack plan. Gesser, sacked three times beforehand, suddenly found himself playing flag football. He would throw for a career-best 432 yards as the Cougars reeled off 31 points in 19 minutes and handed the Golden Bears their third-straight blowout loss of the season, 51-20.

And the negative numbers keep piling up. In being outscored 139-53, the Bears have committed twelve turnovers while causing one. They've given up nine sacks while getting three. In the second and third quarters combined, Cal has scored two touchdowns -– and allowed 13.

Understandably, the fans are up in arms. And began using those arms, writing letters to the Athletic department in less-than-friendly shades inquiring into head coach Tom Holmoe's immediate employment prospects.

Some of the players are up in arms, too. Senior inside linebacker Chris Ball, to the chagrin of the Cal coaching staff, put headlines into every Bay Area paper and sports talk show the previous week, saying, "I don't think we have any heart. So I'm going to speak up the rest of the year, I don't care if they like it or not. If a guy isn't busting his butt, I'm going to get in his face. If he still isn't, I'm going to give him a shove. If that doesn't work, then we might have a fight."

Then later in the week, Ball wouldn't feel like talking at all, missing a team meeting. He didn't play against the Cougars.

Coach Holmoe -- who earlier this year hinted he would resign if the Bears didn't win six games -- put the situation bluntly after seeing his team fall apart for a third-straight game. "I'm trying to keep this team alive," he said. "We are not playing well and my job is to try and turn it around. Some people may not believe we can do that.

"I'm not blind to what people will see. But we can't cave in."

California AD Steve Gladstone reiterated last week that Holmoe will remain through the entire season, telling the Contra Costa Times "There really is no circumstance where I would relieve a coach of ANY sport during the season."

And it won't get any easier for Cal. After greeting the Huskies –- who have won nine in a row at Memorial Stadium and 18 straight overall in the series -– the Bears welcome in Oregon, followed by two straight on the road against UCLA and Oregon State. Then there's the Big Game, followed six days later by a cross-country trip and the make up of their postponed game with Rutgers in New Jersey.

Unless an extraordinary turnaround comes quickly, it could be that fans won't have to worry about writing those letters to their favorite AD. Head coach Tom Holmoe could, sadly, be doing it for them.
California Bears Two-Deep

Washington Huskies Two-Deep
CALIFORNIA OFFENSE

An offense that had to suffer through the growing pains of a young quarterback the past two years is beginning to show signs of life, though still not in the way most Bear fans imagined when Kyle Boller (6-4, 205) first took the QB reins two years ago. Only twice since 1998 has California topped the 400-yard mark in total offense, and Boller, now a junior, can't wear the tag of "prospect" anymore. He's improved his completion percentage (54 percent), and Cal's third-down percentage has improved dramatically from last year – a result of former UCLA offensive coordinator Al Borges' tutelage - but he still has trouble getting it to his wide receivers. Senior Eric Holtfreter (6-2, 230) was inserted for Boller in the second half last week, throwing for 162 yards, and might get a quicker call should Boller falter in the early going.

One of the problems with getting the ball to the receivers is that they keep falling due to injury. Senior Charon Arnold (5-11, 175) leads the Bears with 14 receptions and caught his first TD last week, while senior Sean Currin (6-1, 190) is the possession receiver. Normally Derek Swafford and Geoff McArthur would be in the mix, but both are nursing injuries -- McArthur putting his elbow through a window after the Illinois loss. Swafford might return, but McArthur is doubtful. Junior Chase Lyman (6-4, 200) had an appendectomy in August and is just now rounding to playing shape, and senior Chad Heydorff tore a hamstring during camp and is redshirting. Freshman Christian Prelle (6-3, 185) looks very promising after being forced into the rotation by all the injuries. Junior TE Tom Swoboda (6-4, 235) made his first two career catches count, both going for over 20 yards.

After Saleem Muhammad transferred to Portland State and Joseph Echema was ruled academically ineligible, the Bears are down to a trio of running backs. When healthy, junior dervish Joe Igber (5-9, 200) gives California a Simonton-like threat every time he touches the ball. Igber needs 247 yards to surpass 2,000 in his career, and has given the Husky defense fits, piling up 298 rushing yards in their previous two meetings. Igber is being handled cautiously for an ankle sprain he suffered against BYU, but the Bears will desperately need him here. True freshman Terrell Williams (6-0, 195) has a big future, and garnered 63 yards on 17 carries in his first-ever start against Washington State. He also caught his first pass -– a 15-yard TD strike from Boller. Senior Marcus Fields (6-2, 230) is listed as a fullback, but really plays like an H-back. Fields is second on the team in receptions, and still carries good speed on his filled-out frame.

Senior Langston Walker (6-8, 345) is the biggest starter in the PAC-10, and has recovered well from a broken ankle suffered last October. He and senior Brandon Ludwig (6-4, 285) form a left-side wall that gets Igber a lot of his yards. Ludwig was experimented at center in the spring, but junior Ryan Jones (6-4, 270) blazed his way through the depth chart and won the job. Junior Scott Tercero (6-5, 295) has fought various leg ailments the past two years, but has only missed one start during that time. Sophomore Mark Wilson (6-6, 295), who Washington coveted two years ago, was the only Cal lineman to start all 11 games last year. It earned him first-team freshman All-American honors from the Sporting News.
CALIFORNIA DEFENSE

Without Andre Carter and Jacob Waasdorp there to lay the hammer down, the Cal defense has seen a shocking drop-off in its ability to stop anyone. Consider that these Bears became the first in the school's 118-year history to allow 40 or more points in its first three games – though that horrendous turnover ratio is partly to blame.

It's an almost entirely new defensive line from the "Carter administration". Junior DE Tully Banta-Cain (6-4, 260) was a terror in his own right last year -- third on the team with 5.5 sacks and 13 tackles-for-loss – and feels that the up-front guys are "getting close. We're just a half-second away. We just have to do it faster than we have been." Junior J.C. transfer Jamaal Cherry (6-4, 260), is a pass-rush specialist, and the Bears are expecting big things from RS-freshman Tosh Lupoi (6-5, 255). Lupoi was ticketed as a starter before missing Cal's first two games with a rib injury suffered in camp. Sophomore Josh Beckham (6-2, 280) started on the nose last year as a frosh, and moves to the tackle spot vacated by Waasdorp. Beckham also snaps for field goals and extra-points. Junior Daniel Nwangwu (6-4, 290) started on the nose last year before Beckham unseated him. Nwangwu is probably the most seasoned of the Bear front-four. JuCo transfer Josh Gustaveson (6-3, 255) had a mind-blowing 18.5 sacks at Snow JC before landing in Berkeley.

California is deepest at linebacker, led by inside linebacker Matt Nixon (6-1, 220). Nixon had 15 TFL last year, the most of any returning Bear (and eighth in the PAC-10), and leads this year's rendition with four. Seniors Chris Ball (6-3, 220) and Scott Fujita (6-5, 255) are as intense as they come – Fujita quietly registered 13 TFL and forced a pair of fumbles in his first season as a starter. It will be interesting to see how Ball returns from the previous week's foibles and subsequent benching. Junior John Klotsche (6-0, 240) led the Bears in fumble recoveries last year with three, and recorded his first sack of the season a week ago.

Junior Nnamdi Asomugha (6-2, 205) and senior Dewey Hale (6-0, 205) were 1-3 in tackles last year for Cal, and that's just where they are this year. Asomugha loves to force, and his interception and TD against UCLA last year sealed that deal. Hale sacked Jason Gesser twice in the first quarter last week, and Washington might expect something similar in Pickett's first road start. All of the Bears' corners are speedy. Juniors LaShaun Ward (6-1, 195) and Jemeel Powell (6-1, 185) are burners –- Powell picked off four passes last year and is also a dangerous punt-return man –- as are sophomores James Bethea (6-0, 190) and Atari Callen (5-9, 190). Callen and Bethea double up as the Bears' deep men for kickoffs.
CALIFORNIA SPECIAL TEAMS

Junior Mark Jensen (6-2, 195) has handled the placekicking duties since the middle of 1999, and has hit 65 percent of his career FGs, though his longest is only 45 yards (achieved last week against WSU). He's only attempted six from longer than 40 yards is his career -– hitting two -- and none from 50 or more. Sophomore punter Tyler Fredrickson (6-3, 205) has huge shoes to fill in departed All-American Nick Harris. He's averaging 42 yards per punt, second in the PAC-10. Linebacker Matt Nixon has the punt-snapping duties.
KIBBLES AND BITS

Arrangements are being made for Curtis Williams to attend the game on Saturday. Seating arrangements are still being worked out. C-Dub can now go a full 12 hours without respirator help . . . Washington's Charles Frederick leads the NCAA in punt returns, averaging 34.0 yards per try . . . The Huskies are last in the PAC-10 in total offense – perhaps a welcome sight for beleaguered Bears' defense that allows almost 500 yards per game. However, Washington is averaging 38.0 points, thanks to four special-teams touchdowns . . . It could also be an interesting red-zone battle. Washington is an anemic 4-7 scoring from inside the 20. Conversely, the Cal defense has allowed 15 scores in 16 red-zone invasions . . . It's a homecoming of sorts for Taylor Barton and Kai Ellis, who starred at San Francisco City College last year . . . Did You Know? Washington and California are the only two teams that have played in what is now the PAC-10 conference in every season since the league was founded in 1916 . . . The Huskies' current 18-game win streak over California is the sixth-longest such streak in the NCAA. Notre Dame holds the longest active streak over an opponent, with 37 straight wins against Navy . . . Since 1990, Washington has rushed for 200 or more yards 56 times. In those games, the Huskies own a 51-4-1 record . . . Did You Know II? Cody Pickett is Washington's first out-of-state starting quarterback since 1993, when Oakland's Eric Bjornson started three games. Since then, it's been all locals (Damon Huard, Shane Fortney, Brock Huard, and Marques Tuiasosopo) . . .

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