The Cal program reeled a bit when it was announced last June that they would lose 13 scholarships and be placed on five years probation for lack of institutional control stemming from academic fraud, making them ineligible for bowl consideration in 2002. School administrators appealed the bowl penalty and probation duration in August.
Instead of wallowing, Tedford's Bears went out and threw caution to the wind, romping to three consecutive wins – including a road pummeling of Michigan State in conditions similar to what they'll face at Husky Stadium. Did the quick start surprise the new coach? Consider his response. "We should expect to win games. That's why we're here. And if it doesn't go our way, we work even harder and continue to focus that way."
Then Cal dropped a barnburner to unbeaten Air Force, and simply ran out of bullets in a shootout with conference favorite Washington State. Concerned about letdowns? Tedford stressed, "I'm disappointed we didn't win them. But I'm happy with the progress we're making. There's no way this team will ever give up, and there's no way we'll ever give up on them."
Just one look at the numbers suggests that the hibernation is over. At this time last year, California had an unfathomable minus-16 turnover ratio – worst in the nation. This year, it sits at plus-11 – 10th in the country. Quarterback Kyle Boller is playing with a senior's confidence and Joe Igber is back at full strength after breaking his clavicle last year. "They take care of the ball now, and their first halves have been amazing," Husky coach Rick Neuheisel says of the Bears. "121-22 is (Cal's first half) numbers, and that's a remarkable statistic."
Neuheisel also wants his team to look at the now, rather than the past. "What we have to do is prepare to play this particular Cal team," Neuheisel warns. "They could very easily be 5-0 . . . We don't get any of the points from the year previous. We don't pretend to know how or why (the current streak) happened. Our last three games with Cal have all been very close – we've been behind by two scores in each of them.
"We are just anxious to play this Saturday at Husky Stadium and I know Jeff will have his team ready to play."
The way both offenses are gunning, in true new-look PAC-10 fashion, another shootout seems inevitable.
Somebody better go out and get some more bullets.
TEAM STATS: 41.8 points (1st PAC-10), 389.6 yards (7th, 116.0 rush, 273.6 pass)
RUSHING: Joe Igber 90-445-2 TD (4.9), long 38, Terrell Williams 17-58-0 TD (3.4), long 13
PASSING: Kyle Boller 98-175-4 (.560), 1212 yards, 11 TD
RECEIVING: Geoff McArthur 30-359-1 TD (12.0), long 47, Jonathan Makonnen 22-337-2 TD (15.3), long 39, LaShaun Ward 15-244-4 TD (16.3), long 54
Talk about a turnaround. The installation of Tedford's offense – tweaked by former CFL passing guru George Cortez – has wrought instant dividends. To wit, compare to the same point last year, when the Bears were 0-5 while averaging a paltry 17.6 points-per-game. California has already scored one more touchdown than they did in all of 2001. And in the red-zone, the Bears are money, converting 23 of 24 times.
Senior QB Kyle Boller (6-4, 225) won't get to taste a bowl game as a four-year starter at Cal (NCAA appeals notwithstanding), but is finding the air fresher with Tedford at the Doppler. Boller has completed 56 percent of his attempts so far after three years wallowing closer to 45 percent. He has thrown for 1,212 yards and matches Cody Pickett's 11 touchdowns while tossing just four picks, breaking a long spell of interception-itis. Coming off a 371-yard effort against Washington State, Boller moved into fifth place on Cal's career list with 6,377 yards. His 47 career TDs are fourth in the Golden Bear annals, and he should be at the top of a lot of those lists when the year is out.
Sophomore wideout Geoff McArthur (6-1, 200) has been Boller's favorite target with 30 catches, but JuCo transfer Jonathan Makonnen (6-0, 175) had seven grabs for 136 yards against the Cougars. Makonnen was a teammate of Taylor Barton, Kai Ellis and Francisco Tipoti at City College of San Francisco. Senior speedster LaShaun Ward (6-1, 200), who made a successful switch from corner in mid-season last year, has snared a team-best four TDs, giving him nine on his career. Junior Chase Lyman hasn't played yet this season while mending a troublesome hamstring and a broken finger, and figures not to play here.
On the ground, Joe Igber (5-8, 190) topped the century mark for the second time this year against Washington State, garnering 111 yards on 20 carries. The senior dervish has 2,439 career yards, needing just another 65 to take over fourth place on Cal rushing scrolls – he's given Washington fits in his four years at Berkeley. In keeping with his own tradition, Igber is working on his fourth jersey change – this year he dons number 20 after wearing numbers 29, 6, and 30 respectively. Sophomore Terrell Williams (6-0, 200) is more of a slasher but is dangerous in his own right – he averaged over 105 yards per game after Igber went down last year. Expected fullback starter Ryan Stanger took a medical redshirt to heal an abdominal injury, so RS-freshman Chris Manderino (6-1, 220) gets the call as the lead back.
Three returning starters anchor the Cal line – center Ryan Jones (6-4, 285), tackle Scott Tercero (6-5, 290) and guard Mark Wilson (6-6, 295). Sophomore starter Jonathan Geisel (6-4, 285) sprained knee against WSU and is doubtful. If he can't go, junior David Hays (6-3, 290) will get the call at right guard. Tackle Chris Murphy (6-6, 295) is settling in after two years toiling behind current NFL'er Langston Walker.
TEAM STATS: 25.6 points (9th PAC-10), 395.8 yards (10th, 146.8 rush, 249.0 pass)
TACKLES/TFL: Marcus Daniels 30/2.5, Bert Watts 27/1.0, Nnamdi Asomugha 26/4.5
PASSES DEF/INT: James Bethea 6/3, Jemeel Powell 5/2, Marcus Daniels 3/0
SACKS: Tully Banta-Cain 6.0, Jamaal Cherry 2.5, Josh Beckham 1.0
It's been a harder transition on defense. The Bears faced two mind-altering offenses the last two weeks – Air Force's option attack and Washington State's spread - and now they get a dose of the nation's hottest quarterback in Cody Pickett. But Cal does employ a pressure 4-3 defense, something Washington hasn't faced yet.
Senior sack-master Tully Banta-Cain (6-4, 260) seeks another New Mexico State afternoon, where he garnered 4.5 sacks for PAC-10 Player-of-the-Week honors. He hasn't had a scalp since, but his quickness will be a chore for Barnes and Newton. Banta-Cain is the leader of an experienced front that also features seniors Daniel Nwangwu (6-4, 290) and Jamaal Cherry (6-4, 280).
If Matt Nixon (6-1, 220) is able to go, then Cal will start an all-senior linebacking corps. Nixon, who missed the WSU game with a knee strain, had a 100-yard INT return against Baylor and averages six tackles per game. If he can't go, sophomore Wendell Hunter (6-1, 220) will get the nod. Marcus Daniels (6-1, 230) leads the Bears in tackles with 30. Daniels continues to start for senior John Klotsche, who re-injured his knee against New Mexico State and remains doubtful for Saturday.
Three of Cal's top-five tacklers reside in the secondary. Senior rover Nnamdi Asomugha (6-2, 210) is a sure tackler who likes to force. Asomugha has 4.5 tackles-for-loss and has forced a fumble. Free safety Bert Watts (6-1, 205) has 27 stops. James Bethea (6-0, 200) and Jemeel Powell (6-1, 190) are experienced corners – they have five interceptions between them. But experience drops significantly after the front-line guys, leaving Cal with some mismatches to contend with in their nickel and dime packages.
CALIFORNIA SPECIAL TEAMS
PLACEKICKING: Mark Jensen 11-14 FG (long 51), 24-24 XP
PUNTING: Tyler Fredrickson 19-38.7 (long 66), .368 inside the 20
KICK RETURNS: LaShaun Ward 12-29.1 (long 56), 0 TD, James Bethea 6-22.0 (long 49), 0 TD
PUNT RETURNS: Jemeel Powell 11-14.5 (long 90), 1 TD
Some pretty good numbers show up here. The Bears' 25.8-yard kick-return average ranks first in the conference (and 10th in the nation) - LaShaun Ward owns the top individual spot in the PAC-10 with a 29.1 average. Jemeel Powell, the school's career punt return leader, averages 14.5 yards per attempt – including a 90-yarder at Michigan State. Senior place-kicker Mark Jensen has 11 field goals, including a school-record five against Air Force - and nailed his only 50-plus yarder. Junior punter Tyler Fredrickson averages 39 yards per boot, with seven of his 19 punts landing inside the 20. Additionally, Cal's coverage units have been pretty solid, allowing 18.8 yards per kickoff return and 9.2 per punt return so far this year. They did allow the Cougars a punt-block for a score last week.
KIBBLES AND BITS
1996 Washington letter-of-intent signee Junior Brignac is now a 24-year old freshman receiver on the Cal roster. Brignac spent the last six years as an outfielder in the Atlanta Braves organization before being released last September. He's been fighting ankle problems, but coach Tedford says he likely won't redshirt. He committed to Rick Neuheisel earlier this summer as a walk-on but only needed one day of summer work outs to realize that his playing time as a receiver would be minimal, thus the change of heart. . . . For the second straight week, Husky offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson faces a school he was once the head coach for. Gilby was the last head coach to post a winning record at Berkeley, going 9-4 in 1993 . . . Three Honolulu-Iolani alums will be suiting up Saturday – Cal's Joe Igber, and Washington's Willie Kava and Donny Mateaki . . . Cal running backs coach Ron Gould is the only holdover from former coach Tom Holmoe's staff, while new defensive coordinator (and former WSU linebacker) Bob Gregory previously held a similar post at Washington. Washington University in St. Louis, that is . . . It's the 20th-anniversary of "Lateral Pursuit" – better known on the Cal campus as "the Play" – perhaps the single most exciting moment in College Football history . . . Do you think that Ty Willingham felt bad that his former team got beat 65-24 by ASU? Guess we'll find out on Saturday when Stanford pays a visit to South Bend. And what does Terry Bowden think of the Cardinal defense? "Coach Teevens said his defense was young, but athletic. If those guys are athletic, I shudder at the thought of their backups" . . . Tough week for the 70-plus set. Both Bobby Bowden (72) and Joe Paterno (75) lost games in overtime to supposedly lesser opponents . . . Don't look now, but San Jose State has won two straight since falling to Washington (after leading 10-0 at the break)
Rick Samek can be reached at RSAMEK1@ATTBI.COM