Cal’s 27-17 home loss to Arizona State on Sept. 29 raises a lot of troubling questions for the Golden Bears.
–Is this season doomed with Cal slipping to 1-4? Being 0-2 in the conference virtually eliminates Cal from Pac-12 title consideration less than halfway through the season. At the moment, Cal looks superior than only two of its seven remaining opponents, and those two games – against Washington State and Utah – are both on the road. A bowl game seems like a long shot, and finishing better than 4-8 appears to be a challenge.
–Is Tedford’s job in jeopardy? The Bears’ 1-4 mark is the worst after five games in Tedford’s 11 seasons as Cal’s head coach, and Cal fans have voiced dissatisfaction in recent years. Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour has been unwavering in her support of Tedford, and she did a lot of work several years ago when the Bears were winning to create a contract that would keep Tedford at Cal. The recent construction of the expensive sports complex was done to appease Tedford’s request for improved football facilities. Tedford’s contract runs through the 2015 season, and pays him about $2.3 million a year (much if which is financed through private donations). So it would cost a lot to terminate Tedford, and that does not include money that would be owed to his staff. On the other hand, if he is still employed by Cal at the end of the 2013 season, he would receive a $1 million bonus. Bottom line, Tedford is unlikely to be fired after this season unless the team falls apart completely.
–How demoralizing is it for Cal to lose at home to Arizona State, which had lost four straight to Cal and was picked to finish fifth in the relatively weak Pac-12 South? ASU is a lot better than people expected, but losing at home against an opponent that did not seem to be appreciably better is a pivotal result that could define the season. Arizona State had not beaten Cal in Berkeley since 1997.
–Is Cal incapable of finishing off a game? The Bears have been in position to win every game in the fourth quarter, but managed to win only the game against overmatched FCS foe Southern Utah. The Bears trailed Arizona State 20-17 with 9:33 left when Keenan Allen caught a touchdown pass. But Arizona State scored a touchdown on a 74-yard drive on its ensuring possession, and Cal went three-and-out on its next possession.
–Is quarterback Zach Maynard the chief problem regarding the Cal offense? He was just 9-for-28 for 126 yards against Arizona State, and seldom will a team win a Pac-12 game when its quarterback completes just 32.1 percent of his passes. However, Maynard seldom had time to pass and was sacked six times. He has been sacked 19 times the past three games, and that makes it almost impossible to have a successful passing game.
“There were some plays we could have hit, but he is also under a lot of duress,” Tedford said. “We have got to give him more time to throw the football. He made some plays, but some plays he missed. He didn’t play his best game, obviously.”
Cal continues to use Maynard primarily as a stationary pocket passer, even though Maynard has been an accurate passer in those rare instances when he rolls out and uses his mobility to avoid the rush.
–Where is Brendan Bigelow? It’s difficult to fault Cal’s heavy use of tailback Isi Sofele, who rushed for 105 yards on 15 carries, and tailback C.J. Anderson, who had 78 yards on eight carries. However, Bigelow, the team’s best big-play threat in the backfield, did not have a single touch against Arizona State, even though his touchdown runs of 81 and 59 yards were the main reasons Cal had a chance to beat Ohio State on the road earlier this season.
WHAT OTHERS SAID: Here’s San Francisco Chronicle story on the game. Click here for the Oakland Tribune game story. For the ASU perspective, here’s the Arizona Republic story.
WHAT’S NEXT: Cal plays its next game at home, against UCLA on Oct. 6, and the Bruins are 4-1 after beating Colorado 42-14 on the road on Sept. 29. UCLA’s Brett Hundley is the kind of dual-threat quarterback that has given Cal problems. Cal then plays a road game against Washington State before hosting Stanford as Cal plays three of its final five games against teams that were ranked in the top 25 as of Sept. 29.
–Cal’s 1-4 record is its worst mark after five games since Jeff Tedford became its coach in 2002. The last time Cal had a worse start was 2001, when the Bears started 0-10 and went 1-10 in Tom Holmoe’s final season. This is the fourth time in the past 25 years Cal has started 1-4 or worse. Besides 2001, Cal started 1-4 in 2000 and 1-5 in 1995. None of those three previous Cal teams finished better than 3-8 overall or 2-6 in the conference.
–WR Keenan Allen missed a portion of the second quarter and some of the third because he was vomiting. He returned to the Cal sidelines midway in the third quarter and re-entered the game.
–For the second time this season, Cal amassed more than 100 yards in penalties, and both times it occurred at home. Cal was penalized 12 times for a season-high 112 yards against Arizona State. The Bears were penalized 12 times for 106 yards against Southern Utah on Sept. 8.
–Cal sophomore Brendan Bigelow has carried the ball 10 times and has 206 rushing yards, an average of 20.6 yards a carry. He had four carries (all in the second half) for 31 yards against USC on Sept. 22, and he did not have a single touch against Arizona State. The Sun Devils kicked away from Bigelow on kickoffs, which resulted in six returns by Mike Manual. Bigelow did play some on offense, and he was the target of a few passes, but none was close to being completed.
WORTH WATCHING: S Avery Sebastian did not officially start the game against Arizona State, but he played starter minutes in what was, in essence, his first career start. He had 15 total tackles (9 solo, 6 assists), the most by a Cal player since 2010. He had two big hits on Arizona State ball-carriers, the kind of hits that can provide a defense with an identity. One of Sebastian’s tackles was for a loss.
LOOKS PROMISING: Cal tailbacks Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson both had productive games. Sofele rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown while averaging 7.0 yards per carry. Anderson had 78 yards on eight carries, a 9.8 yards-per-carry average. It was a marked improvement over the previous game against USC, when Sofele rushed for just 16 yards and Anderson had 32. Cal had planned on relying on its running game this season, but its ground game has been hot and cold this year.
NEEDS WORK: Pass protection is the most noticeable problem. Cal has yielded 24 sacks this season, including 19 in the past three games. Cal yielded only 28 sacks all of last season. Even when Cal QB Zach Maynard is not sacked he is hurried into passing before he’s ready, reducing his efficiency and limiting what Cal can do offensively. Cal may need to figure out other ways to give Maynard time to throw, such as having Maynard throw while on the move. Penalties are another issue. Cal was penalized 112 yards against Arizona State, and although penalties seldom correlate with wins and losses are overrated in terms of importance, they may demonstrate a lack of discipline.
QUOTE: “We couldn’t get in a rhythm and couldn’t get anything going. We got physically beat up front. We didn’t really have much time to throw the football. We got a little bit going in the run game, but in the pass game we got beat by a more physical team.” – Cal coach Jeff Tedford.
–WR Keenan Allen had four catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. The receiving touchdown was just his second of the season but was the 13th of his career, which ties him for eighth all-time at Cal. His 177 career receptions rank fourth all-time at Cal, three shy of Bobby Shaw. Allen also extended his streak of consecutive games with a reception to 29, which is every game he’s played at Cal.
–TB Isi Sofele had 105 rushing yards, his seventh career 100-yard game. He surpassed 2,000 rushing yards for his career and now had 2,075 yards.
–LB Nick Forbes blocked a field goal attempt against Arizona State, which was Cal’s first block of a field-goal attempt in six years.
–PK Vincenzo D’Amato made his only field-goal attempt, a 35-yarder, and has made four in a row after missing his previous four field-goal attempts.
–LB Brennan Scarlett had two tackles for losses against Arizona State, giving him four for the season.
–QB Zach Maynard was 9-for-28 against Arizona State, dropping his season completion percentage from 63.4 to 55 percent. Last season, he completed 57 percent of his passes.
–OT Matt Summers-Gavin played for the first time since the opener, having been sidelined for three games by a knee injury.
–TE Richard Rodgers was in the starting lineup against Arizona State after playing sparingly the previous week because of a foot injury.
–DL Aaron Tipoti missed the Arizona State game with a knee injury. He’s questionable for the game against UCLA.
–TE Spencer Hagan is out for the season with a knee injury.
–TB Daniel Lasco played against Arizona State despite being knocked woozy the previous week.
–LB Khairi Fortt, a transfer from Penn State, has not practiced since having knee surgery last spring. It’s unclear whether he’ll play this season.
–OG Dominic Galas missed the Arizona State game and is unlikely to play in the next few games as well because of a torn pectoral muscle.
–LB David Wilkerson missed the Arizona State game with a foot injury.