Things could be spinning out of control for Cal after its 49-27 loss to Utah on Oct. 27, and the focus shifts to the job security of coach Jeff Tedford.
It’s a dramatic turnaround from two weeks earlier. After the Bears took out Washington State 31-17 on Oct. 13 for their second straight victory to improve to 3-4, it seemed only a complete collapse could endanger Tedford’s job. But that collapse may be in process.
First, on Oct. 20, the Bears lost to archrival Stanford and had its worst offensive game of the season in the process, gaining only three yards on the ground.
Then Cal got blown out by a Utah team that had lost four in a row and had been winless in conference action. The final score hid how lopsided this game was as the Utes (3-5, 1-4) held a 42-6 lead until the final minute of the third quarter.
A bowl berth and a winning season remain possible mathematically, but the Bears (3-6, 2-4 in the Pac-12) must run the table to accomplish it. And with games remaining against Washington (which upset Oregon State on Oct. 27), Oregon and Oregon State, it’s hard to imagine the Bears winning out.
A banged up defense did not help matters. Cal started the game without three injured defensive starters – outside linebackers Chris McCain and Brennan Scarlett and inside linebacker Jalen Jefferson – then lost cornerback Marc Anthony in the second quarter.
Nonetheless, yielding 49 points to a Utah team that had scored more than 14 points in only one of its previous four conference games is hard to explain away.
Perhaps more difficult to accept is that after failing to score a touchdown against Stanford in the Big Game, the Bears did not score a touchdown against the Utes until the final play of the third quarter, by which time the Utes already had a comfortable 42-6.
That first touchdown was scored by Brendan Bigelow on an impressive 57-yard run on what was his first carry of the game.
That leaves the Cal coaches to try to explain why their big-play back did not get his first carry until the game was out of reach.
The three Cal turnovers and an inability to convert two good early drives into touchdowns played a direct role in the Bears’ demise, as did a 100-yard Utah kickoff return that gave the Utes an early 7-3 lead and basically turned the game around.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Cal plays a Friday, Nov. 2 home game against Washington, which is 4-4 and coming off an upset of Oregon State. The Bears then finish up with a home game against Oregon and road game against Oregon State. Cal needs to win all three to get a bowl berth and have a shot at a winning season.
–Wide receiver Keenan Allen set the school record for career receptions. His five catches against Utah give him 205, breaking the record of 202 held by Geoff McArthur.
–The 57-yard touchdown run by Brendan Bigelow was his third touchdown run this season of more than 50 yards. He’s the first Cal player to do that since Jahvid Best in 2009.
–If Cal fails to win its final three regular-season games as well as a bowl game, it will have its second losing season in three years. Jeff Tedford, now in his 11th season with the Bears, did not have any losing seasons in his first eight seasons at Cal.
–Utah led 28-6 at halftime, but didn’t really do much offensively to get that big lead. The first touchdown came on a kickoff return by Reggie Dunn. The second came on a 17-yard return by Reggie Topps of a Chris Harper fumble. The third came after Utah got the ball in Cal territory and benefited from 20 yards worth of Cal penalties. The fourth started at the Utah 46 and was aided by a missed tackle by Marc Anthony on a 24-yard pass play on a third-and-17 situation.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The health of Cal’s defenders may be the aspect most worth watching. It’s unclear whether OLBs Chris McCain (ankle) and Brennan Scarlett (hand), ILB Jalen Jefferson (concussion) and CB Marc Anthony (head) will play against Washington. With those four starters out, the Bears’ defense seemed to wear down against Utah because it was so thin. The same may happen against the Huskies unless at least some of those players return.
LOOKING GOOD: Brendan Bigelow continues to show his big-play potential, leading to questions about why he is not used more on offense. On his first carry of the game, he went 57 yards for a touchdown at the end of the third quarter. On his second – and last – carry of the game, he gained nine yards. On his only reception of the game, he gained six tough yards, twisting his way out of tackles. He has just 27 carries this season, but is averaging 12.7 yards per carry, with three touchdown runs of more than 50 yards. He is averaging 13.8 yards on his six receptions this season. Why Cal is not using him more on offense is the question.
NEEDS WORK: Certainly the turnovers and the inefficiency in the red zone are problems, but pass protection and kickoff coverage are bigger concerns. The Bears yielded four more sacks against Utah, and they have allowed 37 for the season, the most in the country. The Reggie Dunn kickoff return for a touchdown was the first allowed by Cal in four years, and changed the complexion of the game. It gave the Utes a 7-3 lead right after Cal had scored. Then Dunn returned another kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, right after Cal had scored its first touchdown.
QUOTE: “It was fairly evident that we had a lot of guys playing that don’t typically play, but we’ve got to step up. They were able to execute on offense and hold the ball and move the ball. We’ve got to get some guys healthy.” – Cal coach Jeff Tedford, regarding his team’s injury situation, following the loss to Utah.
–WR Keenan Allen had five catches against Utah and has caught a pass in all 33 games in which he has played, which is the longest such streak in the Pac-12. He caught his 17th touchdown pass of his career, and broke the school record for career receptions.
–TE Richard Rodgers had a career-long 51-yard reception late in the first quarter, and he also had his first career touchdown catch later in the game.
–PK Vincenzo D’Amato has made nine straight field-goal attempts after hitting a 49-yarder and a 38-yarder against Utah.
–TB Brendan Bigelow led the team in rushing with 66 yards on two carries, and his 57-yard touchdown run was his third scoring run of more than 50 yards this season.
–QB Zach Maynard was 20-for-32 for 288 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also rushed for 30 yards.
–G Dominic Galas was scheduled to start the Oct. 27 game against Utah, but he had emergency surgery for appendicitis earlier in the day. He is expected to return home early in the week.
–CB Marc Anthony left the game in the second quarter with a head injury and did not return. His status for the game against Washington is uncertain.
–ILB Jalen Jefferson did not play against Utah because of a concussion sustained in the game against Washington State. His status for the Washington game is questionable.
–OLB Chris McCain missed the Utah game with an ankle injury. He’s questionable for the Washington game.
–OLB Brennan Scarlett missed the Utah game with a broken hand. He might play against Washington with a cast on his hand.