The California Golden Bears take on USC this Saturday evening at 5:00 PM.
This is probably the most interesting game in Cal history.
First off, the Bears have / had visions of grandeur. National Championships, Rose Bowl wins, etc. SC has had all of those and more over the last 7 or 8 years with Pete Carroll as coach. But the Bears probably had the biggest upset in the 123 years of Cal football last Saturday at Oregon. 42 to 3 - the number 6 team in the country loses to an unranked foe.
I did not think Oregon was any good, frankly. i though Chip Kelly was a terrible coach, and I thought their defense would stink. And that was based on the way that they were playing so far this year. And as opposed to Cal, who had just gone on the road to Minnesota, and their bright new stadium, and cruised to an easy win. Yes, I know it was tied in the 4th quarter. But the Bears never really lost control of that game, and played pretty well. Were it not for some phantom calls, the Bears would have won by 28. And the thing about that game was that Cal manhandled the Golden Gophers. Who are not a lousy team.
What happened in Eugene is debatable. I think it was just a matter of the Bears coming in and becoming bewildered at their initial lack of success, and panic setting in. They were tight, they were playing not to lose and they could not function. While the Bears are a good team, and have better talent overall than the Ducks, I would say that they do not have better talent if they are not playing at the top of their game all game long. Last year, at Berkeley, Cal dominated that game, and essentially, both teams came back - the Bears with a bit more experience, and the Ducks with a bit less. But the difference was, they had nothing to lose, and we had everything to lose. And we did.
Now, the shoe is on the other foot. Pete Carroll was bewildered by the outcome of the Bears / Oregon game. Stunned. Because he knows the talent level and the skill level was not representative of the final score. Meanwhile, USC is barely getting by in their games, they have lost to Washington, scored only once after the first quarter in the Washington State game, and should have lost the Ohio State game if Jim Tressell was any kind of coach. They are lacking in talent on the offensive side of the ball this year. And this week, one of their top two running backs - Staphon Johnson, had a horrendous accident in the weight room, when the bar he was bench pressing fell on his neck, requiring a 7 hour reconstructive surgery to save his life, and hopefully his voice. He is not out of the woods yet. Carroll is there hours on end this week. They have also lost a number of other players, including the QB, to injury this season. Now, the true freshman QB is back, but not fully healed. The Safety is back, but not a 100%. The Trojans are banged up.
One of the pieces of magic that Carroll has been able to instill in his team is the ability to keep loose. But this really is a season on the brink for them. They have been able to stock-pile talent over the years, but have not been able to get that talent up and going as well as they have in the past. I do not think that the coaches they have brought in have been as good as the ones that have left, at least not yet. They have three new coordinators this year - offense, defense and special teams. They have not been scoring as many points by a long shot, and while Carroll is still presiding over a pretty good defense, they have been in very close games all year long.
That being said, they are still USC. They are in a midst of a huge streak of road games - 4 of 5 - and 6 of 8. They play Notre Dame after the Bears (and a bye week). I think the injury and the nature of it to Staphon Johnson this week takes something off the luster of the Cal game. That type of mortality injected into the lives of invincible young people is a distraction to say the least. For the Bears, they have come down from their lofty perch. But they are not yet free of the burden. They still think they are playing for the NCG. Tedford's job this week is to get them loose. Tell them they are playing for themselves. I think as a coach, he may be too goal oriented. The goals should be smaller: Beat your man on every play. Complete every pass. No fumbles. Not, win the Pac 10. Not go the the National Championship game. The difference between this year and prior years is that in prior years, the Bears were not embracing expectations. And when the lost those expectation were trashed in the second quarter of the Oregon game, they stopped playing. They could have easily come out in the second half of the game and come back. Instead they curled up in a little ball. They were embracing expectations but not understanding that expectations are what people think you should do. Performance is what you do to meet expectations. And if you perform on each play, and have success, then the team will meet expectations. But the expectations should not be the goal. The grade on each play should be the goal. If you get burned, so what. Try again.
I hate it when people leave early during a game. Dodger fans. Well, the Bears were a bunch of Dodger fans last week. Let's see if this week they can be like the fans during the down years of the Joe Kapp era - the 25,000 who continued to show up each week to see the Bears perform. They would cheer a great play, or a great series. Rarely expecting to win, but always expecting a great effort. Knowing that some day the Bear would rise again - just maybe once - in their lifetime. That is what needs to happen this week. SC is down, the Bears are down. Who is going to win these individual battles this week? I am not expecting a victory, although I am not expecting a loss. But what I do expect is an effort each play. I expect to be rewarded for coming out to see my team by effort each play.
Last week, Tedford said the team was not tense, but intense. I am not sure if I want an intense team. I want a loose team that plays with abandon. If I wanted an intense team, I would root for Arizona. Lot's of bluster, lot's of collapse. I want a team that loves what they do, and gives it their all. That is what the Cal Bears should be about.