Cal Not All It's Quacked Up to Be?

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EUGENE, Ore. -- At least kickoffs weren't a problem, right? The Cal football team's weakest link through the first three weeks didn't have much of a chance to be, but Vince D'Amato still put one of his two kicks in the end zone.

And field position in the first half-that was pretty good, too. The Bears started three of their first six drives in the opponent's territory, and all six at their own 41-yard line or better.

You might not remember this (it does feel like a long time ago), but they even forced a fumble on the opening kickoff. And then the offense went backwards eight yards. Then kicked a field goal. For its only points of the game.

OK, it's not easy to put a positive spin on a 42-3 loss, particularly one by this team -- the Cal that was No. 6 in the country two days ago, and supposedly the best in the Pac-10 with a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and a great shot at watering that Rose Bowl drought.

That was the Bears' image Saturday morning. They they played Oregon. And all of a sudden, the offensive line couldn't open holes for Jahvid Best or protect Kevin Riley, Riley and his receivers couldn't get on the same page downfield, the defense couldn't wrap up or neutralize one tight end.

Everything that had gone right through the first three weeks started to go wrong and left people wondering what in the name of Nike had just happened, and whether the Bears were ever really as good as they were thought to be.

It's pretty clear that the No. 6 ranking was premature. Three early wins and a bunch of top-10 upsets kept filling Cal's balloon, lifting it higher and higher, until the thing burst at Autzen Stadium. Loudly.

And it's pretty clear that the Ducks were the better team on Saturday.

But the common consensus among Bears players and coaches was that Oregon wasn't playing the same squad that looked like a blue-and-gold machine through the first three weeks, and that a loss to open Pac-10 play doesn't rule out the ultimate goal of a conference championship -- as long as the players respond the right way.

"It's one loss," Riley said. "We don't want this to be a downward spiral."

The great thing for Cal is that it only needs to look back two years for the perfect example of how not to react to its first loss. And late Saturday afternoon, players were already pointing to the 2007 season for evidence of how far they've come, and how much they've matured, since then.

"You know, a couple years ago we were No. 2 and when we lost, kind of in the locker room it felt like the end of the world," linebacker Mike Mohamed said. "Now all that means is we're going to have a one-loss season."

Two years ago, getting knocked off of the wave that carried them to No. 2 was such a deflating experience for the Bears that they couldn't recover from it mentally. Now, priority one is to make sure that, regardless of how ugly it was, this loss to Oregon is put in the past.

"We've got to come back from this,'" senior left tackle Mike Tepper said. "We don't want another 2007 season, which we will not have. We will not have that."

It's good that Tepper brought 2007 up on his own, because it's going to be on him to make sure that what happened then doesn't happen again. Him and every other veteran who was a freshman or sophomore that year, when the great expectations of a young season turned so sour halfway through, and who is now a leader on this team.

They're off to a good start. On Sunday, back at Memorial Stadium, Cal broke from its post-practice huddle with a loud, one-word imperative:

"Respond."

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Can you put a positive spin on Cal's loss? Tell Matt at [email protected]



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