One-sided Heroics Not Enough

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Maybe the tree-sitters were right after all.

I have no idea if Memorial Stadium sits on an Indian burial ground, but there was something magical about that venue on Saturday night.

What other explanation can there be when a team nearly falls to a national laughingstock and nearly topples a national powerhouse one week later?

Pundits pointed to Cal's victory margin in Berkeley as a true test of the team's home success.

Not after Saturday's performance. The Bears' character and reslience in a 15-13 loss spoke more volumes than any 50-point outburst ever could.

Sitting in the press box during the contest was a cruel waiting game. Everyone was anticipating that "sayonara" moment. That instance when, to quote the esteemed Ray Ratto,"Oregon starts squeezing the other guy's thorax."

Cliff Harris' 64-yard punt return in the second quarter could have been that gut punch. Jeff Maehl's touchdown grab out of halftime should have the unequivocal knockout blow.

But neither were.

Fueled by their home elixir, the Bears gave the Ducks a full 12-round, four-quarter match.

That toughness manifested itself in the the team's defense, which did the unthinkable in shutting down Oregon's high-flying spread option attack. The Ducks' new season lows in offensive touchdowns, points, and total yards were eye-popping. The way the Bears forced them was even more so.

Far from getting caught badly out of position, as so many teams do against Oregon, the Bears' defenders were always in the right place at the right time. Mike Mohamed and Chris Conte lived in Oregon's backfield. The defensive line made creases hard to find for LaMichael James. The defensive backs, even the back-ups, kept running stride for stride with receivers.

Afterwards, Conte told reporters he "had no doubt" that the Bears would win; Mychal Kendricks simply said "Oregon knows what's up." You could tell that this was a unit infused with confidence, and one that played with all of its heart and soul.

Unfortunately, that Herculean defensive effort could only take the team so far.

Inspiration and emotion must eventually be supplemented by execution; the defense delivered it, while the other two phases of the game did not.

Against a team like the Ducks, the Bears' margin for error was slim to none - and on Saturday, the tiniest of errors were magnified tenfold. It was one fateful punt. Two or three drops. One fumble. One early time-out.

And lastly, one ill-timed step forward.

"If we just could have put a couple more points on the board," Shane Vereen mused, "who knows what would have happened."

It's a familiar feeling.

Saturday's near miss at Memorial marked the second time this season that a sputtering offense and special teams miscues undermined a heroic defensive performance.

Fortunately, one can expect another electric home atmosphere to next weekend against Stanford. That excitement, that home magic will be there once again.

Everyone just has to take advantage.

Tags: SHANE VEREEN, DERRICK HILL, CHRIS CONTE, MYCHAL KENDRICKS, CAL FOOTBALL


Feel the Memorial Stadium magic with Ed at [email protected]



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