Defense Shines, Offense Declines in Bowl-less Season

The Bears had a season of defensive highs and offensive lows. The result was coach Jeff Tedford's first losing season with Cal.

Photo: The Cal football team lost its final three games, all at Memorial Stadium, to finish 5-7 overall. They are not headed to a postseason bowl game for the first time in seven years.
Evan Walbridge/Staff
The Cal football team lost its final three games, all at Memorial Stadium, to finish 5-7 overall. They are not headed to a postseason bowl game for the first time in seven years.


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Photo: The Cal football team lost its final three games, all at Memorial Stadium, to finish 5-7 overall. They are not headed to a postseason bowl game for the first time in seven years.   Photo: The Cal football team lost its final three games, all at Memorial Stadium, to finish 5-7 overall. They are not headed to a postseason bowl game for the first time in seven years.   


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One weekend after barely beating the nation's worst team, the Cal football team nearly knocked off the country's No. 1.

Ladies and gentlemen: your 2010 season in a nutshell.

Preseason expectations this fall weren't high, to be sure. But with a dependable running back, a fifth-year senior under center and an experienced coaching staff, observers expected consistent, stable play from the team.

Instead, Cal's (5-7, 3-6) on-field performances were arguably the most unpredictable in the country. Four of the team's five wins came by three touchdowns or more; so did four of its seven losses.

Not even head coach Jeff Tedford could explain what made his squad so enigmatic game in and game out.

"I don't see an up-and-down team every week in practice. Obviously what happens in the games says what it says," Tedford said after a 50-17 win over Arizona State on Oct. 23.

That victory at Memorial Stadium was sandwiched in between blowout losses on the road to USC and Oregon State. It also happened to be the Bears' only complete performance against meaningful competition.

Quarterback Kevin Riley was efficient throwing the football, tossing a pair of touchdown strikes and netting 240 yards through the air; Shane Vereen found running lanes; and Clancy Pendergast's defense was dominant, not allowing a single offensive touchdown by the Sun Devils.

The rest of 2010 was downright maddening in its inconsistency.

Against Arizona, Oregon and Washington, the Bears turned in inspired defensive performances - efforts befitting of the conference's top overall unit. Everyone from Mike Mohamed and Cameron Jordan to Chris Conte and Mychal Kendricks flew around the football field to help stop high-octane offenses in their tracks.

However, their efforts were for naught because Cal's own offense couldn't provide adequate support. In the three contests, the Bears failed to find any semblance of a balanced attack. They mustered just one offensive touchdown, and ended up losing by a combined six points.

"(The defense) played their hearts out. There is no question about it," Tedford said after Cal limited the Ducks to just one offensive score and 317 total yards. "It is a shame. It's a shame. I feel sick for the kids."

But when the Bears didn't fall just short in defeat, they fell apart completely in all phases of the game.

Against the Trojans, Beavers and Cardinal, Cal's outright lack of execution was agonizing. In each contest, the Bears never showed signs of competitiveness after an early downpour of dropped passes, turnovers, penalties and poor field position. The end result was a combined 131-35 margin of defeat to Cal's biggest rivals, and a relinquished Axe for only the second time in nine years.

"They made some plays, and we didn't, and they got the start that we wanted," Cal quarterback Kevin Riley said after the USC loss on Oct. 16. "They jumped on us quick ... It just kept hitting us."

Indeed, the Bears have some soul-searching to do after the lumps they took in Tedford's first losing campaign. First, the team must turn around an anemic passing attack that did little to complement Vereen's 1,000-yard season.

Despite receiving stars in Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen, Cal averaged under 200 yards per game through the air to rank ninth in the conference - the lowest output of Tedford's tenure.

Riley was Jekyll and Hyde before his career-ending injury and Brock Mansion regressed in five games. The junior racked up five interceptions, completed less than 50 percent of his passes and failed to throw a meaningful touchdown. The coaches appeared to show less confidence in him game by game.

Finding and grooming a new signal-caller will be essential to bouncing back. The offensive line was also a work in progress all season long, and bore considerable responsibility for the team's stagnant attack - be it ill-timed penalties, spotty pass-protection or inadequate run-blocking.

At the preseason Bay Area Media Day, Tedford stressed the importance of "playing every game to the fullest of (the team's) abilities." In that respect, this past campaign did not turn out according to plan.

Tags: SHANE VEREEN, KEVIN RILEY, JEFF TEDFORD, BROCK MANSION, CAL FOOTBALL


Ed Yevelev covers football. Contact him at [email protected]



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