Sweet Escapes May Turn Sour Soon


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Coach Jeff Tedford justifiably declared a "new season" earlier this month as the Cal football team entered its bye week, desperately trying to move forward after losses to Oregon and USC.

That new season has featured two wins for the Bears, whose offense has averaged 47 points per game during that span.

But is this really a second coming?

The two victories -- one last week against UCLA at the Rose Bowl, the other on Saturday in an expected 49-17 decision against Washington State at Memorial Stadium -- mask a defense that has yielded huge yardage to two of the worst offenses in the Pac-10.

In fact, the unit has given up 440 yards or more of total offense in each of its last four games -- not exactly the numbers expected from a defense that was supposed to be one of the best in the West this season.

Junior defensive back Darian Hagan, for one, knows that similar efforts in the coming weeks could end with different results -- namely, defeats for the Bears.

"With greater teams (that have) better wideouts and better running backs," Hagan said, "it's a possibility for things to turn out not as good as they did (Saturday)."

Things weren't even that good for Cal this weekend, at least off the ball.

The Cougars entered the game as the second-worst offense in the entire Football Bowl Subdivision with an average of fewer than 270 yards per contest, but the Bears allowed them to eclipse that mark in just one half. By the time the game was over, Tedford's team had given up a season-high 385 passing yards to an offense that is led by a true freshman quarterback in Jeff Tuel and protected by a less-than-formidable front line.

The unit's performance in the second quarter, when Washington State scored two touchdowns, was bad enough to warrant a scolding from Tedford at halftime.

"I told them they need to tackle better, in so many words," he cracked.

So what went wrong?

Tedford pointed to fundamentals. Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory emphasized focus and attention to detail. Defensive lineman Derrick Hill spoke of "lackadaisical" execution.

"We just stopped playing," Hill said.

The holes were especially noticeable in the secondary, which has been average at best. The corps that led the Pac-10 in interceptions last season has been somewhat of a liability in 2009, which doesn't bode well for the Bears if they're expecting to stop the big play against teams that are markedly more potent than the Cougars.

Hill said it was a team goal to hold woeful Washington State to no more than 17 points, and the Bears met that challenge on Saturday -- just barely.

Of course, it's much easier for the defense to go unnoticed when the offense is putting more than 40 points on the board.

If the Cal offense goes cold, though -- and it most certainly will at some point between now and the end of the season -- the errors off the ball will become a lot more glaring.


Slip under the radar with Jeff at [email protected]

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