Extra Points: Bears Regaining Offensive Stride?

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Another prolific offensive performance on Saturday put a little more distance between the Cal football team and its aberrant struggles of four weeks ago.

It also added more intrigue to the question of what changed prior to the past two weeks, during which the Bears have scored a total of 94 points in wins over UCLA and Washington State.

"There's nothing too different," receiver Jeremy Ross said. "We're still the same team. We're still the same offense. It was just some mistakes here and there, little things we needed to tighten up. We're definitely the same team."

The explosiveness that went missing against Oregon and USC has reappeared in full. Against the Cougars, Cal jumped out to a 35-3 lead after just 16 minutes, all on touchdowns that spanned 21 yards or more. Asked about what led to those big plays, coach Jeff Tedford pointed to good blocking at the point of attack.

Tailbacks Jahvid Best however, did not believe that that reasoning could be reversed to explain the lack of offensive potency against the Ducks and Trojans.

"You know, the two games when the offense wasn't clicking, there was a lot of things," he said. "You can't just really pinpoint on specific plays or players or blocking. As a whole, the offense, I don't think we played to our full potential."

Of course, it cannot be ignored that the Bears' 45- and 49-point outbursts in the last two weeks came against teams that are both in the bottom half of the conference in scoring defense, while USC and Oregon are ranked first and second, respectively.

That makes this weekend's trip to Tempe, Ariz., significant not only as an opportunity for the Bears to climb above .500 in the conference, but also as a measuring stick for whether Cal belongs in the top or the bottom half of the conference. Arizona State has the Pac-10's third-best scoring defense -- giving up 18.3 points per game -- and it's giving up only 83.4 yards per game on the ground.

For that reason, the Bears aren't focusing on this weekend as another opportunity to climb back into the Pac-10 race.

"We're not going to look at the big picture," Tedford said. "It's really important that we look at the immediate short-term goals and let the big picture take care of itself. ... It's Arizona State next week. That's all we plan to focus on."

Return Game

Receiver Jeremy Ross set the tone early on Saturday with two big kick returns, exposing the Cougars' speed disadvantage. Ross returned the opening kickoff of the game 54 yards to the Washington State 29-yard line, setting up Kevin Riley's touchdown pass to Best, and then took a punt back 76 yards for a touchdown midway through the first quarter to put Cal ahead, 21-0.

"Those are always big plays," Tedford said. "Special teams plays that change the complexion of the game either with field positions or points are always a boost."

Return duties have bounced around the Bears' offense a little this season. Best was supposed to return kicks at the beginning of the year, but that job was gradually taken over by tailback Shane Vereen, who had one of his better games returning kicks last weekend against the Bruins.

Syd'Quan Thompson, meanwhile, handled punt returns up until the UCLA game, when a back injury forced him to leave in the second quarter. Despite recording Cal's longest punt return for a touchdown since DeSean Jackson's 77-yarder against Tennessee in 2007, Ross said that returning punts is "always (Thompson's) job, when he's ready to take it. I'm just going to step in whenever I can to make those plays."

Kicking Game

Tedford said that, with Vince D'Amato recovering well from his shoulder injury, kicking duties will be competitive this week in practice. D'Amato could have kicked against Washington State, Tedford said.

Giorgio Tavecchio's kickoffs consistently landed around the 10-yard line, while his one field-goal attempt from 47 yards was blocked. Tedford said that the kick should have been a little higher -- it was blocked not by the man coming off the edge but by a defender up the middle.


Contact Matt Kawahara at [email protected]

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