Sunday, September 16, 2007

Oakland Tribune: Enjoy your coffee, Cal fans, you won by 30

Art Spander

So you're not sure how to take this Cal football team, other than with a cup of coffee. You're worried the Golden Bears stumble around now and then. You're distressed because they couldn't score an offensive touchdown in the first quarter against Louisiana Tech.  The Bears won, didn't they? Never were in danger of losing, were they? Are 3-0 to start another season, aren't they?  Ah yes, expectations. Cal has them. Cal fans have them. Cal players have them.  In the Tom Holmoe days, any win was a good win. Now, in the glorious Jeff Tedford days, a 42-12 win over Louisiana Tech isn't a good enough win.  Even for the head coach.  "I'm not saying winning is not what it's all about," Tedford, said reflecting on Saturday evening's victory, "because it is. But as you go through a game, you want to reach your full potential, and we're not going that.  "We can play better, and we need to play better."  And they will play better. But Louisiana Tech isn't Louisiana State. Or USC. Or Florida. When you're 331/2-point favorites, you don't approach a game with an urgency, no matter what sort of platitudes are given.  Thirteen seconds into the game, Cal had a 7-0 lead. Lavelle Hawkins ran the opening kickoff 90 yards. Is that enough potential reached? Nobody touched him. And figuratively, nobody touched Cal.

Let's paraphrase the adage about golf. It ain't how, it's how many points. Yes, there were too many penalties. Yes, there weren't enough long runs or passes.  But Cal was never going to lose that game, not after the opening 13 seconds. And particularly after three brilliant short bursts in the second quarter in which it scored on 25-yard drive that took a minute 16 seconds, a 51-yard drive that took 44 seconds and a 17-yard drive that took 49 seconds.  The Bears are solid, and unbeaten. You see what's happening to Notre Dame, cracking apart? You see what's happening to UCLA, collapsing under its own misbelief?  Cal isn't perfect, but its record is.  "We were very undisciplined today," Tedford said. "We had way too many penalties ... It wasn't like us to have it happen like that. We really need to go back and talk about discipline and make sure we don't shoot ourselves in the foot. Because we had them last week as well."  And, against Colorado State, they won last week as well.  Coaches are never satisfied, because they can't be. Maybe against Oregon, which is looking quite spectacular, the penalties and the other peccadilloes would be critical. But they won't occur against Oregon. Or in the next game against Arizona.

"Everything I (saw) during the week," Tedford said about the team's readiness, "I would have to say, no, we didn't take it lightly, I just ... well, I think it's a natural thing to get up to play the big teams even more."  And Louisiana Tech, even if the alma mater of Terry Bradshaw, Karl Malone and Tim Rattay — remember him? — is not one of the big teams. Not an Ohio State. Not a Pac-10 team.  The Bears began the day ranked No.8 in the country. They'll still be No.8. They know who they are. The national voters know who they are.  Louisiana Tech, now 1-2, also knows who the Bears are. "They're a very physical football team," said Tech coach Derek Dooley. "They play with toughness, have a great back (Justin Forsett, who rushed for 152 yards and three touchdowns) and are well coached. They have all the tools to compete with anyone in the country."  Cal's problem is it's now among the elite. Off-days are not allowed. The Bears are 30 points ahead, and the alumni wonder what's wrong. Tedford has created a monster, and as other winning coaches have learned, the monster won't leave. If he wins by 10, he's supposed to win by 20. If he wins by 20, well, big deal.  Louisiana Tech had a lot of yardage on kickoff returns, in part because Louisiana Tech had a lot of kickoff returns, seven in all for 203 yards, one of those seven for 47 yards. Again, big deal.  Cal won, easily. "I think it makes a statement," said John Allen, the Bears' defensive tackle. "It was big for us."  The statement Jeff Tedford made was "we need a lot of improvement."   Not that much, Jeff. Have a cup of coffee.


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