Saturday, September 29, 2007

San Jose Mercury: Cal outlasts Oregon: The biggest win of the Tedford era

And the Cal game ball goes to … Dennis Dixon.

Cal 31, Oregon 24 – and you just knew it would go down to the wire, with the refs confused and the game hanging in the balance.  I mean, it’s Eugene, after all.  (The refs made the right call, but be honest, Cal fans: You had to be thinking: “Are we gonna get the Oklahoma treatment?”)

Cal 31, Oregon 24 – the biggest win of Jeff Tedford’s tenure, and when you consider the stakes, there really isn’t anything close. A conference road win over a ranked team that keeps Cal alive in the Rose Bowl and BCS races … the Bears haven’t had a win like that since … since … since forever. Of course, it’s only the biggest win for the next two weeks.

The moment the soon-to-be-No. 4-ranked Bears take the field against Oregon State on Oct. 13, that becomes the biggest game, and hence the biggest win or loss. Cal has entered what amounts to a single-elimination tournament, with the Pac-10 title on the line each week. With USC out there, the Bears cannot afford to lose to anyone, anytime, anywhere. What struck me most about the victory was this: Cal did to Oregon what USC has done to Cal, and everyone else, so many times over the years.  When it came to winning time — the second half of a tight game, with plays out there to be made — the Bears’ playmakers made all the big plays … just like Booty and Leinart and Jarrett and Bush and White have done:

* Quarterback Nate Longshore stood strong in the pocket and completed a slew of third-down passes in the second half. He finished 28-of-43 for 285 yards and two touchdown and no interceptions. (Which reminds me: Oregon had 4 turnovers, Cal had NONE — more USC-ness from the Bears.)

* Tailback Justin Forsett set the second-half tone with tough running that helped open up the passing lanes.  He finished with 101 yards and two touchdowns.

* And receiver DeSean Jackson kept his Heisman hopes alive with a sensational second half, a handful of big catches, third down catches, touchdown catches.  His 31-yard TD reception, including a juke-the-cornerback move on the right sideline, was one of the best plays of the week nationally (and it was quite a week, by the way). Jackson finished with 11 catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns — the best game of his career considering the stakes.

* And the defense, for all its bend-bend-bend didn’t actually break. In fact, the Bears had three takeaways down the stretch, two of them gift-wrapped by Dixon. Watching the riveting second half, I couldn’t help thinking of Cal’s loss at USC last season, a game with Rose Bowl implications that was tight late in the third quarter … until Booty and Jarrett and friends made all the big play. Big game, ranked opponent, winning time — and Cal’s playmakers came through.  When was the last time that happened?

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