Saturday, September 22, 2007

SF Chronicle: Razing Arizona - Cal avenges last year's disaster in the desert

Rusty Simmons

Early Saturday morning, Cal coach Jeff Tedford showed his team a short video tape. It included images of a couple of Bears players' distraught faces and the Arizona students storming the field after the Wildcats staged a 24-20 upset last season.  It had just the effect Tedford was after.  Safety Thomas DeCoud used the haunting memories to fuel his fire, and tailback Justin Forsett played through a hobbled ankle and a quadriceps contusion, because the bitter taste of a year ago was renewed in his craw. DeCoud set the tone in Saturday's 45-27 payback in Strawberry Canyon, and when Arizona made a late threat, Forsett slammed the door shut.  DeCoud had 10 tackles, a fumble-inducing sack, a recovery on another fumble and an interception. By halftime, he had already compiled four of the tackles, including the sack, and picked off the pass as Cal burst out to a 31-10 lead.  Arizona, however, mounted a comeback as the Bears' offense stalled with Forsett on the sideline. When Jason Bondzio drilled a 32-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 38-27, receivers Lavelle Hawkins and DeSean Jackson mandated that Forsett get back on the field.  "Once they started coming back a little bit, I had to get back in there," said Forsett, who returned to the game and ran fives times for 39 yards on the game-clinching touchdown drive. "Nothing was going to stop me from getting in there on the last drive. The win was in jeopardy, and I had to get out there and do my part."

On the drive, there were no signs of Forsett's leg injuries. In fact, there were no signs of the usually-reserved Forsett at all. He emphatically nodded his head and demanded the ball as he knocked out 12-, 8- and 15-yard runs before punching in the 3-yard touchdown.  "They were about to give us our first L of the season, and I wasn't about to let that happen," said Forsett, who totaled 117 yards and two scores on 23 carries. "I decided to get in there and be a spark."  Early in the game, that spark was provided by DeCoud, who was literally all over the field as Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama tossed the ball around in the Wildcats' newly installed spread offense. DeCoud recorded the first sack of his career but didn't realize he had knocked the ball loose. As defensive end Tyson Alualu scrambled to recover the fumble and return it 4 yards for the touchdown, DeCoud cheered while looking in the opposite direction of the ball. "He's the captain, the general of our D," middle linebacker Worrell Williams said. "He's always steady, flying around and making plays." Alualu's touchdown gave Cal a 28-3 lead with 2:12 remaining in the first quarter. The Bears took pride in scoring 28 first-quarter points against a solid Arizona defense, which hadn't given up that much in a quarter since Oregon State accomplished the feat in 2003, but most of the postgame talk was about failing to put the Wildcats away. While No. 6 Cal (4-0 overall, 1-0 Pac-10) has gotten rid of the Tennessee and Arizona ghosts from a year ago, it still hasn't played a complete game. The Bears let Tennessee cut their 17-point lead to 7, saw Colorado State turn a 20-point thumping into a 6-point thriller and outscored Louisiana Tech only 14-6 in the second half of last week's 42-12 win. "We can't take any quarters off," Forsett said. "We're one step away from playing a complete game, but we've got to put all of the pieces together." That will be ever important this week as Cal prepares for its stiffest test of the season, a Sept. 29 game at No. 13 Oregon, which is averaging 46.3 points and 519.3 yards of total offense a game. "They're explosive," Williams said. "We've been seeing a lot of spread, so we'll be ready. But no one we'll see this year runs the spread quite like them and with the athletes they have." Against Arizona's spread, which is decidedly different than Oregon's spread-option attack, Cal allowed 309 passing yards but only 21 yards on the ground, had three sacks and forced four turnovers. "They don't pay average people," said Williams, referring to the Ducks' stellar personnel. "We're going to have to come with it."

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