Cal middle linebacker Worrell Williams still had tears in eyes and the pain of Saturday's 30-21 loss to UCLA in his gut, when he neatly wrapped up the rest of the Bears' season.
"We just have to keep fighting and never quit," he said. "We don't have anything else to play for but pride. Obviously, the national championship is out of the picture. The Rose Bowl is out of the picture. But we still have to suit up and play." Had then-No. 2 Cal beaten Oregon State the previous Saturday, it probably would have replaced then-No. 1 LSU, which lost in triple overtime to Kentucky. When the new rankings come out today, the Bears will become a then-No. 10 team that is doing quite a bit of soul-searching. "We're trying to figure out where to take it from here," cornerback Brandon Hampton said. "People are just wondering where we stand." After losing in consecutive weeks - this time by being outscored 10-0 in the fourth quarter in front of 83,494 at the Rose Bowl - the Bears (5-2, 2-2) are tied for fifth place with Oregon State in the Pac-10 standings. A Cal season that started with five straight wins, including national-arrival victories over Tennessee and Oregon, has turned into a year of questions without answers.
The Bears' once-dominant rushing attack was limited to 67 yards by UCLA (5-2, 4-0), and the Bruins continued a season-long trend of Cal opponents taking either DeSean Jackson or Lavelle Hawkins out of the passing game. Tailback Justin Forsett had his seven-game rushing-touchdown streak snapped and totaled only 76 yards on 25 carries. Jackson, who was held to 5 yards against Oregon State after posting career highs against Oregon, emerged with nine catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns, but Hawkins had only three catches for 25 yards and fumbled two kick returns on his worst day since a two-catch, 27-yard performance against Oregon. "We have to change some things up," Jackson said. "I have a lot of confidence in coach (Jeff) Tedford, and we have a lot of playmakers on this team. "We can't wait until the last minute to start rushing around and trying to make plays. We've got to start knocking people out right away."
Cal has let teams hang around this season, and Saturday was no different. The Bears led 7-0, 14-10 and 21-20, but they couldn't put away UCLA. Cal called for runs on seven of eight plays in its first two fourth-quarter possessions, and each drive ended with a punt. The Bruins took a 23-21 lead on a 27-yard field goal by Kai Forbath, and the Bears finally had to go to the air. Playing for the first time since spraining his ankle Sept. 29, quarterback Nate Longshore ruined an otherwise great return with interceptions on back-to-back drives. The first one was the killer. Trying to get into position for a potential game-winning field in the final two minutes, Longshore tried to squeeze one to Jackson on a 3rd-and-5 play from the 30-yard line. Alterraun Verner, who told reporters he knew what play was coming, jumped the route and returned it 76 yards for a touchdown and a 30-21 lead.
"It was a great play by him, and I've got nothing else for you," said Longshore, who was 22-for-34 for 232 yards and three touchdowns. "I should've just probably thrown it away." Cal's defensive players tried to take the blame, too. They forced two turnovers, but they also gave up 142 rushing yards to Marin Catholic grad Khalil Bell, recorded only one sack against efficient quarterback Patrick Cowan and allowed UCLA to convert 7 of 15 third-down chances.
"As a defense, we didn't play our best game," said outside linebacker Zack Follett, who had 10 tackles, including three for a loss, and a sack. "I think we need to have a gut-check time and pick it up. If we hadn't gotten lucky with those turnovers, we would have gotten beat by a bigger margin." As the story has been all season, Cal's offense and defense did not click at the same time. The Bears didn't score off either fumble they recovered, missing a field-goal try and throwing an interception. When the offense was gaining momentum, the defense let UCLA go on long, scoring drives. "It's frustrating, but we have to keep pushing," Forsett said. "We have to hold up our end and let the defense take care of their things."