BERKELEY-A big loss can set a team back. A Big Game loss can crush spirits. So, this week, Cal head coach Jeff Tedford has given his Bears a little extra time beyond the standard 24 hours to get over the 48-14 thrashing at the hands of Stanford.
"It usually is a little longer than 24 hours. By tomorrow, we'll be fine. You go, you watch the tape, you debrief, so it's still a little bit fresh from that, but tomorrow, I expect them to be completely focused on what we're doing," Tedford said.
In morning meetings, Tedford made sure to have the team focus on the process-the details that led to the loss-instead of the bigger picture.
"It was pretty simple. It's about making plays, not turning the football over and not being penalized so much. Certain things come into focus, and attention to detail," Tedford said. "We're off the field on third-and-four, backed up and we line up offsides. That's a huge change, and then they score a touchdown. Shane breaks off a big run down inside the 40, illegal formation, and it's called back. It's details. You can't get penalized, can't turn the football over against a quality football team like Stanford."
Tedford also stressed to his team that a win this week against Washington (4-6, 3-4 in the Pac-10) means that they will be bowl-eligible for the eighth straight year.
"That was part of the message this morning, too, was that this is what this week's about," Tedford said. "All the lifting, running, everything we've done since last January comes down to this week. It's all about preparation, not to say that there's any pressure, because it all comes down to how you prepare, how you practice, and if you prepare well and practice well, then there's nothing to be nervous about. You go out and you play and you play your best. We have one Monday and one Tuesday and one Wednesday and one Thursday and one Friday for one opportunity. That's really what it's about."
Should Cal (5-6, 3-5) come out of Saturday victorious, senior wide receiver Jeremy Ross would get a chance to compete in one more collegiate game. Following a cracked index finger suffered against Oregon, Ross was unavailable to play against the Cardinal, and would also be out this week against the Huskies.
"They said that it would be about five to six weeks," Ross said. "I should be back up and running. I'm definitely rooting, cheering those guys on against Washington."
This season, Ross has played in 10 games, started two, caught 18 balls for 210 yards, rushed nine times for 91 yards and two touchdowns and returned 22 punts for 279 yards.
"Jeremy's done a lot of good things for us and is maybe the most improved guy on the team," Tedford said. "He's been playing well, has served a role for us. We had to jumble some things around and it's unfortunate for Jeremy."
Given the state of the conference, with USC ineligible for postseason participation because of NCAA sanctions and, at most, five teams having a mathematical chance to reach the necessary six wins, there is the possibility that, should Cal come out on top this week, that the Bears could play in the Holiday Bowl, which formerly hosted the Pac-10's second-place finisher before being bumped to pitting the conference's No. 3 against the No. 5 finisher from the Big 12. Given that the Ducks could very well be taken in the BCS Championship Game, that leaves the No. 3 slot open for the No. 4 team, which, for all Cal's struggles, could mean a trip to San Diego.
"It's different, man," Ross said. "The Pac-10 is real crazy, and college football right now is just real crazy, as far as how things are going, being that 'SC isn't able to go to a bowl game, which pushes us in, but it's wild to see. You know, having a chance to go to the Holiday Bowl, with the record we have, it'll be a plus for us if that ended up happening. It's definitely crazy."
But while Ross is going to be MIA for a while, all eyes have been on the young man throwing the ball: junior Brock Mansion. Mansion struggled mightily with his fundamentals against Stanford in just his third collegiate start, but Tedford was adamant in saying that the 6-foot-6, 237-pound Texan still gives his team the best chance to win.
"Brock, right now, is clearly, clearly our best quarterback and gives us the best chance to win. He's going to be the guy," Tedford said, when asked if any of the other signal-callers could get a shot against Washington. "Brock's got to play through some of those things. Hopefully, you learn from those experiences, and next time he's in, next game, he makes better decisions or just set his feet. That was really the key. He was off-balance on both of those (interceptions) and made the cardinal sin. A quarterback doesn't throw back across his body. I mean, how many times have you heard that? As wide open as a guy looks, the angles are what get you. You're rolling this way and throwing back that way and if a guy's right here, he can intercept the ball, so there are a couple situations where he should have pulled it down and ran with it. Actually, early in the game, we said that to him, and the next time he did run with it and made a key first down."
In 2005, when starter Joe Ayoob struggled down the stretch, Tedford looked to Steve Levy for the final two games of the season, and was rewarded with a 27-3 Big Game win and a victory in the Las Vegas Bowl against BYU. Don't expect that to happen as this season winds down, as sophomore Beau Sweeney remains solidly in the backup role.
"You have to go off of what you see in practice and how they perform in practice. Ayoob was struggling in practice, and Levy wasn't, so that was the thing. Brock's not struggling in practice," Tedford said. "Beau has struggled in practice, so there's a role-reversal there. It's not the same. That's the reason why Brock was the backup.
"Brock has done some good things. He's made some good plays and he's done some good things and you see him improving. He just hasn't strung them together, and that's youth. I really believe that that's youth and inexperience, but he's competing hard and I think he continues to improve. Every time something goes wrong, you can't take him out and bring somebody else in. You've got to play through some of those things. I thought he did a good job down the stretch last week. The game was out of hand, out of reach, but he continued to compete and made some throws, did some things and marched the team down a couple of times, so you saw improvement as the game went on."
Should the Bears manage a win over the Huskies-who have taken down the Trojans and Oregon State-the coaching staff will get the chance to get an even longer look at the other contenders for the starting gig next year, including redshirt freshman Allan Bridgford and true freshman Austin Hinder.
"In that bye-week scrimmage, he did some nice things," Tedford said of Hinder. "He showed some athleticism and you could tell that he throws the ball well. His maturation is going to come from understanding the offense and getting to play unconscious and getting able to cut it loose. Then, we need to get Bridgford back in the fold because Bridgford hasn't practiced since fall camp, so we get him back in the action, as well. He's done some real nice things in crossover, so he's throwing the ball really well. Obviously, next spring, without having a senior quarterback, the quarterback position is going to be key to evaluate it through that part. It is beneficial to have a few extra practices."
Tedford also spoke on the eye-opening fourth-quarter trick plays, specifically the touchdown pass from Keenan Allen to Marvin Jones, and how that bodes for the way the Bears use their true freshman phenom moving forward.
"That was there the whole game, but we just didn't get in position to use it. If we would have got there earlier, we would have used it earlier," Tedford said of the trick play. "That was a really nice play, to make the guy miss on the run and then, bang! That was a beautiful play. He's athletic, he makes a lot of plays and as he understands everything that we're doing-which he's done a very good job of-you can then start doing more and more. You have to be careful that you don't overload him so much that it becomes paralysis by analysis where they're thinking too much. We really had one play for him last week to do that, and he seems to make things happen."