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November 6, 2011
Bears down Cougs on their own terms
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SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- With the starting quarterback out, one starting outside linebacker in the hospital and another one sidelined with a knee injury, along with myriad injuries up front along the offensive line and legions of doubters following a lackluster effort last week against UCLA, Saturday night's contest against Washington State was a game with built-in excuses for a California football team struggling to find its identity.
Instead of finding the easy way out, though, the Bears may have very well stumbled on a hit of an inkling of who they used to be, hammering the Cougars 30-7 in a rain-soaked affair.
"It was fun," said Cal senior defensive end Trevor Guyton. "When you're out there, playing, you don't really feel the cold and the rain is something fun, just to get out there and get dirty and everything like that. I don't know about the guys who weren't really in the game -- I know they must have been cold -- but I like it, coming from it and everything like that, so it's nothing new to me."
No fewer than six players were either not dressed for the game due to injury or went down in the midst of the fray, including starting left guard Brian Schwenke, starting center Dominic Galas (came out at the end due to shoulder and rib injuries) starting outside linebackers Chris McCain (taken to the hospital after suffering a blow to the head) and David Wilkerson (injured knee in the first quarter), senior wide receiver Coleman Edmond (did not dress due to a pulled calf suffered Thursday) and starting quarterback Zach Maynard.
"I think the big thing about this game was that everybody stepped up," said Guyton, who recorded four tackles, including one for a loss. "It wasn't just one part of the team that stepped up. Everybody took it personally, and everybody did what they had to do, individually, to step it up, and that wins games for you. This team and the team last week, they're not too far apart as far as talent, and the way they play, so it just shows that when everybody does their job as well as they can, you win the games that you come up short in when not everyone is doing everything."
Maynard left the game after a hit to the back of the head after going 10-of-17 passing for 118 yards.
The abysmal loss last week to UCLA drove down attendance to a largely-quiet crowd of 35,500 at AT&T Park, but Cal (5-4, 2-4 in the Pac-12) turned back the clock and played a blue-collar, grind-it-out game against the Cougars (3-5, 1-5), churning out 288 yards on the ground and controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
"When you can run the football effectively, like we did today, then the game's much different," said Bears head coach Jeff Tedford. "Then, you stay out of third-and-longs. We didn't hurt ourselves with penalties today, and when you can be balanced, you can play-action, you can run it -- those types of things -- then it makes the game -- the flow of the game -- much more effective, when you can make positive yards on first down. I thought we did that."
The Bears ran the ball a total of 48 times -- far more than they had all season long -- and threw the ball only 20 times. That strategy proved to be the key to the game, as Cal gained an average of 6.0 yards per carry and limited Washington State defensive end Travis Long to just six tackles, though he did break through for two tackles for loss.
"To be honest, I didn't think it would be that much running," said Bears junior tailback Isi Sofele, who recorded a game- and career-high 138 yards on the ground. "As we kept running the ball, I was getting excited and started to feel my chances."
On the other side of the ball, Guyton and the Bears defense held the Cougars to a mere 69 total rushing yards and 224 yards of total offense.
"It feels good, it feels real good," Guyton said. "We've just got to keep doing it, keep doing what we're doing."
That attitude permeated the Cal locker room both at halftime -- when the Bears held a 23-0 advantage -- and after the final whistle.
"[The message was] that it was 0-0 at halftime, and I was really pleased with [the fact that] I didn't really need to say anything, because I could tell by their focus and their calmness that they weren't too giddy about having a lead," Tedford said. "It was more about what they would continue to do to execute in the second half. I think they showed a lot of maturity today with that, as far as the focus it was going to take, because we know how explosive Washington State can be.
"This one feels really good, because I'm really proud of the kids to overcome adversity, but the first thing they said in the locker room was, 'Back to work.' They're still hungry."
Overall, the defensive line recorded 10 of Cal's 62 tackles, and accounted for one sack and two tackles for loss.
"We knew that going into it, that they are the [third-rated total defense] and first-rated [pass] defense in the league," said Cougars head coach Paul Wulff. "They are a very veteran defense. They were physical and controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball."
Much of the ground game fell on the shoulders of the 5-foot-8, 190-pound Sofele, who set a career-high with his 138 rushing yards on 23 carries -- his third career 100-yard game, all coming this season -- and scored his seventh touchdown of the season.
"Isi ran really, really well today, I thought," Tedford said. "A lot of the credit goes to those guys up front. I thought they really did a nice job of controlling the line of scrimmage."
Sofele broke the 800-yard plateau, and has been progressively stronger as the season has gone on. He began to run through more tackles against Oregon, when he rushed for his previous career-high of 119 yards, and on Saturday, showed a greater ability to make cuts and change direction.
"I thought Isi showed a side to him today that we really haven't seen, with making people miss and cutting back and things like that and keeping his feet underneath him. I thought he did a real nice job there," Tedford said. "He continues to improve. I think, with experience, and seeing the holes and knowing how to him them and things like that, I've said this before, that the more experience he gets, the more he hits the holes harder, because he has confidence in it. When he hits the hole as hard as he can run, he can run harder and break tackles. I thought he saw the holes really well today, and made some really nice cuts to hit the seams and was very productive."
On Cal's first play from scrimmage, Sofele hurdled a defender on the right side for a big 15-yard gain, and, two plays later, received big blocks from tight end Spencer Ladner and right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin for a 22-yard scamper to set up a 18-yard touchdown pass from Maynard to senior tight end Anthony Miller.
"I feel like I'm getting better every week," Sofele said. "I'm starting to catch along with how the game is flowing, so I'm starting to feel a lot more comfortable back there."
On a first-and-10 at the Bears' 19-yard line to start the third quarter, Sofele rushed to the left side all the way out to the numbers, then cut back with three defenders on him, all the way across the field to the numbers on the right side, shaking off four tackles for a 15-yard gain after running about 60 yards laterally.
"I was tired on that one," Sofele smiled. "That one, I just had to see a couple guys, the defense flowed. They were flowing fast, pretty hard, so I took it back and I see one of their corners, and I tried to stiff-arm him and just kept going, just seeing people cross my face, and just got up field."
Cal played much of the game at less than full-strength, particularly up front. Schwenke did not dress due to a persistent illness, and was replaced with senior Justin Gates making his first career start, and later taking over for Galas at center.
"Schwenke's had an illness through the week, and so we have to find out exactly what the diagnosis is of that," Tedford said.
The rest of the offensive line also dealt with multiple dings and dents.
"We were without Schwenke tonight, and I thought Gates filled in very nicely at left guard," Tedford said. "Dom played most of the game hurt, had a couple things, but he's, it's just a tough group. Matt Summers-Gavin has been sick all week long, but for those guys to really come out and control the line of scrimmage like they did says a lot for their character."
During the course of the game, Galas suffered injuries to his shoulder and a rib, but played through the pain.
"[Galas] had a shoulder that was pretty bad and then he had a rib. His rib was really hurting there. But, he's as tough as nails," Tedford said. "I mean, that guy is extremely tough and competitive, but he was banged up. The whole offensive line right now, you walk through the locker room, the whole offensive line, they're beat. I mean, they're beat. They played really, really hard. It was a physical football game, and I would attribute this win -- at least, any success that we had on offense -- to the offensive line."
We've got this thing called 'Hold the rope,'" Galas said. "When you play, you're playing not for you, but for your teammates, so I think everyone on the team that's playing has got something banged up on them. You're playing for that guy next to you, so a little pain, you've just got to go through. Everyone's banged up. It's not just the O-line. Zach gets hit, the O-line gets hit, the D-line, those guys, it's the whole team. We play for each other, and that's the way it has to be, so it's not a big deal. It's just something you do."
The line plowed the way for five different running backs - Sofele, C.J. Anderson, Will Kapp, Mike Manuel and Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson, who collectively gained 260 yards on 37 carries.
"Our O-line, they were powerful today," Sofele said. "They came through today. They executed every play, they got down to secondary blocks, they did pretty good today."
On defense, McCain -- after recording four tackles and a sack -- went down with just under nine minutes left in the third quarter with a head/neck injury, was taken to the hospital for tests and was reportedly in and out of consciousness. Wilkerson went down with a knee injury just under halfway into the first quarter.
"You've got to pick up from where they left off," said true freshman outside linebacker Cecil Whiteside, who was part of the same recruiting class as both McCain and Wilkerson. "They're really good players, but there's not that big of a drop-off from any of the outside 'backers, so we've just got to step in and play big."
Whiteside -- playing in just his fourth game this season -- once again made a big impact, finishing with six tackles -- fourth most on the team -- to go along with two tackles for loss, a nine-yard sack and a pass break-up.
"I pretty much just do my job," Whiteside said. "It's all about execution with our defense. Coach [Clancy] Pendergast put us in a great scheme for the outside 'backers, so he pretty much just lets us play, and we make some plays."
Because of the injuries to McCain and Wilkerson, Whiteside was forced into a much more prominent role than he'd occupied through the first eight games, when he was primarily used in obvious passing situations.
"Our coach makes us prepare for being an every-down back or an every-down player," Whiteside said. "It's just more of a situation where you have to really pay attention to down and distance and the little details of the backfields and everything."
Early on, even senior inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks stepped in on the outside, finishing the game with seven tackles and one tackle for loss. Later on, with two outside linebackers down, Dan Camporeale stepped up and made a big stop on first-and-10 at the Cal 44-yard line in the second quarter, dropping Carl Winston for a loss of four yards to slow the momentum of a Washington State drive that had gone 36 yards in five plays.
It seemed that the Bears were playing with an extra man on the field in their step, and for Guyton, it was more literal. Honoring fallen friend Cory Mackay, Guyton he donned his childhood friend's No. 6 instead of his usual 92.
"One of my best friends from once I moved out to Washington, he ended up going to Washington State, and our freshman year, he was driving home after finals and he fell asleep at the wheel and his car rolled and he got paralyzed," Guyton said. "He's been going through some tough times, so I just wanted to let him know I've still got his back by doing that.
"I actually went to [his] rival high school, but we were good friends in junior high and then split up."
With a week of rampant speculation and criticism on his shoulders, Maynard came out firing.
After holding the Cougars to a three-and-out on their first drive, the Bears ripped off a six-play, 66-yard scoring drive, finished off with Maynard's only score through the air to Miller, who scored his third touchdown of the season. Miller had scored twice against Colorado in the second game of the season.
"It was huge for us," Maynard said of the opening drive. "Coming out with the ball on the first drive to score, we built momentum early in the game and we kept scoring, we kept driving them and we didn't make many mistakes. We didn't turn the ball over as much and kept ourselves in great field position the whole time. The defense did a great job, too."
After having thrown seven picks to just one touchdown over the past three weeks, Maynard completed 10-of-17 passes for 118 yards and took care of the football.
"I felt more calm this week," said Maynard, who threw four interceptions last time out against the Bruins. "I was more prepared. We did a great job in practice this week, high tempo, the scout team did a great job giving us good looks. [Coaches] told me and Dom, we've got to be on the same page and we've got to communicate well to be good in this game. We went through a few weather changes. It was kind of nice before the game, but then it started coming down and raining hard, so I told Dom to make sure we get the snaps, we communicate well with the cadence and everything, and all the guys did a great job today. We rallied around each other to get the win and we did a great job on the field."
Taking care of the pigskin, though, proved in fact to be Maynard's downfall. One series after McCain went down, Sofele ran up the middle for 11 yards, but was stripped by the Cougars' Deone Bucannon. The ball popped out to the left, and Maynard pounced on it, while getting nailed in the back of the head by another Washington State defender.
"I took a blow to the head recovering the fumble, and I was kind of dazed for a couple seconds, but I feel OK. I'm alright," said Maynard, who was sidelined for the rest of the game, but bore no ill after-effects.
"He's fine. He got hit in the back of the head when he recovered that fumble, but he was fine," Tedford said. "He could have went back in, if we needed him to."
After Maynard took a seat, redshirt sophomore Allan Bridgford took over under center, and went 1-for-3 for five yards, mostly handing the ball off.
While he was on the field, Maynard ran five times and gained 10 yards, but was sacked once for a loss of nine. He proved particularly dangerous when rolling out, especially to the left side. The touchdown to Miller was thrown while Maynard rolled left and threw back against his body. Later on in the first quarter, Maynard rolled left on second-and-five at the Cal 46, hitting senior Marvin Jones for a first down at the Washington State 41.
"I can't say enough about Zach," Galas said. "Last week, as a team, there was a lot of criticism, a lot of people doubted us, but we don't let that bother us, because we know those guys in the locker room, those are the guys who we care about. All that outside stuff didn't really matter. From the first game to right now, I never doubted Zach one second. I have 100-percent faith, and I love him and he's our guy, so it wasn't like all that nonsense and stuff -- it was outside. We didn't let that affect us at all."
In the third quarter, Maynard once again rolled left and hit younger brother Keenan Allen for a gain of 12 yards on a drive capped off by a 43-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-one by Kapp, who was smiling the whole way in.
"I knew there was going to be good blocking," said the senior fullback, "but yeah, I was real stoked on it.
"I was scared the whole time that I was going to get caught. I don't really have the long-range speed, but, you know, I got in there."
The rumble was Kapp's first career touchdown, and he did it with his father -- former Bears quarterback and head coach Joe Kapp in the stands.
"I'm sure he was ecstatic about it," Kapp said. "He just wants me to have fun out there, so he saw how stoked I was on it and I'm sure he was real happy."
Until that carry, Kapp had just 19 career rushing yards. When Kapp got to the sideline, the entire team -- both offense and defense -- embraced him.
"It was awesome," Kapp said. "It was amazing. I hadn't gotten one for about four years, so it was nice."
Kapp tied Maynard for the longest rush of the season, but when asked if that was the longest run of his career -- both prep and college -- Kapp made sure to set the record straight.
"Oh, no way," Kapp smiled. "I think I might have had a 75-yarder in high school."
Kapp remembered that the last time he'd found paydirt was against St. Ignatious, a one-yard scamper, back in high school.
"Aw, man, it was awesome," Sofele said. "Will Kapp was running down the field, and to be honest, I thought he was going to get caught."
After a brief bout of laughter, Sofele continued.
"He was pulling through," Sofele smiled. "He got in the zone and everyone was stoked. Man, everybody was going crazy, because he got in there. I'm excited for Will Kapp, as well." On the ensuing kickoff, Kapp was, admittedly, a bit gassed, and got beat by Cougars return man Isiah Barton for a 13-yard return.
"I wanted to go so bad, but I over-ran it," Kapp smiled.
The Bears also got big run game contributions from junior transfer Manuel, who toted the rock six times for 28 yards.
"He's working hard in practice, and I think he's to the point now where he understands what we're doing, and he's a good player," Tedford said of Manuel. "Coach [Ron] Gould does a phenomenal job of preparing those guys and, anytime you get someone new coming in -- he did a real nice job in the spring, as well -- but I think he's picked up the offense now and understands what we're doing in all phases of the game -- not just the run game, but pass protection. It was nice to see him get in there and make some plays."
Anderson carried the ball four times for 51 yards and a five-yard touchdown. The majority of Anderson's yards came on a fourth-quarter run for 34 yards with the game already well in-hand.
"I thought we got some quality minutes from Mike Manuel, C.J. had a couple real nice runs, so I think part of that is keeping Isi a little bit fresh, as well, but Isi ran very hard today, and made some people miss," Tedford said.