In Cal's season finale, the Bears were completely throttled by the Beavers 62-14. Gawd, what a freaking embarrassment of a game. It was a fitting end to this debacle of a season and a likely sobering end to Jeff Tedford's tenure at Cal. At this point, even the most diehard Tedford supporters are left with little to say to the notion of continuing the Tedford era with the Bears.
I'll extrapolate more with this point if and when it gets there, but for now let's try and run through some of the main points of the game, as tough as it may be. I mean, it's the last game of the season and all.
Tough end for the Seniors
If there's a group I feel the worst for, it has to be the seniors on this team. These guys have put in so much time and effort for this team and program, and for them to go out and get drubbed in the rain like this was pretty heartwrenching.
I'm certain there's no one feeling too good about themselves in the locker room right now, but at least the underclassmen get to go back to work in the offseason and focus on turning things around for next season. These seniors won't get that. They're stuck with finishing their careers on the worst Cal team in over 10 years, and that sucks.
Thank you seniors. We all wish things had turned out better, but we appreciate what you've done.
Turnovers and Penalties Submarine the Bears
The Bears were likely to lose this game, if for nothing else than because the Beavers are simply a better team right now.
But the Bears seemed hellbent on just handing the game over with a maddening combination of penalties and turnovers in the game. The Bears committed three turnovers in the first half alone after a Bridgford interception and two fumbles. They would finish with four interceptions after a Brendan Bigelow. And I like Bigelow a lot, but I think he's averaging 1 fumble for every 10 carries right now. Not good.
And the penalties, good Lord. The Bears were flagged 15 times for 172 yards. That's unbelievable. That's more yards given up than Bridgford had passing. It's so freaking painful to watch the lack of discipline on this team. Holding, false starts, and oh yeah, the bloody "hands to the face" penalties. I have never seen so many "hands to the face" penalties. That's a result of bad technique which then forces the refs to be on the lookout for mistakes, some of which are often simply incidental contact.
Defensive Line Disappoints
Cal's defensive line was supposed to be the strength of this defense, but has been a supreme disappointment this year. Granted, this unit might have been hit hardest by injuries this season, but they've really struggled this season in plugging gaps and helping to generate pressure on the opposing quarterback.
It showed with Sean Mannion seemingly having hours to sit back and shred the Bears for 325 yards and 4 TDs. Cal didn't record a sack until late in the third quarter, when Deandre Coleman notched just his third sack of the season. That sentence alone seems to encapsulate the season in a nutshell for the Bears' defensive line: the player who was supposed to be the breakout star on the defense becomes a non-factor with just three sacks on the season.
The run defense wasn't much better with the Beavers rolling up 200 yards and 4 TDs on the ground. Granted, this was more of a reflection of the defense as a whole, but the d-line really struggled in shedding blocks and plugging gaps. It's just perplexing for a unit that was widely perceived to have so much talent.
Issues in the Secondary
In this past week's press conference, Steve Williams made the statement that a lot of the issues in the secondary this season have been due to the inexperience from some of the underclassmen and their lack of understanding of the defense. It could be conceived as throwing his teammates under the bus, but you can't disagree with what he's saying.
However, this week, it seemed each player took turns making mistakes. Michael Lowe completely losing Marcus Wheaton on a long 47 yard pass. Josh Hill letting an freebie interception bounce off his chest pads. Marc Anthony slipping on a TD reception. Miscommunication in zone assignments, allowing receivers to run free both in short and deep zones.
In the last two games, the Bears have been torched for 725 yards and 11 touchdowns. They've completely fallen off and are mere shell of the tough, athletic defense of years past. Injuries account for a lot of it for sure, but this defense was struggling even when they were healthy.
Cal's Rushing Offense: Lone Bright Spot
As has been the case for most of the season, Cal's rushing offense was the lone bright spot of the night. Seniors Isi Sofele both seemed hell bent on doing all they could and again ran with about as much heart and determination as I've seen all season.
The two combined for 165 yards in their swan song with the Bears and were the main reason the Bears' offense got much going at all. Credit Cal's offensive line which again got some really good push off the line, when they weren't committing penalties. Their pass blocking as a whole has also been pretty solid for the past two weeks. I'm not duping myself into think it'll translate into a transformed offensive line next season, but it is worth noting.
It's also worth noting that true freshman Freddie Taglaloa handled himself pretty well in filling in at right tackle. He was particularly impressive in his run blocking, and dominated his man pretty well. The future is bright with that one.
Bridgford: Not Terrible but Not the Answer
I really wanted to wait another week before making any judgments on Allan Bridgford. The last two weeks have been some pretty tough assignments in facing off against two solid pass defenses. But Bridgford was barely serviceable again on Saturday, going 18 for 31 for just 132 yards and an interception.
I think Bridgford has done a nice job in managing the game. Handling the snap count, knowing the offense, directing his players, he's done all that pretty well and hasn't looked too wide-eyed in the process. He clearly has a pretty good grasp of the offense.
But it's become pretty clear that Bridgford isn't going to be the answer for the Bears at QB. We've seen far too many passes with too much air, allowing defenders time to catch up and make a play on the ball. And this last point may be unfair, but he hasn't shown himself to be a playmaker. He doesn't create plays. He hasn't made much happen. He's not a complete disaster by any means, but he doesn't really instill confidence that he can put the team on his back and lead this offense long term.
The game was painful to watch, but in the end, at least it's over. Look, I love my Bears, you know I'm going to spend the next 9 months eagerly anticipating the start of a new season. But with this current version of Cal football becoming utterly unwatchable, I feel like someone whose painfully limping horse has finally been put out of its misery. You're sad, but know you couldn't have stood to watch one more moment of it.
As for the more pressing question of Jeff Tedford's future with the Bears, I'm not going to lay out my thoughts until we get some official word. There's been a whole lot of speculation, and I'm inclined to trust the word of certain parties more so than others, but there's no point in fleshing everything out until we know for certain.
I wish I could say that 2012 was a season to remember. It was supposed to be with the unveiling of the new Memorial Stadium and all. But in the end, it'll be one that everyone will hope to forget. And quickly.
Have heart Cal fans. If you've followed this program long enough, you know that patience is key. Don't let yourself settle for anything other than excellence, but remember we're still Bears and we don't quit, and we don't die. We support our team through thick and thin.
Thanks for reading (for those of you who have managed to stick around) and stay tuned. Things will get better. They will. And as always, Go Bears."