Cal’s 47-38 victory at Arizona State on Nov. 25 completed one of the best month’s of Jeff Tedford’s 10 years as Cal’s head coach. It also represented a turn-around month for Cal QB Zach Maynard, who seems to have found himself.
And what made the month more significant is that it came when things looked bleak for the Golden Bears.
After Cal’s embarrassing 31-14 loss to UCLA on Oct. 29, the Bears were 4-4 overall and 1-4 in the Pac-12, in danger of finishing last in the North Division and failing to get a bowl berth for the second straight season.
However, after four straight impressive performances to finish the regular season – with the only loss in that stretch being a three-point road loss to Stanford – the Golden Bears not only will be playing in a bowl game, but are likely to find themselves in a high-prestige bowl. The Bears could land in the Alamo Bowl, which has the first pick of a Pac-12 team after the BCS games make their selections.
If they fail to make the Alamo Bowl, the Bears could wind up in the Holiday Bowl, which has the next pick after the Alamo Bowl seems the most likely postseason destination for the Bears at this point. The worst Cal could do, it seems, is the Sun Bowl, which was not even in the Bears’ bowl picture just two weeks ago. The Holiday Bowl seems to be the most likely destination.
At 7-5, the Golden Bears have already guaranteed themselves a winning season, which seemed unlikely when November began. And the improvement is a significant accomplishment for Tedford, whose Cal teams have typically regressed over the second half of the season.
The reversal of fortunes this season resulted from the dramatic improvement of the Cal offense in general and Maynard in particular.
Tedford considered benching Maynard after he threw four interceptions against UCLA, but he held on to his starting job, and he has shown steady improvement each week since. He had his best game against Arizona State, completing 19 of 26 passes for 237 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Maynard also rushed for 40 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown run.
The late-season success of TB Isi Sofele, who rushed for 145 yards against the Sun Devils, certainly helped, but it is the work of Maynard that made the biggest difference for the Cal offense, which has been efficient each of the past four games.
The Bears were nearly perfect offensively, and they needed to be because the Bears’ defense reverted to its habit of playing poorly on the road, letting the Sun Devils do almost anything they wanted offensively. ASU churned out 477 yards of offense, and though Cal forced four turnovers, the Bears could only claim responsibility for two of them.
That’s why it was essential that Cal’s offense to play well. Now it’s necessary for the Maynard and the offense to continue to improve into the postseason because Cal’s ascent in the bowl hierarchy means it will play a quality opponent.
— Cal’s bowl destination remains unclear, although it’s likely to be the Holiday Bowl against a Big 12 team, possibly Missouri or Texas. Cal could also go to the Alamo Bowl against a Big 12 team such as Kansas State, although Washington’s victory over Washington State probably eliminated that possibility. The other possibility is the Sun Bowl against an Atlantic Coast Conference team, possibly Virginia, Georgia Tech or Florida State. But the Holiday Bowl seems to be the most likely destination.
— Cal scored on all but three possessions against Arizona, and each had extenuating circumstances. The first failed drive came when Cal sustained three 10-yard penalties for illegal blocks on the same possession. On each of those flagged plays, Cal produced a big play that was negated by the penalty, although the illegal block contributed to Cal’s gain in each case. The second possession that failed to produce points was the final possession of the first half, when Cal QB Zach Maynard merely knelt down for one play to run out the clock. The third scoreless drive was the Bears final possession, when the Bears were running out the clock with a nine-point lead with less than four minutes left and not trying to score.
—Cal’s 47 points were the most it scored against a Division I FBC opponent this season. The most against any team was the 63 points against FCS team Presbyterian. The Golden Bears had not scored more than 36 points against any previous FBS team.
— TB Isi Sofele had 145 yards rushing against Arizona State, and is averaging 105.8 yards for the season. More significantly, he is averaging 142.3 yards on the ground over the past four games.
— LB Mychal Kendricks recovered a fumble in the first half, the seventh fumble recovery of his career.
— WR Marvin Jones caught five passes against Arizona State, giving him at least one catch in all 37 games he’s played the past three seasons.
— Cal runs a 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, but because of injuries to outside linebackers, the Bears used a four-man front for much of the game against Arizona State. It did not prevent Pendergast from using a variety of exotic blitzes, which were somewhat successful. The key blitz came in the closing minutes when safety D.J. Campbell blasted Arizona State QB Brock Osweiler just as he released the ball, causing Osweiler to throw an interception to Josh Hill that essentially ended the game.
KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Zach Maynard – Maynard has played pretty well each of the last four games, and has gotten better in each succeeding game. His 20-for-30, no-interception game against Stanford on the road on Nov. 19 was his best performance until he went 19-for-26 for 237 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions in the Nov. 25 victory over Arizona State. He did not throw an interception in either of those games, after throwing 10 in the first eight games. Maynard is also becoming a bigger running threat out of the spread option. He had 40 yards rushing against Arizona State, including a 16-yard scoring run. It’s a dimension Cal has not had since Jeff Tedford has been the coach.
LOOKING GOOD: Cal’s offense in general has been productive the past few games. The late-season improvement of Zach Maynard was the missing piece, as the running game led by Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson complements the Golden Bears’ two outstanding wide receivers – Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones. The offensive line has been particularly effective in the past few games. That has aided the running game, and the running threat has helped make Maynard be more effective by giving him more time to throw. Cal averaged 32.8 points over the final four regular-season games.
NOT LOOKING SO GOOD: Cal’s defense continues to struggle on the road. The defense has been outstanding in home games since Clancy Pendergast became the defensive coordinator prior to last season, but it has been a sieve on the road. Arizona State had 477 yards, including 157 rushing yards by TB Cameron Marshall, who was not even expected to play because of an ankle injury. Cal’s defense played pretty well on the road the previous week against Stanford, but it reverted to its poor road form against ASU. None of Cal’s five home opponents scored more than 30 points against the Bears, but all six of Cal’s road opponents scored more than 30 points.
QUOTE: “To come on the road and travel on a short week and stay focused with what we were doing, I thought it was a great week for us, a great win.” – Cal coach Jeff Tedford, after winning at Arizona State on a Friday night game, Nov. 25.
— WR Keenan Allen had five catches for 61 yards against Arizona State, giving him 1,261 for the season and leaving him 243 yards shy of Geoff McArthur’s single-season school mark with one game left.
— TB Isi Sofele had 145 yards rushing against Arizona State, giving him 1,266 for the season. That is the sixth-highest highest single-season total in Cal history, and, with one game left, he is 90 yards shy of the No. 5 spot.
— QB Zach Maynard completed 19 of 26 passes against Arizona State. After completing just 53.4 percent of his passes with 10 interceptions and 12 TDs in the first eight games, he’s completed 68.1 percent of his passes with just one pick and five touchdowns in the past four.
—Backup TB C.J. Anderson became the first Cal player this season to score three touchdowns in a game when he accomplished that feat against Arizona State.
—K Giorgio Tavecchio made all four field-goal attempts against Arizona State, including one of 48 yards. For the season, he has made 19 of 22 field goal attempts.
— OLB Chris McCain missed his third straight game with a concussion, and he is questionable for the bowl game.
— OLB David Wilkerson missed his third straight game with a knee injury and he is questionable for a bowl game.
—FB Will Kapp is out for the rest of the season with a broken bone in his leg.
—WR Michael Calvin missed the Arizona State game with a knee injury, and he is questionable for a bowl game.
—CB Stefan McClure left the Arizona State game with a leg injury. His status for the bowl is unclear.
— WR Coleman Edmond missed the Arizona State game with a leg injury, and his status for the postseason is uncertain.
To receive Cal sports news regularly, click the subscribe button. It’s free.