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The Palouse

So why is the Palouse such a tough place for Cal to play? It’s an interesting question. But, obviously, since there have been 10 games up there, nine in Pullman and one in Spokane, since 1979, none of which Cal has won, it is a valid question.

Remember the 1996 game? Cal was rolling along, Pat Barnes at quarterback, when the Bears lined up for an evening game in the Palouse. Just as the referees were ready to signal for the kickoff, it started snowing hard. The place went nuts. Washington State’s players seemed to get a charge of it. The Bears were in a funk and they fell behind early.

Eventually, Cal did start rolling and it was in position to win the game late. In the closing minute, Pat Barnes fumbled at Washington State’s 2 and that was it. Another loss.

When I told coach Tedford the other day that Cal hadn’t won in the Palouse since 1979, he didn’t know about the streak. “Is that verified?” he asked. Well, yeah.

One of the things that makes Tedford and staff special is that they open their arms to challenges. Individiual games take on themes. Anything to challenge the players to focus more than ever before.

Some teams are handicapped by challenges. They get the “here we go again” mentality. Remember past Cal teams when playing the University of Washington. They were waiting for the other shoe to drop. That is no longer the case.

Kyle Boller’s senior year of 2002, Cal hadn’t won in the state of Washington since 1976. Streak over. Cal hadn’t beaten Stanford in seven years. Streak over. Cal hadn’t beaten ranked team on the road in a long time. Streak over.

Tedford and company now faces another dubious streak. Their ability to focus will keep them in the Rose Bowl chase. If they get caught up in streaks or ghosts of the past, They will sink.

This Washington State team is very good. It does things — the nation’s top sack attack — that should give Cal fits. But the bottom line is that Cal appears to be the more talented team. Cal fans will keep their fingers crossed, and hope they can say,
Streak over.

Jay

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rocking the house

Well, Cal fans, I wasn’t sure if you could do it. But there it was, 30 minutes before game time, and the place was packed. The crowd was chanting, the players were sky high, it was the kind of atmosphere you might expect — somewhere else.

It was the kind of rush that gives you goosebumps, that makes you realize why college football is such a wonderful sport. True emotion. It was everywhere on Saturday night and it was fun to witness.

After the game, the players were incredibly thankful of how the crowd responded. They took turns telling me that they wanted to publically thank the fans for stepping up so big.

Between the lines, a game ball would have to go to Bob Gregory. His defense completely crushed the threat of Jonathan Stewart. Oregon’s big passing plays mostly came after the game was in the bank. Jaison Williams had five catches for 66 yards, but his 29-yard touchdown catch over Daymeion Hughes only came because Dennis Dixon had an eternity to throw the ball. Hughes had the upper hand most of the game.

Those who take the time to watch Brandon Mebane would have been thrilled with his performance. He simply pushed Oregon’s O-linemen back into Dixon’s face. He had four tackles, a forced fumble and eventually, the Ducks didn’t even to attempt to run toward him.

Nu’u Tafisi is simply an animal. Teams are having a hard time trying to block him one on one and that opening interception was because Tafisi was hitting Dixon low.

About the only negative from the game was that fake field goal. It was an obvious situation for a fake so I just don’t understand anyone being that wide open. Who cares if they hit a field goat at that point? Make sure the receivers are guarded and the guys up front account for the holder. Cal was burned by an obvious punt fake situation earlier this season as well.

I’m not railing on special teams because Cal has had excellent kickoff coverage, their punt return unit has done a great job and punts and field goals have been about as perfect as can be. I think coach Alamar, who has gotten a lot of grief from Cal fans in the past, has done a very nice job.

But for gawd sakes, don’t get fooled!

This week’s challenge is Washington State, and those who have been to the Palouse know it is a strange atmosphere that somehow leaves opponents in a trance. Washington STate’s forte is putting pressure on the quarterback, and Longshore hasn’t faced much pressure since Tennessee. He continues to make at least one bad mistake a game in terms of putting up a duck to be intercepted. This will be a solid challenge for Longshore.

It’s halfway through the season, believe it or not, and Cal is back in the Top Ten.

Enjoy.

Jay

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Bring on the Ducks

So you have to be excited, a huge game in Berkeley. Just think of that statement. There haven’t been all that many the past 20 years. So I wonder how the Bay Area will react. Will Cal fans scoop up those last 5,000 tickets? It would be great to have a full house.

Certainly, the Bears have been taking care of business the past four weeks. It’s hard to believe that this game marks the midway point of the season. It seems we were just in Knoxville a week ago.

As far as keys, I think the play of defensive end Nu’u Tafisi will be huge. If Tafisi can show he can put pressure on the quarterback without Cal having to blitz, the chance of winning on Saturday goes way up. Tafisi has been much more of a factor the past few weeks and he might be getting to the point where a team assigns help blocking on him. If that’s the case, it clears the way for a linebacker to sneak through clean on a blitz or it prohibits teams from double-teaming Brandon Mebane all the time.

I would expect Cal to take some shots early into Oregon’s front seven to see if they can handle Marshawn Lynch coming right at them. This could be a statement game for Lynch since Oregon already has faced Adrian Peterson. A huge game by Lynch would put him back in the Heisman chase and it would force the nation to take notice.

Oregon is a team that has lots of tricks, so the play of Cal’s defensive backfield probably is the biggest worry. Thomas DeCoud continues to limp around, so it is doubtful he is going to play.

It will be interesting to see if Daymeion Hughes draws the assignment on Williams or if he lines up to one side and sticks with it. Oregon has huge wide receivers, and Syd’Quan Thompson is going to have his hands full. I talked to Brandon Hampton about facing big guys and he said basically that he tries to concentrate on a WR hands. He knows he can’t outjump him, so his focus is making sure those hands can’t close around the ball.

It’s also time for Cal’s defense to make a statement. We have heard about the speed and talent, they need to come up with a huge effort. Teams that win championships have defenses that can completely shut down the opponent at times. Well here it is, quality opponent, prime time game, time to make a mark.

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All business

It’s very obvious that the coaching staff has talked at length to the players about treating Saturday’s game like any other. Perhaps the feeling is that everyone was a bit too keyed up for Tennessee and that was a reason the team fell flat.

In reality, I doubt that it mattered. The practices leading up to Tennessee were sharp and focused. I think the loss had a lot more to do with trying to open the season at a national power under terrible, loud conditions for a visitor with a new offense, new quarterback and a rebuilt offensive line. If things had clicked for Cal offensively in the first half of that game, it would have gone down to the wire.

Moving on to Oregon, everything is being kept low key. Rover Brandon Hampton stopped by the press luncheon and admitted that while none of the players are talking about being all jacked up about the game, it goes without saying they understand the importance.

Several of the Bears who came by the press conference talked about confidence and that about sums it up. Funny, in a phone conversation with Oregon tailback Jonathan Stewart, he said, “Confidence, that’s what football is all about.”

You have two very confident teams squaring off. The difference might be the team that can shake the other team’s confidence early, make them wonder, ‘What the heck is going on?”

In looking at the game, I see Cal as having the run offense to make the Ducks scratch their heads. It can really hurt at times if a team can pound the ball successfully down an opponent’s throat. I kind of wonder if Mike Dunbar, who has been doing a great job spreading the ball around, has that “take away their will” mentality that Jeff Tedford has shown at times. That kind of mentality sometimes can take patience. And bottom line is that things are going so well anyway through the air.

Definitely, though, the ability to pound would make a statement.

I asked Nate Longshore if he was sore after taking some big shots last Saturday. He just laughed and said, “I’ve got plenty of pads on.” He is having fun and it is evident.

Mike Bellotti, whom I believe is a great coach, talked about using his no huddle offense at times and made it clear that he didn’t think the tactic would be all that useful against Cal, although it appears he will use it at times. Wonder if he is just saying that or if he is serious. But I think he doesn’t see the no huddle as a way to keep Cal’s personnel from being shuffled into the lineup. It will be interesting to watch.

Lavelle Hawkins came to the luncheon and talked about he spent his summer learning to take the right amount of steps on his route. “Coach Tedford likes everything perfect,” he said. His routes were a bit off last season, annoying the boss and keeping Hawkins from realizing his potential. That is changing this season.

Only about 5,000 tickets remain for the game and I hope the University makes a drive to sell out the game. Perhaps some added promotions or ads. You only get so many opportunities to make a huge impression and this is one.

Have fun,
Jay

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A thing of beauty

Those of you who would have given away their first borne to keep Jeff Tedford as coach feel fairly justified after the way the Golden Bears stomped Oregon State.

No. 1 — Recruiting. The main reason Cal jackstomped the Beavers in Corvallis was Tedford’s recruiting. He lines up DeSean Jackson on the outside, and the opponent has to cheat a safety his way. Then a guy like Lavelle Hawkins can have his way with the defense. You look in the backfield and see Marshawn Lynch, who was one of the top recruits to ever come out of the Bay Area, and Nate Longshore, who has a gun.
Those of you who subscribe to the Times and see the terrific job that Mike Lefkow does every year in compiling the Cream of the Crop might have noticed a complete change in attitude among the top 25 recruits. We also list their favorite school. It used to be Miami, Florida State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma. It’s now Cal, Cal, Cal. Tedford not only wins, he makes it fun and interesting for the players.

2. Game planning. Bears defensive coordinator Bob Gregory dared the Beavers to beat him through the air, and they couldn’t do it. Tedford is smart enough to let Gregory do his thing without interference. On offense, Cal simply left the Beavers looking like they had no defensive clue. Those two touchdown passes to Lynch were as wide open as a play could possibly be. Those were scheme touchdowns. Those were plays worthy of a guy who makes $2 mil a year.

Other highlights

Nice job by Bernard Hicks in his first game as a starter at free safety. No major mistakes and some hard hits. Cal will be in good shape when Thomas DeCoud gets back.

Nu’u Tafisi is starting to hit that Ryan Riddle stride. It’s taken him a while, but he is starting to get to the quarterback on a regular basis. This is HUGE if Cal expects to earn a BCS berth.

Cal’s offensive line, rebuilt or not, has some animals playing out there. There were Oregon State bodies flying through the air when they tried to rush Longshore. And I MEAN flying through the air. Erik Robertson explained that the Beavers finally would give up trying to get through, and would then leave their feet in an attempt to block a pass. That leaves them vulnerable to a shot to the chest that turns them into a projectile. Fun stuff if you are a Cal fan.

Tight end Craig Stevens is back to full health. He looked great, and actually made a couple of big catches — and held on. :o )

Cal cornerback Robert Peele is going to be pretty darned good.

Zack Follett is a monster.

Syd’Quan Thompson is getting comfortable.