Well, believe it or not, the regular season is one-third over. Where does Cal stand? That’s not an easy question to answer.
Certainly, the reality looks good for the Bears: 4-0, No. 6 national ranking and a win in their Pac-10 opener. But has Cal looked like the team that many fans and observers expected to be in the running for a BCS berth? Only at times.
The productivity of the offense is undeniable, even though it seems to go in brief funks at times. Still, you can’t argue with the type of numbers the Bears are putting up on the scoreboard.
The bend-but-don’t-break defense has been inconsistent. Teams have been able to put together sustained drives agianst Cal, but the defense also has made big plays in every game, plays that can have momentum-altering effects.
I thought the Bears were on their way to playing a complete game Saturday. Not only was their defense overpowering the Wildcats, but Arizona’s spread offense looked lackluster against Cal’s defense. But the offense came up empty on a handful of possessions in the second half and the defense allowed Arizona to move the ball and score 17 unanswered points.
It wasn’t an escape for Cal, but certainly the Bears didn’t walk away feeling like they had delievered a knockout blow.
Of course, one of the reasons for the offense’s shortcomings in the second half was the absence of running back Justin Forsett, who was forced out earlier with a quad contusion. It’s no coincidence that the moment he came back in the game in the fourth quarter, the Bears put together a scoring drive to ice the game. Forsett rushed five times for 39 yards during the possession, including a 2-yard touchdown run in which he took the snap directly.
I knew Forsett was good, but until Saturday I don’t think I truly realized his value to the Bears. I had got caught up in the depth the Bears have at tailback, especially the playmaking ability of Jahvid Best. But Forsett is the heart and soul of the offense, maybe the entire team. Before Saturday, I thought Lavelle Hawkins was the early-season MVP of the Bears. Now I’d say it’s Forsett.
If the Bears want to finally play a complete game, this would be the week to do so. They’re going to especially be up to the task on defense. Oregon, which also runs the spread offense, has been almost undefendable. Cal could really use linebacker Zack Follett in a game like this, but coach Jeff Tedford said after Saturday’s game that he was still doubtful. Cal will somehow have to get pressure on Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon to take him out of his comfort zone. The Bears showed they can pressure the quarterback effectively but blitzing linebackers against Arizona, and they didn’t suffer in coverage most of the time when they did so. This could be an important game for the defensive backfield.
Obviously, there will be much more to come on the Oregon game in the coming days. The Ducks moved up to No. 11 in this week’s AP poll while the Bears stayed at No. 6.