Thursday notes

Cal wrapped up practice for the week Thursday night and it was determined that defensive end Rulon Davis will make the trip to Tempe and play on Saturday. Davis has missed the past four games with a sprained foot. Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said he would use Davis primarily in passing downs. Davis had been starting before the injury but needs to ease his way back into action.

Cornerback Brandon Hampton will serve as the backup rover with Marcus Ezeff out of action. Gregory said Thursday he wasn’t sure how long Ezeff would be out, that Ezeff just needs to rest his quad injury. Defensive back Robert Peele, who has missed the past two games with a high ankle sprain, has started some light running but still is a couple of weeks away from playing.

Gregory also said that Cody Jones will start at defensive tackle in place of Mika Kane, who was in a minor car accident this week and missed one day of practice. Gregory said Kane is fine but will give Jones the start since he practiced all week.

On the offensive side, backup guard Mark Boskovich has been getting some reps with the first team, with Noris Malele sitting out some first team reps at times. Coach Jeff Tedford said Boskovich is the backup right guard, so it is unclear if this means Boskovich is in the mix for some playing time.

Wide receiver Robert Jordan practiced without limitation Thursday and will start Saturday. Meanwhile, quarterback Nate Longshore appears to be getting stronger and stronger on the sprained ankle.



The Bears had a pretty good practice Wednesday, one in which coach Jeff Tedford said the coaching staff stressed the little things and paying attention to detail.

Tedford admitted that perhaps one of Cal’s shortcomings during its two-game losing streak is that it started paying too much attention to the big picture and forgot about the details. Tedford said his program has always been detail-oriented, with the belief that paying attention to details will take care of the big picture. He said that perhaps the turnovers, penalties and fundamental mistakes the team has made during the past two games is because they had lost sight of that.

Wide receiver Robert Jordan, who has been around Tedford and the program for four years, said as much during Tuesday’s weekly press luncheon. He said the Bears weren’t doing the little things and was confident the team would get back to that in a big way this week.

Speaking of Jordan, he practiced fine Wednesday and appears ready to play Saturday. The Bears are holding him out of contact this week, but you can tell his range of motion and mobility with his sprained shoulder are coming back. Jordan said he was pretty sure he was going to play, if nothing else because he feels like he needs to provide a spark to help the Bears get back in the win column.

Defensive end Rulon Davis, who has missed four games because of a sprained foot, practiced with the second team without limitation, but his status for Saturday is still up in the air. Tedford said Davis is still sore. One of the issues is since the upcoming game is a road game, the Bears only want to take Davis along if he is a sure thing to play. The Bears are only allowed to ttravel 64 players, so they don’t want to waste a spot on someone who is iffy.

Some bad news on the defensive side. Rover Marcus Ezeff is now on crutches. Ezeff missed the Oregon State game with a quad injury and was believed to be improving, but he was only able to go a few plays against UCLA before having to shut it down. Now, it appears the injury is worsening. All Tedford would say is that Ezeff is definitely out Saturday, but wasn’t sure about the long-term prognosis.

Tedford spent some time with kicker Jordan Kay during practice, serving as his holder during one stint and patting him on the back afterward. After practice, Tedford said he still has confidence in Kay, who has made just two of his last seven field goal attempts after hitting his first three of the season.

The Bears went through one interesting drill near the end of practice where several offensive players laid on the field as though a play had just ended. When special teams coach Pete Alamer blew the whistle, the players practiced rushing off the field while the field goal unit rushed on to it as though they were racing against the clock to get the kick off in time.

One lighthearted moment Wednesday: During a break, backup quarterback Kevin Riley threw a pass from the 40-yard line to a trash can sitting on the sideline on the opposite 35. It was nothing but net.


Tuesday update

Cal held its weekly luncheon Tuesday, and the best way I could sum up the players’ attitude is motivated.

Sure, the Bears are a bit down after back-to-back losses, but I think they’re also a bit angry, and ready to take that out on their next opponent. Guard Brian De La Puente said “hungry” was the best way to describe the mood of the team.

The players present Tuesday all talked about the fact that the Rose Bowl was still possible. That was a far cry from immediately after Saturday’s loss, when some of the players seemed almost ready to write off the season. Not in a way in which they would stop trying, but they seemed almost resigned to the fact that they weren’t going to the BCS title game or the Rose Bowl.

Surely, the BCS title game is out. But the Bears could still make it to the Rose Bowl. It would take a handful of different things happening, but it’s not totally out of the question. Let’s not forget that Cal shared the Pac-10 title last season with two losses. The major difference is there are more teams in the running this year.

But the possibility of still going to the Rose Bowl seemed to rejuvenate the team. Wide receiver Robert Jordan said he took it up on himself to make sure his teammates understood there is still a lot to play for this season. Jordan said he probably would be back this Saturday after missing last week with a sprained shoulder. Jordan currently is tied with Brian Treggs for the Cal record for most consecutive games with a catch (36).

Jordan and De La Puente all but guaranteed the Bears would beat Arizona State this weekend. “Everything will be all right, and we’ll beat Arizona State,” Jordan said. “We’re going to come back and get this one this weekend,” De La Puente said.

Jeff Tedford was especially candid Tuesday. He admitted he hasn’t slept much the past few nights second-guessing some of his own play calls. He said the reason he called two running plays on the final drive before Nate Longshore’s costly interception was because of the defense UCLA was in. He said he thought the play he called would wind up as a big gain, but UCLA’s defensive end simply made a good individual play to break it up.

Tedford said he also stuck with the running game because of the success Cal has had all season running the ball. He said even though UCLA’s defense was doing a good job slowing down the Bears’ running attack, he always thought that next play was going to be a big one.


Quick Sunday notes

The Bears held their usual Sunday evening conditioning workout at Memorial Stadium. Afterward, coach Jeff Tedford said he didn’t think Cal’s problems were major in scope. He said the Bears aren’t doing the little things that would allow them to be successful, especially in close games.

Tedford said quarterback Nate Longshore’s ankle came out of Saturday’s game fine, even better than he expected. He also said wide receiver Robert Jordan didn’t play against UCLA because he didn’t feel like he was able to. Tedford had said on Thursday that Jordan would play, but Jordan told Tedford before kickoff that his shoulder just didn’t feel right. Tedford said he expected Jordan to play this Saturday at Arizona State.

Tedford also said defensive end Rulon Davis would resume practicing this week, probably in a limited capacity. Davis has been out since Sept. 15 with a sprained foot. He went through some agility drills after Sunday nght’s practice.

Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory also said he thought his unit’s problems were correctable and didn’t require drastic changes. He said he watched the tape of Saturday’s game and found that the Bears are making mistakes at inopportune times and not always doing what is fundamentally sound. He acknowledged that determining what was wrong with the defense was a big topic of discussion on Sunday.


Nate’s day

Yes, Nate Longshore’s interception at the end of Saturday’s game was devastating, but overall the Bears had to be happy how he performed coming back from his sprained right ankle. He was on the mark for 22 of 34 completions for 232 yards and three touchdowns, although he also threw three picks (the final one essentially was meaningless with Cal trailing by nine with time winding down).

Longshore’s effectiveness was due in large part to the offensive line’s ability to protect him. Obviously, the line struggled to create running room for the Bears’ ground game, but it was clear the Bruins were focusing on stopping Cal’s rushing attack. Longshore and the Bears took advantage.


The truth hurts

It was telling to listen to some of Cal’s defensive players after Saturday’s game. Many of them spoke of it being “gut-check” time. Once again, the Bears allowed an opponent to put together sustained drives against them. And even though the numbers show that it wasn’t the defense’s worst performance, some of that was because of the unforced mistakes UCLA made on offense. Penalties, overthrown passes and some questionable coaching caused some of the Bruins’ drives to stall.

The discourse coming from Cal’s players shows the difference between winning and losing in terms of attitude. The Bears didn’t necessarily play any worse on defense than in some other games this season, but it obviously becomes more magnified in a loss. Whatever the reason, it’s probably a good revelation for the Bears, because their defense is not playing at a championship-caliber level, and it hasn’t for most of the season.


The Big Picture

I know this is not breaking news, but the implications of Cal’s loss at UCLA on Saturday was just another reminder that college football desperately needs a playoff system. What does it say to the players that the goals they have for a season can essentially be dashed before they reach November?

This is not to say that Cal definitely would even be included in a playoff this year, but listening to the players talk about playing for pride or playing the role of spoiler because they had lost two whole games just doesn’t seem right.

Our current system makes it so teams are knocked out of the national championship race after two losses, sometimes one. Cal could win its last five games and still have no hope of playing in the BCS title game. For a lot of teams, this argument is irrelevant. Many teams aren’t national championship-worthy to begin with and are simply trying to have the best season possible and go to the best bowl game possible.

Maybe Cal isn’t national championship-worthy either, but let’s not forget that two weeks ago the Bears were the No. 2 team in the nation. They’ve beaten quality teams such as Oregon and Tennessee. But because of the current system, their ultimate goal of playing for a national championship has been dashed.

That’s not saying the players still shouldn’t be motivated to have as successful a season as possible. The Bears could still get to 10 wins and perhaps finish the season in the top ten. But it just doesn’t seem right to see tears in the players’ eyes when the season is only about halfway over, because they know they can’t reach their ultimate goal.

This will be an interesting week for Cal’s coaches and players. We will see if they can re-evaluate their goals in a healthy manner. The challenge for the coaching staff is to make sure the players understand what is still left to play for. This is especially important because the Bears have another tough challenge ahead at Arizona State this week. Another loss there could really test the mental toughness of the Bears.



Cal may end up kicking itself for not being in more of a hurry during its final drive of the first half. The Bears didn’t speed up the pace as they moved into UCLA territory and they were left with a 44-yard field goal attempt with two seconds remaining. That wasn’t good enough, as Jordan Kay continued his struggled with a miss.

The Bears began the drive at the UCLA 39 with 1:10 left. After a pass for no gain to Justin Forsett, Cal took its time snapping the next play, and it ended up as a false start. That didn’t leave the Bears with much time after Nate Longshore connected with DeSean Jackson for a 17-yard gain on 3rd-and-14. Had Cal moved a little faster, perhaps it would have been deeper in UCLA territory and had a field goal try more manageable for Kay.

The good news for the Bears is Longshore seems to be past his sprained ankle. He had a terrific first half, completing 16 of 19 passes for 173 yards. Jackson has seven catches for 120 yards at the half.


End of first quarter

The Bears have to be happy with how they are protecting Nate Longshore. He hasn’t been under much pressure, which is pivotal because of his sprained ankle. Longshore was 8-for-9 for 62 yards in the first quarter. Cal also has been going with a lot more two-receiver sets than usual becasue of the injury to Robert Jordan.

Cal has talked about trying to force its opponents into more three-and-outs because its defense is on the field too much. Well, the Bruins just had a 15-play drive that covered 70 yards. But once again, the Bears demonstrated they have a strong red zone defense, forcing UCLA into a field goal.