By Jonathan Okanes
Tuesday, September 16th, 2008 at 9:44 am in Mid-week.
One of the prevalent themes coming from the locker room after Saturday’s game is that the Bears are much better equipped to handle this setback than they were last season. Zack Follett and Worrell Williams, among others, stressed that the Bears won’t let the loss simmer.
There are a couple of reasons to believe the Bears. No. 1, they have a bye week. Yes, on the one hand, they probably would like to get back on the field as soon as possible to get back on track. But on the other hand, it will probably be a good break for Cal, to get healthy and get their minds right.
Coach Jeff Tedford said after the game that he is very confident the team has the leadership necessary to bounce back from Saturday’s loss. Of course, it helps to bounce back when the next game is a home contest against lowly Colorado State. The Bears should be ready to roll against the Rams, who will probably be outmanned and face a very motivated Cal team.
But perhaps the biggest reason why the Bears will be able to handle their first loss of the season is that simply this is a different season, one that comes with less expectations and pressure. When Cal lost its first game of the season last year, as we all know, the Bears were on the verge of becoming the No. 1 team in the country. Thoughts of Bowl Championship Series berths were dancing in the minds of Old Blues. The stakes were much higher at that point. And when the Bears lost again the following week, it felt like a potentially special season was unraveling.
This year, nobody expects the Bears to go to a BCS game or even win the Pac-10. Yes, the wins in the first two games of the season elevated hopes and expectations, but now there is a loss on their record, it seems like this is really not a bad spot for Cal to be in: Two of the first three games on the road, all three against major schools, one of them in conference play. Winning all three wasn’t out of the question, but winning two of three is still quite an accomplishment for a team trying to bounce back from last year’s second-half collapse.
The immediate future still looks pretty encouraging for the Bears. They should pound Colorado State. Then Arizona State comes to town, and as last night’s loss to UNLV indicates, the Sun Devils may not be ready for prime time just yet. Cal will get them at home, and then will have another bye after that game. If the Bears can win both games and be 4-1 heading into another week off, they could set themselves up for a pretty good second half of the season.
The bye week will also come at a good time for running backs Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen, each of whom got banged up Saturday. It sure made for some uneasy moments when Best was crushed on the hit by Maryland defensive back Kevin Barnes. Even though it appears Best is completely recovered from his hip injury, it’s got to still be back in everyone’s mind. Best laying on the field for a few minutes afterward just compounded things.
But Best seemed fine after the game. He admitted to being a little sore, but the way he bounced back from that vicious hit should alleviate any concerns that he lacks the toughness or durability to be an every-down type of player.
The Bears will have a normal practice week this week, practicing Tuesday through Thursday before taking the weekend off. As usual, the coaching staff will let a lot of the younger players get much of the reps before beginning game planning for Colorado State at the start of next week.