We won’t truly have context for the Bears’ 43-17 rout of No. 25 UCLA until the season is complete.
Will it be a turning point in the season, a springboard to something lasting?
Or was it just one good night against an opponent ripe to be knocked down a notch?
Admit it, you woke up this morning feeling there are opportunities ahead for Cal that you could not have envisioned just 24 hours before.
The trip to Washington State (2-4, 1-2) this week provides a chance to get within one game of .500 overall and pull even in Pac-12 games. And that would give the Bears great momentum going into the earliest-scheduled Big Game in history, a week later in Berkeley.
There are other games on the schedule you figure Cal can win — if it plays the way it did against the Bruins. The Bears would seem to have a shot at Utah on Oct. 27 and the week after at home against Washington.
Let’s say Cal wins three of the next four: Then the Bears would be 5-5 with Oregon at home and Oregon State on the road to close out the regular season.
Given that scenario, I think two things change dramatically:
— Jeff Tedford likely returns as coach. A loss to UCLA would gave been crushing, but the Bears resonded with a victory that meant a lot on different levels. The season’s ventilator may not be packed away, but it’s switched off . . . at least for now.
— A bowl game is back in play. This seemed impossible a couple days ago. I had a conversation with a friend who pondered the possibility that Cal did not win another game all season. Now there are only a couple on the schedule that seem overwhelming. The rest: possible.
It’s foolish to make too much of one game. As good as they were, the Bears were not perfect. Three turnovers. A second straight 100-yard penalty game. Two blocked PAT kicks.
As Tedford said afterward, there is lots to fix.
But, for once, the list of positives far outstripped the negatives:
— QB Zach Maynard, after throwing into double-coverage and being picked off on his first pass of the night, was 25 for 29 for 295 yards with 4 TDs the rest of the evening. His pass efficiency rating was 203.26! (That’s actually better than West Virginia QB Geno Smith’s ridiculous season rating of 202.38 — based on 24 TDs, 0 INTs). But Maynard is chronically inconsistent, and the trick is for him to do this — or something close it — again. And again. Jury is out.
— Maynard benefited from a substantially improved performance by the offensive line, which allowed just three sacks after surrendering 25 in five previous games, 19 during the three-game losing streak. It helped that Maynard generally was quick and decisive.
— The defense was relentless. Or, as UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr., called it, “maniacal.” The Bears forced six turnovers, sacked Brett Hundley five times and held the Bruins to half their season average point total.
— The improved performance was not simply the result of better efforts by the usual cast, but breakthroughs by players given the chance to contribute. Cornerback Kameron Jackson replaced injured Marc Anthony and intercepted three passes. Tight end Richard Rodgers, limited to three catches all season by a foot injury, had seven for 127 yards — the first 100-yard game by a Cal TE since . . . well, not even sure. And while RB Brendan Bigelow, in his first career start, had just 12 rushing yards on five attempts, he showed off that “it” factor Maynard talked about when he turned a quick pass into a 32-yard TD burst.
— A great day for the coaching staff. Tedford credited Marcus Arroyo for excellent play calling. Clancy Pendergast’s defense attacked the Bruins and disrupted Hundley’s rhythm. And Tedford fielded a team that played with passion and purpose we didn’t see the week before against Arizona State.
Now the Bears merely have to do it again next week.