Coming home couldn't have gone much worse for Jeff Tedford.
The California Golden Bears were coming home to Memorial Stadium, and everyone was pretty pumped to see what the refurbished environment would look like. For most fans, it was everything they could have hoped for, with upgraded amenities and concourses and new concessions, with exclusive clubs for the people who helped fund the stadium along with a brand-spanking athletic center that should help
Cal cut a gold ribbon at midfield to signal the beginning of a new era at the new Memorial. As the Bears took the field, the gray sky broke, and the stadium was bathed in sunlight. It was picturesque. It was perfect.
And then the game started, and suddenly everyone remembered that California still had a dysfunctional football team.
The Nevada Wolf Pack have given Cal trouble before, so it's no surprise the Pistol managed to wrack up 31 points and mount some huge, clutch drives to keep them in front. But it was the sporadic nature of the Cal offense to sustain any drives against the Nevada defense that became the focal point of this contest, as the Bears sputtered and slogged around the field.
In a decision that lacked foresight or good judgment, Tedford decided to keep the entire football team out of the loop regarding a decision he had made three months ago: Namely, that he was going to bench starting quarterback Zach Maynard for the first quarter of the game (it turned out to be three series, but whatever). Tedford would later justify it by saying it would have been a distraction and something Nevada would have exploited, but it was clear that the Bears were just as much caught by surprise as Maynard.
The result was a discombobulated mess. Cal ran only 67 plays on offense compared to 89 for Nevada. Allan Bridgford had trouble figuring out his timing with his receivers, and ended up completing one of eight passes during his time on the field. Maynard came in and looked unsteady throughout, managing some nice throws while also missing plenty of others. Despite these QB troubles, Cal passed a surprising amount and didn't try to feed their capable running back duo of Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson with carries (they combined for only 19 on the game).
All these offensive woes compounded things for the defense, who seemed to run out of gas after being on the field for over 60% of the game. Cody Fajardo also had the game of his life, fitting the football into tight windows for his receivers to catch on critical 3rd down after 3rd down. Stefphon Jefferson ate up all the tough runs on the ground to keep Cal focused on the run, and then Fajardo kept them honest on the veer with a huge touchdown run early to put the pressure on the Bears to start.
The gameplanning and player-managing going into this game seemed poorly founded on both fronts, and have probably left Tedford in a very bad position with Ohio State and USC looming later this month. It will take a monumental effort to right the ship, but it's starting to look less and less like Tedford has it in him to do it.
Cal fans weren't a happy bunch after Saturday's game. They can see the schedule that awaits them and the sloppiness they just witnessed. They know they have the modern facilities and brand-new stadium to attract top football coaching minds. It doesn't take a genius to project that this season ends poorly for Tedford if things don't change in a hurry.
It's a good thing the new Memorial is beautiful. The coach and team that currently inhabit it have a lot of work to do before they can say they're worthy enough to walk it.
SB Nation Snippets
Where did the run game go? I thought for sure, with a new QB out there, that Cal would pound the rock early. But instead Cal passed a lot. Why? I guess the coaches saw something in the defense that they wanted to exploit. Tedford's offensive coordinators have done this before (jumping right into heavy passing despite being in situations where one might expect the team to ease into things by running more often). Tennessee 2006 comes to mind for me. I remember after that loss people were wondering why we passed so much so early. Tedford's explanation was that they saw something in the film room that they thought they could exploit against Tennessee. I'm assuming the same explanation applies here.
Tedford and his coaches have always had the utmost faith in their players. They'll have their guys just come out doing what the coaches want to be done, expecting the players to be able to execute. As a player I'm sure it's certainly nice to have the coaches' confidence when they decide to do that. But on the other hand, maybe the rest of us, having less faith in Bridgford, would have eased him into the game by running more often than not. Perhaps it would have made a difference. Perhaps not. Hindsight is 20/20 and since we lost, so we sure as hell should have ran the ball more (75% sarcasm, 25% not).