This is just sad.
The California Golden Bears Bears have now dropped two in a row and have been distressingly uncompetitive in either game. Losing the rivalry game to Stanford at home without showing much of a pulse on offense is pretty bad. Falling behind 42-6 to a Utah squad that was previously winless in Pac-12 play is pretty much unacceptable on every level.
Cal isn't just coming apart at the seams; the whole foundation seems to be cracking. The Bears have won TWO of their last 18 games against winning FBS opponents. They are 1-12 in the last three years against winning Pac-12 teams. And they gave up as many points to Utah as the previous four Pac-12 teams had given up to the Utes in meaningful action.
Couple the on-the-field demolitions with the absolutely painful graduation rates, and the writing is on the wall. No one anywhere seems to believe Jeff Tedford is coming back.
The way the team plays seems to reflect that. Cal looks like a disorganized, disjointed, dispirited squad on Saturday night. The Bears had no focus on special teams as they allowed two kickoff returns allowed for a touchdown. They were even less focused on offense, giving up three turnovers on their side of the field that resulted in 21 more points. And the defense (which had been playing stout for the most part, even in defeat) finally crumbled, as they couldn't keep Utah from getting into the end zone on short fields.
Cal basically gift-wrapped Utah 35 points, as the offense couldn't finish drives (two field goals on their trips to the other side of the field) or start them (three punts, two turnovers). This was supposed to be a low-scoring, defensive-minded affair that quickly became a one-sided contest because the Bears kept on punching themselves in the face.
It's become a recurring theme this season that every loss is a nail in the coffin of Tedford's Cal career. At this point, we're running out of nails.
Crazily, it seems that every one of his shortcomings as a head coach has cost Cal a chance at victory.
Bizarre disciplinary actions: Benching Zach Maynard for a quarter the opening game--the return to new Memorial no less--against Nevada set the tone for the entire season. This would've been fine if the Cal players were ready to go and had known about the decision well ahead of time, but apparently the Bears didn't realize that Allan Bridgford would be starting until the day before the game.
Bridgford struggled to connect, the Cal offense stalled, Maynard struggled to get going, Nevada took the lead, and eventually held on for the upset. Almost immediately, the bubble that protected Tedford from extinction popped.
Conservative game-management: Draw plays on 3rd and 10+ yards (which has probably happened on at least 40% of the games this year) tell you how much confidence Cal has in their passing game and pass protection. The offense doesn't look like a terribly confident unit this year, as it seems like the coaching staff will only give them just enough leeway before yanking the chain.
Mental breakdowns: 119th in penalty yardage, which marks the second straight year Cal is in the bottom ten in the country in penalty yards. Next-to-last in tackles for loss allowed. Dead last in sacks allowed. 104th in fumbles lost. 112th in 3rd down conversion rate. 116th in scoring touchdowns in the red zone. That is some team offensive derpitude right there, which is astounding considering how good Cal's offenses were at executing their gameplans during the first half of the Tedford era. The offensive crispness is all gone.
Offensive gameplans: As in these gameplans are offensive. Why make Maynard go back and try and attempt five-step drops? He's not good at them. Why force downfield vertical passes that have little chance at succeeding? Why not give Maynard quicker options and more running variants? Why must Maynard be forced to do things he's not good at doing?
While we're on the subject, why put Sofele in short-yardage situations? Why force an offensive line that isn't fast or quick to execute zone blocking schemes? Why is Richard Rodgers being underutilized? And I haven't even gotten to the biggest problem (more on that later)!
And who exactly is running the offense? This braintrust of run game coordinator/RB coach, pass game coordinator/ WR coach, playcalling QB coach, and offensive coordinator O-line coach look totally overmatched when things go south. Tedford appears to have absconded responsibility of the offense to his entire collective staff, and they are coming up with painful results.
Fourth quarter decisions: Sending Vince D'Amato to kick his third 40+ yard field goal to give Cal the lead after he'd already hooked field goals from 40 yards out against Ohio State was another fork in the back. This might have been forgiveable if it wasn't 4th and inches and Cal had been able to move the ball with relative ease, but Tedford went for the points despite having a shaky kicker out there.
D'Amato has been kicking well since that point, but that loss had to be just as hard to stomach as many of the non-competitive defeats. It was a game that could've turned the whole season around, but instead instilled another seed of doubt among the offensive players about how much Tedford trusted them to pick up a yard.
Curious personnel moves: We haven't touched on Brendan Bigelow, who seems to see a fraction of the action that he should be playing. Bigelow is averaging over 12 yards per play, yet he didn't get his first touch until the final minute of the third quarter (which hilariously went for a touchdown).
The shuffling of Bigelow has been one of the most mystifying elements of the 2012 campaign, and confounds anyone who's watched this team. Bigelow popped off two touchdown runs against Ohio State for 81 and 59 yards, yet didn't see the field when Cal had to drive only 40+ yards for a potential game-winning touchdown. Bigelow came in for a couple of drives in the second half against USC when the Bears were struggling to move the football, broke some nice runs to get Cal in the red zone, and then never played again until the game was well out of hand. Bigelow didn't play much at all against Arizona State (he didn't even field a kickoff return!). And Bigelow had the biggest play from scrimmage in the Big Game, but barely saw the field after that.
Tedford has been stubborn before on making personnel moves (anyone who remembers the famous Riley-Longshore 2007 campaign can nod their heads in acquiescence), but his denial in letting Bigelow not see the field is puzzling because there doesn't seem to be any net benefit in his calculus. Isi Sofele is a good pass protector, but he's not someone that a defense feels particularly threatened by when he steps onto the field. The offense needs some sparkplug to get going, and the frustrating lack of Bigelow has hamstrung Cal's offense game after game.
Worst graduation rates in the Pac-12, and some of the worst in the country: At many schools this would be a black eye; at Cal, it's pretty much a death sentence. The Bears already get enough crap from the faculty for being a detriment to the academic tradition of the university, and these figures certainly will not make their job any easier.
There are plenty of other factors too. There's the defection of Cal's top recruiter to Washington that detonated a top-five recruiting class for the Bears. There's the pressure of high expectations now that Cal is in a new Memorial. There's tons of injuries; Cal has lost three of their four projected starting linebackers, a starting defensive end, and has played without a few offensive linemen for much of the year.
But ultimately none of those excuses (and they are excuses) will be enough to save Tedford. Cal's inability to do better than an ineffective Maynard with four alternative options available deal another final blow. The fact that the wildly inconsistent and erratic Maynard is the best the famous quarterback guru can do after several years of average to horrifying quarterback play at Cal will drive the stake through the heart.
There's no way Cal can risk underachieving with young talent all over their roster and promising quarterbacks coming up the pipeline. It could set the program right back to the dark ages. And it seems like that's all Tedford is capable of doing these days.
In a season when he need to show Cal his best, Tedford provided us with his worst, and there's no reason to think there's any further direction but down with him leading the way.