Cal was forgiven for its loss to Utah. National media representatives dropped the Bears only one notch, to 23rd, in the rankings following the six-point road loss to the highly regarded and highly ranked Utes.
Voters thought so little of the loss and so much of boys from Berkeley that they ranked the Bears even higher after a bye week, jumping them to No. 20 entering Thursday night’s game against UCLA.
There will be no forgiveness this time. In fact, you can expect the pollsters to drop-kick the Bears out of the rankings. Cal got clobbered by its little-bear brothers from UCLA, even if the scoreboard read only 40-24. Cal had no answer for UCLA and its precise quarterback, freshman Josh Rosen. Now its season is beginning to smell like 2014.
5 Sacks of Cal’s Jared Goff against UCLA
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As much as Cal’s players and coaches would like to forget last year, when a 4-1 start devolved into a bowl-less 5-7 finish, back-to-back losses to Utah and UCLA have slapped the Bears into a state of introspection. The 2015 team that went 5-0 has fallen to 5-2 coming out of the clubhouse turn. The question now is whether the Bears are on the verge of another collapse.
Coach Sonny Dykes and his players called to the postgame podium to account for the poor performance against UCLA characterized the loss as an anomaly. They said they’re better than the stinker they dropped at the Rose Bowl. They promised to find out what went wrong.
“This is a different team,” Dykes said. “Every year is is different. Every week’s different. We’ve just got to pick up the pieces, learn from the mistakes we made and improve. That’s all you can do, and we will.”
If Thursday’s game wasn’t over at halftime, when Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 60-yard field goal at the gun gave the Bruins a 26-10 lead, it most certainly became a wrap when Rosen threw his third touchdown pass of the night on UCLA’s first possession of the second half. The 21-yard delivery to Devin Fuller represented the seventh Bruins’ score on as many possessions.
The 18-year-old Rosen may have surpassed Cal’s junior slinger, Jared Goff, as the Pacific-12 Conference’s “it” quarterback. Rosen zipped the ball 47 times around the lot, completing 34for 399 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Goff spent too much of his night picking himself off the turf thanks to UCLA’s rush. Sacked five times, he threw for 295 yards – 104 fewer than Rosen on six more attempts and two fewer completions.
Goff threw six consecutive incompletions at one point in the second quarter when Cal still had a chance. He still might be a top NFL draft pick, but he now is only a former Heisman Trophy contender. Rosen is likely to become one in the next couple years.
Cal might find some inspiration from UCLA’s performance. The Bruins rebounded after big losses to Stanford and Arizona State. They came out looking like the team that was once ranked as high as seventh.
The Bears received decent reviews in the loss to Utah. The critics won’t be so kind after the setback to UCLA. In other years, you might think that with its next two opponents, Cal would be on the verge of a four-game losing streak. But next week the Bears face a USC program on its fifth coach in six years. Then it’s on to Oregon, where the Ducks look to be in need of a bowl of menudo to shake their Marcus Mariota hangover.
We’re going to be a different team next week, and it’s going to be a lot better from here on out.
Cal quarterback Jared Goff
The little problems at USC and Oregon don’t amount to a hill of beans for Cal. All the Bears want is to beat both and get their season right before the Big Game against the monstrosity that Stanford has become. Beat the Trojans or anybody left on the schedule and Cal will be bowl eligible. Beat a couple more and they’ll get something better than the Poinsettia or Foster Farms extravaganzas. Win all five and they could get something really good.
Nobody knew why it went bad against UCLA. Linebacker Hardy Nickerson said the team was hyped. The native SoCals on the Cal roster wanted to put on a show in their homecoming, Nickerson said. Instead, they got showed up, and they all looked really bad in precipitating a postgame shoving match. They all felt rotten afterward.
“This one really hurts,” Nickerson said.
Goff did not try to rationalize the brace of losses.
“Getting punched in the mouth twice, it hurt,” he said. “I’m not going to lie to you; it’s not fun.”
But Goff recoiled when asked if he is concerned about the Bears succumbing on the order of last year. Different team, he said. Different schedule. More experienced, more mature. This year’s Bears will “respond well” from this adversity, Goff said, “I guarantee you that.”
“We’re not going to let this ruin our season,” he added. “We lost a really close game against Utah, to one of the better teams in the country. We just didn’t play well tonight. We’re going to fix it. I promise you this. We’re going to be a different team next week, and it’s going to be a lot better from here on out.”