PASADENA, Calif — Down 31-14 with only 54 seconds remaining, Zach Maynard lofted a pass downfield to a streaking Michael Calvin. It was a meaningless pass in a meaningless situation in an otherwise meaningless game.
As the ball fell through Calvin’s open hands and hit the turf to end Cal’s dreadful evening at the Rose Bowl, the Bears sideline let out its final groan on a day that caused too many, a fitting end to an interminable 60 minutes that rendered Cal’s season functionally meaningless.
It was an open opportunity to take advantage of a reeling team, and the Bears let it slide right through their hands.
Playing a UCLA team coming off a 36-point loss on national television and with six players suspended because of a halftime brawl, the Cal football team (4-4, 1-4 in the Pac-12) turned in a horrid performance in a season of already low expectations. Anchored by quarterback Kevin Prince’s legs and safety Tevin McDonald’s anticipation, UCLA (4-4, 3-2) knocked off Cal, 31-14, in a game rife with dysfunctional offense, confused defense and enough turnovers to remind the audience that this was indeed low-level Pac-12 football.
“We took a step back today,” Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said. “I’m not going to bury my head in the sand. We didn’t play as well as we need to play. I have confidence in this team that we’ll come back with great ethic and be ready to play next week.”
Maynard threw for a season-low 199 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions, three of which landed in the arms of McDonald, who commanded the UCLA secondary with tangible presence. Maynard was the most glaring problem in an offense that failed to find any semblance of rhythm all afternoon.
“I felt like we were a little off as an offense,” he said. “I’ve got to get better. I’ve got to stop making mistakes. I need to look at the film and analyze my gameplay.”
When Tedford was asked whether or not the quarterback situation would be evaluated before next week’s home tilt against Washington State, the visibly worn coach leaned against the podium and took a long pause. The faint crackle of his stale gum effectively answered the question he’d wanted to avoid for the whole season.
“We’ll look at the tape and make a determination with that,” Tedford said.
Outside of some determined but not game-breaking running from Isi Sofele, Cal’s offense was nothing short of pitiful. Maynard’s passes routinely sailed into the arms of UCLA defenders and his botched handoff to Sofele one play after the Bruins tied the game put UCLA on the Cal 15-yard line. The Bruins would not gain a single yard on that offensive drive, but the 32-yard field goal from Tyler Gonzalez gave them a lead that they would never surrender.
Cal had a chance to tie that game with 40 seconds left in the third quarter after its most impressive offensive drive of the game, but Giorgio Tavecchio failed to make the key 42-yard kick.
Much maligned UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince has spent most of the season either injured on the sideline or as a primary target of the vitriolic criticism surrounding Bruin football all year.
Against Cal, he was the best player on the field, rushing for 163 yards and throwing for 92 more. Prince haunted the Cal defense on Halloween weekend with visions of Colin Kaepernick, breaking off elusive runs for big gains and misdirection plays that left the Bears visibly fooled on multiple occasions.
“We did a poor job on the perimeter of making tackles,” defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said. “It’s assignment football. Somebody’s got the dive, somebody’s got the pitch, somebody’s got the quarterback.”
When asked if UCLA’s offense was any different than the ineffective one that Cal smothered last year, Pendergast was terse in his response.
“Identical,” he said. “They did nothing different.”
Powerful running back Derrick Coleman attacked the Cal front seven with brute force, taking 16 carries for 81 yards and three touchdowns. Down 7-0 and faced with a third-and-three at the Cal 14, Coleman resisted an initial hit and barged through the Bears and delivered a punishing hit that sent Cal linebacker Robert Mullins to the sidelines to give the Bruins a first down.
Running back Johnathan Franklin would rush for an 11-yard touchdown on the next play. Coleman’s second effort gave the Bruins a chance to tie the game and a new life. From that point forward, UCLA was the better team on both sides of the ball.
“Maybe we got too high on ourselves after the Utah win,” defensive lineman Trevor Guyton said. “It hurts to get embarrassed by a team like this. It was a game that we definitely should have won … We are a better team than what showed up today.”