Bears run past Beavers to gain bowl eligibility

Oregon D versus Cal Offense
Andrew Kuo/Staff

SAN FRANCISCO — The Cal football team wasn’t perfect on Saturday night, but bowl berths are not priced for perfection. Six wins is all that’s asked, so with a 23-6 victory over Oregon State that was relentless if unspectacular, the Bears extended their schedule to 13 games.

Along the way, the team eschewed fireworks for bulldozers.

In the third quarter at AT&T Park, running back Isi Sofele took a pitch and scampered out to the left sideline. He saw space inside and cut back in, rolling into the end zone. A touchdown for a 14-point lead, a milestone as the program’s ninth 1,000-yard rusher in 10 years.

Sofele and C.J. Anderson combined for 37 touches and 286 yards. For the fourth consecutive game, the Cal offense leaned more run than pass.

“It just really developed (through the season),” head coach Jeff Tedford said of the shift from air to ground. “When you’re successful running the ball, it makes it easier to stay with it.”

Sometimes, the Beavers (2-8, 2-5 in the Pac-12) looked eager to lend a hand. In the second quarter, Cal (6-4, 3-4) was squandering a first-and-goal at Oregon State’s 4-yard line. A false start by left tackle Mitchell Schwartz, then another by left guard Brian Schwenke. The camera panned to offensive line coach Jim Michalczik. Quarterback Zach Maynard followed with two incompletions, and suddenly the Bears faced a more uncertain fourth-and-goal at the 9.

Cal went for it. Superstar wideout Keenan Allen took a short pass over the middle, but his legs betrayed him, and he stumbled to the ground untouched. Turnover on downs — until an OSU defender fell on Allen and was hit with a penalty for unnecessary roughness.

With a fresh set of downs, Maynard faked the option and walked into the end zone, giving Cal a 14-3 lead.

On its first drive of the fourth quarter, Oregon State was stationed with a first-and-goal at the Cal 2-yard line. The Bears’ defense did their part, stuffing consecutive runs to keep the Beavers out of the end zone. Then, on third down, quarterback Sean Mannion botched a handoff to running back Jovan Stevenson. Cal safety Sean Cattouse picked up the fumble.

The Oregon State offense crossed the 30-yard line six times; it ended the game with two field goals and no touchdowns.

“It’s a huge sense of urgency (in the red zone),” Cattouse said. “It’s a challenge. It’s something where, we like to step up and say, ‘OK, they’re not gonna score.’”

But Cal did not leave its opponents to flail alone, holding penalties erasing a long touchdown run by Sofele and a pair by C.J. Anderson.

“First one gets called back, you go, ‘OK, that happens sometimes,’” Anderson said. “Second one gets called back, you think, ‘Oh man, refs don’t like me.’”

A workmanlike performance by the offensive line — a group that, Tedford said, includes blocking by the fullback and tight ends — paved the way for the Bears’ ground game, but a season-high 15 penalties smeared the performance. The 130 yards Cal gave away, also a season-worst, outnumbered the 128 it gained through the air.

But again, the Bears did not need to be their most explosive selves; a mechanically effective pounding by their backfield was more than enough.

“They were tough,” Oregon State cornerback Jordan Poyer said. “On offense, they could do whatever they wanted, and it’s just frustrating.”

In Maynard’s last home game of the season, he reverted almost completely into a game manager. Maynard entered Saturday averaging 33 pass attempts per game. After the junior threw a pick to end his first series, the Bears went almost entirely to the ground.

While Sofele was grinding out yards at a blistering pace — 111 yards on 11 carries in the first half — Maynard scaled back and efficiently completed 13 of his 19 passes. He balanced 128 yards with a touchdown to senior receiver Michael Calvin; no one receiver had over 32 yards.

When the tailbacks got off the field, the Cal defense completely suffocated Oregon State, stuffing the Beavers’ run game to a measly five yards before the halftime show.

For the past four years, the Cal football team had found one way or another to lose to the always-overachieving Beavers. It was Kevin Riley running the clock out on first-and-10 at the 12 in 2007, or Jahvid Best landing on his neck to silence Memorial Stadium in 2009, or Riley’s career crumpling with his knee in 2010.

The streak finally ended, against an Oregon State team on pace for its worst season in over a decade. Tedford will not suffer a second consecutive losing record, at least not in the regular season. Even without another win, his team should end up in the Las Vegas Bowl or Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

“We’re not going to be picky,” Sofele said.

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  • Oskibear

    It’s BIG GAME WEEK!!!!!!! Time for the Bears (and Golden Bear Fans) to step up and play Big on the Farm (Cal’s ‘Home away from Home’ when the fans show up).  TWO BIG GAMES on Saturday; One at Avery Aquatics Complex (Big Splash, H2O Polo) and one in $t. Anfurd Preparatory Academy’s American Pigskin Bleachers (aka Drofnat$ stadium).  Go Big and GO BEARS!!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    LOL at DC, your picture of Oregon Ducks not Oregon State. Here all along I thought Cal students were smart….LOL

    GO DUCKS

    • Anonymous

      Huh?  The pictures look like OSU to me.  I might have misunderstood your inarticulate message.  In any case, your prior messages indicate that you must have a complex stemming from your inability to gain admission to Cal.

    • loverpoint

      They are definitely OSU, the Ducks fans can be excused, it must be hard to identify with a team that changes its colors every week.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been down on Tedford lately but I have to give credit where credit is due.  Good W for the team.  But our weaknesses remains glaring – even to the novice.  Our corners need some big time improvement.  Williams again all a lot of yards after catch by poor tackling.  I saw Marc Anthony take plays off.  Our D should have had more stops but they did not attack when they should have.  Same bend but don’t break poop.  We’re lucky we did not lose by a field goal because OSU moved the ball well enough for a lot of field goals.  ASU and Stanford will be much tougher.

    • bumpiee

      I have been down on Tedford for some time.    When I see a 3rd and 7 situation inside the red zone, you can predict where he will throw.   Not hard to figure out.  On offense, doesn’t seems like he adjusts the gameplan at halftime like he used to do.    I believe he has a system that he sticks to because it works, but that was in the past until every coach in the Pac 12 figured out his plan.      He is past his prime, in my opinion.   Change is needed with a high quality coach and attraction like Mike Riley or many others.    Get a name coach.   Go big time.   Let’s go after more of those 4 and 5 star recruits.  

      • Anonymous

        I couldn’t agree more.  My disgust with Tedford began during the Longshore era when we played UCLA in the Rose Bowl (I believe it was 2007).  We were driving to score to take the lead and finish the game.  Longshore got picked.  The UCLA corner (his name escapes me) said he seen that play on tape many times and he was able to get a jump on the ball.  I believe that was the year we had a melt down.

        He stubbornly clings on to offensive coordinators who embraces his philosophy and his play book.  He never considered talking to Norman Chow (who, by the way, is doing a fair job with Utah) when he was available.  At least Norm reinvents himself every few years.

        Old sayings are also known as wise sayings.  Here’s one for you:  If you can’t beat them, join them.  Has he ever thought about hiring a USC assistant offensive coordinator?  Even Harbaugh was smart enough to tap into Walsh’s playbook.

      • loverpoint

        I agree with you guys 100%. Tedfords personality is as dull as his playbook. I think Jeff is still scratching his head and wondering “I wonder why the 49ers took Harbaugh over me? Look at all the Mediocre Bowl wins I have. Tedford is definitely clueless. When fans can spot the problems of Cal’s offense and defensive coordinators a year or two before Tedford figures it out, you know your team is in trouble.