TEMPE, Ariz. — Now that’s the way to end the regular season. Not walking out with a wet whimper against Washington last year, or getting helplessly hounded by the Huskies in 2009.
No, this season’s Cal team finished off the regular season with a bang — 484 total yards of offense in a back-and-forth battle at Sun Devil Stadium on Friday night. The 2011 Bears did not let the fatigue — both in their hearts and their bones — of last week’s hard-fought Big Game loss disrupt their play against Arizona State.
Head coach Jeff Tedford said the offense put “a complete game together,” and his assessment could not be more spot on. Cal gained 247 yards on the ground and 237 in the air. More importantly though, the team scored 47 points, enough to gut out a victory over the faltering yet talented Sun Devils.
These are the days of miracle and wonder for Cal’s offense. On Friday, the Bears scored 47 points. Last year, they scored 40 points — in their final three games. Now it’s 100-yard game after 100-yard game for Isi Sofele, who has surpassed Shane Vereen’s 2010 total by 99 yards. It’s consistency and efficiency from Zach Maynard. Yes, top target Keenan Allen has not gone off in awhile, but Friday night it was C.J. Anderson who got the long distance call on his 74-yard touchdown run. He only gained 48 yards on the ground, but he rushed for two, giving him three for the game, Cal’s first player to score three touchdowns in a game this season.
Sofele and Anderson powered the offense the previous two games, but their prowess left the Bay Area and swept across the desert. They have become a dynamic combination, a legitimate one-two punch as Anderson calls it.
“You know, with Isi, with the shakes and the wiggles he has and me being a bruiser, I wear the defense down, he just runs around the corner like he always does,” Anderson said after the game.
Not quite Bush-White, but hey, they are getting the job done and all the wins count. Most of all, they are getting better. Sofele said he has found his “groove,” and Anderson said he is out of his middle-of-the-season “slump.” The two backs are juniors. With the lengths of improvement seen this season, what can we expect for next year?
Well, more road wins for one. Friday night’s battle between two 6-5 teams did not exactly scream importance, but Cal was able to finally close out the regular season with a win — a road win no less, the Bears’ first in conference play. With the recent slumping of several Pac-12 schools, Cal’s bowl options appear a little brighter.
Remember September? Bowl eligibility seemed as far away as a distant constellation back at the onset of the Pac-12 season, which the Bears started 0-3. Offensive production tapered off after the Colorado win: The run game was inconsistent, and Maynard was forced to throw, often aiming for Allen but frequently hitting the opposing team.
Now Cal has won three of its last four. The last time Maynard threw an interception was the first quarter of the Oregon State game back on Nov. 12. That was more than 171 minutes ago.
Sixty minutes, however, remain in Cal’s 2011 campaign. Even if the Bears get run out of town — be it San Diego or Las Vegas or San Francisco — Friday’s regular-season ending performance will have been woven indelibly into the hearts and minds and souls of Cal fans everywhere.
The Bears did not give Memorial a proper send-off last year. All signs point to them giving it a rousing return next fall.