Before the season, it seemed laughable that the Cal football team would schedule an FCS opponent for one of its 12 games.
Now it almost seems necessary.
The Bears (0-1) will return to Memorial Saturday at noon to square off with Southern Utah looking to exorcise some demons from last Saturday’s embarrassing 31-24 loss to Nevada.
“There’s no feeling sorry for ourselves — no looking backwards,” said coach Jeff Tedford said. “We’re pissed and we’re upset, but we need to understand why and then improve on those things.”
Since Tedford came to Cal, the Bears have never lost to an FCS team, going 5-0 and outscoring their opponents 257-41. And since 2002, Cal has never needed to face one of those teams so badly.
Hailing from the Big Sky conference, Southern Utah (0-1) looks to be this year’s version of Presbyterian. The Thunderbirds are a team that went 6-5 in a weak conference last season and were blown out last week 34-3 by Utah State.
Despite a handful of talented players — including senior quarterback Brad Sorensen, who threw for more than 3,000 yards last year and is considered by scouts as a potential NFL prospect — Southern Utah is nothing more than a sacrificial lamb about to be overcome by a tidal wave of pent-up frustration.
“After the loss last week, it doesn’t matter who we’re going to play — everyone is going to come out and play,” said center Brian Schwenke. “It may help to keep that loss in our minds.”
If nothing else, Cal’s performance this Saturday almost has to be an improvement from a week ago — as it’s hard to imagine the Bears playing any worse.
Cal was outplayed in almost every facet of the game by Nevada. The offense never managed to get into a rhythm despite playing an undersized defense, and
Cal’s defense was held hostage yet again by the pistol offense scheme, allowing the Wolf Pack to run a whopping 98 plays.
But what might have been most shocking about the Bears’ performance was the complete lack of a run game — a perceived strength of the team.
“We like to run the ball, and we really have the tools to do that,” Schwenke said. “We were not exactly attacking like we were supposed to. It was kind of a good wake-up call for us.”
While senior CJ Anderson took the bulk of the carries last Saturday with 14, Isi Sofele — who rushed for 1,322 yards in 2011 — will likely see more touches this time around. The senior only carried the ball five times Saturday for a measly 22 yards.
What doesn’t bode well for a turnaround Cal ground attack is the uncertainty surrounding tackle Matt Summers-Gavin. The senior sustained a knee injury on Saturday, and the team has yet to announce his MRI results. If he can’t play, junior walk-on Bill Tyndall will get the nod, adding even more inexperience to a unit that already starts two freshmen.
“Overall I think we were pretty happy with how we played as an offensive line,” Schwenke said. “But we do need to get better.”
That last part rings true for more than just the offensive line.
Cal will get another shot at improvement this weekend, looking to christen the renovated Memorial Stadium with its first win in Berkeley since October of 2010.
“I think we’ll be fine,” said cornerback Steve Williams. “We should definitely run over these guys and come out with a victory.”
That seemed to be the pregame rhetoric a week ago as well. This time, however, it should actually hold true.