For the second week in a row, the Cal football team spent the days leading up to Saturday saying how prepared it felt and how strong it would play out of the gates.
And for the second week in a row, all that pregame rhetoric didn’t hold true.
Despite giving the new Memorial Stadium its first win and gracing its fans with the first home win since October 2010, Cal (1-1) came out flat and gave an underwhelming effort in a 50-31 win over Southern Utah.
“We can’t continue to do that and expect to win close games,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “We are making positive plays, but shooting ourselves in the foot with penalties.”
The offense continued to have a plethora of problems stringing together plays and finishing off drives. After sputtering on its first two possessions of the game, wide receiver Chris Harper took a screen pass 56 yards into the end zone — only to have it called back due to one of Cal’s 11 penalties on the day. The Bears called the same play again, and Maynard tossed the ball into the welcoming hands of Southern Utah’s James Cowser.
Cal fared even worse on its next possession, as Harper took the same screen pass for 17 yards to Cal’s 30 but fumbled, spoiling an otherwise impressive outing for the freshman. The turnover primed Southern Utah for a successful 40-yard field goal.
At the end of the first quarter, Cal was losing 3-0 to an FCS opponent.
“We were beating ourselves,” wide receiver Keenan Allen said. “It’s definitely fixable. We just need to come out and make it happen on the field.”
The Bears started to come out of hibernation in the second quarter but still couldn’t find the end zone. On a third and goal from the 2, Maynard sailed a pass well over the head of fullback Eric Stevens, eliciting boos from the crowd and a shouting match with coach Jeff Tedford. Three minutes later, running back C.J. Anderson finally found paydirt, giving Cal its first lead of the game at 10-3 six minutes into the second quarter.
But Southern Utah refused to die. Trailing 20-3 with six seconds left in the half, quarterback Brad Sorensen heaved up a Hail Mary from his 48-yard line and was rewarded with a blatant pass interference call on cornerback Steve Williams. On an untimed play from Cal’s 37 he did the same, and the ball fell into the hands of wide receiver Cameron Morgan after being tipped by 3 Cal defenders.
“It was a lack of technique on our part,” said cornerback Marc Anthony. “We practice that play every friday. We just need to make sure we bat the ball down.”
The Thunderbirds kept that momentum going into the third quarter, putting together an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive and pulling within 3 points of a BCS team. Sorenson continued to show why he’s an NFL prospect, throwing for 292 yards and 4 scores.
Cal then began to realize who it was playing, and things started to click. Maynard first connected with Keenan Allen for a 19-yard touchdown, and Marc Anthony killed a Thunderbird drive with a 60-yard pick 6 that put the Bears up, 34-17.
The wheels came off for Southern Utah. After muffing a 50-yard punt, Allen picked ball back up and reversed field, scampering for a 69-yard touchdown — and channeling shades of Desean Jackson — to put the game out of reach at 44-17. But even a 30 point fourth quarter by the Bears couldn’t erase the glaring ineptitude of the early goings.
“We just need to execute,” Harper said. “We need to come to practice and run every play hard. We have no time to slack off.”
Connor Byrne covers football. Contact him at email@example.com