Wake me up when September ends

Jonathan Kuperberg

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Just this year, just this once, September should have 28 days.

It would be so much more simple if Saturday was the first of October and not the 29th of September. Because September has not gone so well for the Cal football team.

The Bears opened the season — and their newly renovated stadium — with a last-minute loss to Nevada. The next week, they led FCS club Southern Utah by just three points before a fourth quarter scoring barrage that resulted in a win. A few mistakes amounted to a near-upset of Ohio State the next Saturday. A few more mistakes led to a ninth-straight loss to USC this past Saturday.

So with a 1-3 record, the Bears need to start anew. They need a fresh start. That new month would do the trick.

It would have been foolish to predict Cal would have a winning record through four games, not when the latter two were consecutive road games at Ohio State and USC — perhaps as difficult a back-to-back as there is in football. September was never going to be one to remember, not with that schedule.

But let’s round up and call it October now. With the new month might come crisp autumn winds to cool a heated fan base, the head coach’s hot seat and the glowing embers of a red zone Cal has been unable to master (just six touchdowns in 15 trips).

The Bears have eight games left this regular season. Other than the Oct. 20 Big Game, November holds what appears to be the other three most challenging matchups: visits from Washington and No. 2 Oregon and a trip to No. 18 Oregon State.

That leaves October — which, remember, for our purposes, starts on Saturday — for Cal to make up for its slow start. It begins with Arizona State, a quality opponent but certainly a winnable game. On deck is UCLA, another team brimming with talent yet inconsistent and unproven on the road. Mind you, neither of those teams has beaten the Bears at home in the Jeff Tedford era. Then Cal heads to Pullman to take on Washington State, a squad that last defeated the Bears in 2002.

There is no reason Cal can’t win three in a row and enter the Big Game with a winning record. Add another “W” for the Utah game — the Utes’ starting quarterback retired from football and the squad lost to the Bears by 24 points last season — and suddenly we’re looking at Cal team that could be 5-4 — or dare I say 6-3 — entering November.

Except there are a lot of reasons why Cal might not win its next three games in a row. The Bears have shown flashes of brilliances — see minutes 5 through 56 of the Ohio State game — before fizzling. “We have good drives or quarters, but sometimes we fall apart,” said cornerback Steve Williams. “We just got to hold through the whole game.”

Easier said than done.

For all Zach Maynard’s inconsistencies (four touchdowns passes, four interceptions on the season), the senior quarterback has not always received a lot of help. His offensive line gave up nine sacks against USC, while his run game gained just 77 yards.

“It’s not just quarterback play,” Tedford said. “He’s not perfect by any means, but he’s played under heavy duress the last couple games … It’s on everyone.”

It starts with the opening whistle. Cal is getting outscored 37-7 in first quarters this season, putting the Bears in holes they have only once been able to dig themselves out of.

Then again, Cal is crushing opponents, 40-7, in third quarters. For all the criticism Tedford and company have received on Twitter, blogs and Tightwad Hill, the squad has clearly made mid-game adjustments that have turned the tide in all four games.

Now, like Williams said, the Bears just need to put it together for 60 minutes.

They’ll have an extra two days this October.

Jonathan Kuperberg covers football. Contact him at [email protected]