Someone should give Jeff Tedford a hug.
Regardless of the rumblings and rumors surrounding the Cal football team’s 1-4 start to the season, the battle-worn head coach is adamant that no one is more disenchanted than the players and coaches on the team.
That the Bears have been in contention in every fourth quarter this season but have yet to come away with a win over an FBS team is “miserable,” according to Tedford.
“There’s nothing worse,” he said. “But I’m not gonna sit in my office and cry about it or sit around and mope about it … There’s not a lot of happiness or joy around. But we gotta put that behind us.”
Cal (1-4, 0-2 in the Pac-12) has a chance to do just that Saturday at 7 p.m., when the program faces off with No. 25 UCLA at Memorial Stadium.
The Bruins (4-1, 1-1) embarrassed the Bears in last year’s matchup, a five-turnover, 17-point Cal loss. Since then, UCLA has hired a new head coach, Jim Mora, seized a top-25 ranking and given disillusioned fans in Westwood hope for the future. The squad has also discharged from its pistol offense, which has given the Bears so much trouble in the past.
But don’t think that will give Cal any advantage, because the Bruins’ new offense is even more lethal.
Running back Johnathan Franklin has burst onto the national scene in his senior campaign, ranking third in the country with 697 rushing yards. But it has been the play of quarterback Brett Hundley that has put UCLA in the national spotlight.
A redshirt freshman, Hundley has taken the reigns from the beleaguered Kevin Prince and put his stamp on the offense: 1,480 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, three interceptions.
“He manages the game well; he protects the ball,” said Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. “If it’s not there, he’s gonna get rid of it. He’s making really good decisions right now.”
Without the pistol, the Bruins’ offense is more balanced now in a spread formation.
According to Pendergast, the squad is equally adept at throwing or running on any down. And it all starts with Hundley, a dual threat who has no qualms with tucking the ball and running.
He has 165 rushing yards, 72 of which came on his first play of scrimmage this season.
While the quarterback position has been a sight for sore eyes for the UCLA faithful, it has caused Cal fans to simply cover their eyes of late.
Senior Zach Maynard has been sacked 22 times in the last three games, but it’s not as if he is accurate when he isn’t being tackled — in last week’s loss to Arizona State, Maynard completed just 9 of 28 passes.
Tedford does not put the blame solely on his signal-caller and offensive line.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” he said. “There’s six to seven guys that are responsible for protection. And then you can take everyone else as far as route running is concerned. There are such things as coverage sacks too … It’s not just one guy.”
But one guy can make a difference, just as a few plays can sway the outcome of a game.
Tedford said that spectators on Saturday will see more of Brendan Bigelow, the third-string running back who averages 20.6 yards a carry but did not touch the ball last week.
Just as important as the Bears’ physical play on the field, however, is their mentality going into the Homecoming contest.
“We talked about taking control and attacking this thing and not feeling sorry for ourselves, because that’s not gonna get anybody anywhere,” Tedford said. “We can’t let last week or the week before keep us with a hangover for this week.”
Otherwise, Cal fans will be the ones hungover come Sunday.
Jonathan Kuperberg covers football. Contact him at [email protected]