Checking for problems in the Cal engine

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LOS ANGELES — It’s becoming as predictable as a Mitt Romney gaffe.

For the ninth consecutive year, the Bears were outmatched and outplayed by USC. Cal failed to shift their their car out of first gear, ultimately falling to the Trojans 27-9.

The Cal offense resembles a 2011 BMW 740i with a crappy engine. Look at the exterior features, and it’s a luxury car. The wheels are top of the line, the paint job is sharp, and the physical shape of the vehicle just looks luxurious.

But a look under the hood reveals some flaws with the engine. I don’t know enough about cars to make this metaphor specific enough, but the point is that despite its luxurious exterior the car still performs like a 1989 Honda Civic or something.

The shoddy engine represents the Cal offensive line. The unit was compromised all afternoon by the Trojan front seven. The depth-challenged grouping of Tyler Rigsbee, Jordan Rigsbee, Brian Schwenke, Chris Adcock, and Bill Tyndall failed to establish any push in the run game.

“It depends on the line,” Keenan Allen said.

Zach Maynard spent most of the afternoon running away from defensive linemen instead of finding open receivers. USC’s defensive line totaled seven sacks and found themselves stopping almost every designed run for little or no gain.

The Bears’ skill position players certainly rank among the best in the conference. The Keenan Allen factor does not need to be elaborated on any further. Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper, although quiet in this game, have established themselves as reliable and above-average targets. And the emergence of Brandon Bigelow as possibly the best running back on the squad cannot be ignored.

But none of these skill-position guys can, as Jeff Tedford so eloquently insists after every post-game press conference, make plays if the offensive line is letting linemen through like they’re knocking on their front door.

Maynard was visibly upset at the play of the offensive line; it looked like he was screaming at them during the final moments. Both Allen and Maynard lamented the subpar performance by the blockers after the game.

It’s hard to depend on a line whose supposed core members can only watch in dismay as the offense stagnantly operates. Senior right guard Dominic Galas suffered a torn pectoral in the preseason and has yet to play a game. Senior right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin missed the past two games with a minor injury.

Both were expected to carry the offensive line this season as experienced and returning starters. Instead, two untested and unproven underclassmen — Chris Adcock and Bill Tyndall — fill their spots.

For Cal to have a shot at playing in the postseason, the line must drastically improve. If the running backs have no holes to run through and Maynard doesn’t have any time to go through his reads, it doesn’t matter if there’s two or three potential first-round picks available as weapons.

It’s no time to start yelling for the Bears to throw the season away and burn Zach Kline’s redshirt. There’s simply too much talent on this current squad to just toss the season away like a used condom. The secondary held two of the best receivers in college football in check, preventing both Robert Woods and Marqise Lee from hurting the defense with a big play. The defensive line couldn’t stop the run game this week, but they proved against Ohio State that they are capable of competence.

But, like Allen said, it all depends on the line. The Bears are 1-3. If they can do some serious work under the hood, a quality car might emerge. But if the offensive line keeps playing the way it did on Saturday, it’ll probably just be left on the side of the freeway, waiting for a tow truck to drag it back to the dump.

Michael Rosen covers football. Contact him at [email protected]