Cal football needs to play like it has nothing to lose

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In my 16 or so years of following Cal football, I can’t ever remember feeling this apathetic about a Big Game.

And I don’t think my sentiment is unique. With Cal sitting at 1-10 and set to bring its surprisingly pedestrian offense, accompanied by the worst statistical defense in school history, to Palo Alto to face off with a bigger, stronger and deeper Stanford team, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone with any legitimate expectations heading into Saturday’s contest.

In all likelihood, Cal is going to lose, and lose badly at that.

While Stanford will be fighting to improve its resume in hopes snagging the last BCS at-large berth, the Cal football team has absolutely nothing to play for — save pride. But that also means it has nothing to lose.

So for the first time this season, Cal needs to play like it.

On offense, the Bears need to start taking risks. Despite the team’s insistence on them, quick screens and underneath passes haven’t been at all effective this year, which is a fact that isn’t going to magically change Saturday. The Bears don’t seem to understand how to utilize downfield blocking, which has made their penchant for short passes and screens an exercise in futility. Instead, Cal needs to throw the ball downfield and let its trio of wide receivers — the clear strength of the team — have a shot at making some plays.

If it doesn’t work out, who cares? You were likely going to lose anyway. At least try to make it fun to watch.

The defense is likely going to give up more than 40 points. That might seem like an overly pessimistic number to throw out, but when you consider the squad has held only three opponents to less than that amount — and none under the 30-point mark — it seems pretty safe.

The straight-ahead 4-3 has not worked, and it will continue not to work. So change it up. Blitz every down. Send safeties and corners on every play. Do something crazy.

It’ll probably lead to a handful of big plays and another lopsided final score. But so will the business-as-usual game plan. So take a few risks just to see what happens.

Jeff Tedford’s biggest crime in his final years at Cal wasn’t that he started losing games or failed to graduate his players. It was that his teams became boring and painful to watch.

Sonny Dykes’ team has done the same in the past few weeks, relying on overly safe and boring offensive plays while showing an unwillingness to take any sort of risks on defense.

His team is going to lose Saturday, and it’s going to lose badly. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be boring.

When Dykes came to Cal, he seemed to pride himself on being an offensive mastermind whose offense would constantly be exciting and efficient. It’s been neither in 2013.

He has one more chance to change the perception of how his opening season will be viewed. And while it seems like that last hurrah will be a loss, it doesn’t have to be a boring one. For his sake, it can’t be.

Connor Byrne covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ctbyrne91.