So this is what it was like to be a Red Sox fan.
Pete Carroll goes home with the prom queen, Jeff Tedford has to dance with his sister. And we're starting to see a pattern here.
We hate to say it, but at 3 losses this season with Nate Longshore at quarterback is only one loss better than what Joe Ayoob was able to deliver last year. Granted, the Pac 10 is much improved this year--so evenly matched they've driven prognosticators and bookies nuts all season. And Cal's non-conference Div. 1A opponents Tennessee and Minnesota are a step above the New Mexico State and Illinois commitments of the non-Tedford era. But then again, the margin of victory in those four losses last year were much narrower than this year's humiliating defeats.
But the difference wasn't really at quarterback. Longshore has struggled in three of the last four games, but otherwise he has stretched the field in a way that Joe Ayoob never could. His erratic accuracy is nowhere near as devastating as was Ayoob's, and he's still more prone to killing drives than creating game-losing turnovers (there was really just that one against Arizona).
Last year's defense had Tim Mixon to compliment Daymeion Hughes on the corners, and the great Donnie McCleskey to seal up an awesome secondary. This year Syd'Quan Thompson got burned again and again at Tennessee, but has since grown into a respectable corner. He's no Mixon, and he has missed his share of easy tackles, but his youth hasn't been a factor in these last two losses. Daymeion Hughes, who is every bit worthy of his Thorpe Trophy hype, has given up more big plays than Thompson in the last four games. Anybody else notice that whenever Cal's defense coughs up a big play it's usually Hughes' assignment. The guy can cover the short game better than anyone at the college level, but he gets beat on those deep routes again and again and again. But he hasn't lost a game for Cal.
No, this year's losses came at the hands of the offensive line. The line has been consistently good against the pass rush and has protected Longshore effectively. However, they just aren't built for the running game. Marshawn Lynch may lead the Pac 10 in rushing yards, but for every superhuman run he breaks, he gets stuffed behind the line another four. That weak line also accounts for how impotent Justin Forsett has been this year. Ultimately, the Bears' inability to convert short yardage into either 1st downs or TD's is the difference between the BCS and the Holiday Bowl.
And that Spreadford is questionable. It's nice that Tedford is trying to evolve his offense, but he isn't matching his onfield talent with his new spread formations. Cal's receivers are fast, but they're also small. They provide no extra dimension to a running play out of the spread other than as a diversion. In fact, Lavelle Hawkins' inept blocking has cost at least one Cal touchdown that could have prevented a loss. And with an immobile quarterback like Longshore, there is no running quarterback threat. Why doesn't Tedford send in Ayoob for a couple of option plays just to unnerve the defenses--just make sure he doesn't try to pass.
As much as Tedford has improved a languishing Cal football program, he clearly isn't ready yet to take them to the next level. The Rose Bowl will continue to elude the Golden Bears until their coach is able to adjust to the opponents he is playing and the players he is fielding.
Also, it's worth mentioning that instant replay has killed Cal in their last two losses. That DeSean Jackson tip-toe touchdown against Arizona was not called back by the onfield zebras. Against USC, Marshawn Lynch ran 50 yards for a touchdown after the onfield officials didn't see his knee go down. But the game started out with Mickey Pimentel picking up a fumble and running for a TD, until those booth killjoys called it back as an incomplete pass. Think Pete Carroll really wants to eliminate the instant replay?