Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cal Bears...ready for the Holiday Bowl?

This post is for my nephew, Danny, who is a junior at University of California-Berkeley (Cal). We’ve spent the past three years trash talking…more like him giving me a hard time…because I have been cheering for that college football team up the road apiece who wears cardinal (who shall remain nameless)…and not his team. And, given that it is his rival, he has every right to feel this way. Of course, for the record, I must just say that I own my share of Cal t-shirts, went to the Oregon-Cal game last season (Cal should’ve won that game) all decked out in my Cal gear and cheered for Cal, and one of my best memories over these past three years came in Danny’s freshman year. We both attended the Big Game (yes, it is actually called that), he was wearing blue, I was wearing that other color, and when his team won…Danny was so excited he, along with other Cal students, rushed the field. That definitely made the highlight reel. It was a great moment for any fan and I am happy that my nephew was able to experience that.

Zach Maynard
This season has been up and down for the Cal Bears. It was one of those seasons, that until you took a look back, you might not have noticed all the good things they did. (Especially, if you were paying attention to the best two-loss team in the country, Wisconsin!)

The low point for Cal was a loss to UCLA, when their junior quarterback Zach Maynard threw four interceptions. A combination of things helped turn the season around for the Bears. Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo, who sat out last year, said he finally got his timing back and understood the speed of the game in the Pac-12. For him going back and refocusing, spending more time on film helped tremendously. Maynard only threw one interception in the final four games. In addition, the strategy changed a bit. A little more balanced attack, as their rushing yards increased from an average of 135 yards per game to 230 yards per game. Tailback Isi Sofele was the beneficiary of this change carrying the ball at least 21 times in each game and rushing for more than 100 yards in their three wins, including a career high 190 yards against Oregon St.

When Maynard is on, he can be explosive. He just needs just 168 yards in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl to surpass 3,000 yards passing this year. He will be one of only three quarterbacks in recent Cal history to do this. And, do you believe this? Aaron Rodgers is not one of the other QBs on the list! He missed the list in the 2003 season by a mere 97 yards. (The other two are: Pat Barnes in 1996 and Nate Longshore in 2006) Maynard’s favorite target is his brother, Keenan Allen, who has 89 receptions for 1,261 yards.

Keenan Allen
The matchup against Texas in the Holiday Bowl will be a close game. Both teams are 7-5. However, Cal won three out of their last four games and Texas lost three of out their last four. So, Cal has a little momentum coming into this game.

Although, most folks are favoring Texas…a little surprising. Yes, Texas Coach Mack Brown does have a good record in bowl games (8-4), but so does Cal Coach Jeff Tedford (5-2). The Longhorns faced some injuries at the end of the season, which could be one reason for their losing—that, and facing Baylor and Heisman trophy winner, Robert Griffin III. And, they still have not figured out their quarterback situation. It looks like they will be going with both Case McCoy and David Ash, as they have all year (each started five games). Starting two quarterbacks is never a good ingredient for winning.
While I usually don’t make predictions, I think if Maynard has truly turned the corner, and it looks like he has, Cal has a good shot at winning this game. I saw him play in the Big Game, their only loss in the last month of the season, and he looked good. He completed 20 of 29 passes, no interceptions, threw for two touchdowns and 280 yards. And, he just looked in rhythm. He looked completely different from the guy who was behind center during their three consecutive losses.

And, while Tedford is the winningest coach in Cal history, the real question is, if Cal falls behind, can they make the needed adjustments to overcome? This season I saw a lack of urgency from the team and coaches at the end of the Big Game. They just seemed to walk through the two-minute drill and didn’t quite seem to grasp that time was ticking away. When the game is on the line, will they step up?
Let’s hope they do. I’d like to see Cal head into their new Memorial Stadium with a nice finish to this season (Yes, we will finally be able to sit on full benches and not get splinters!).

And, who wants to see a Mack Brown team win, especially after his open lobbying to knock Cal out of the 2004 Rose Bowl.
Yes, Danny, I will be wearing blue tomorrow and cheering for the Bears. And, after Jan. 2, no more trash talking on the rivalry…so, what’s next?