The California Bears have some positive momentum to build from -- finally. No disrespect to Southern Utah, but that wasn't exactly a slap-yourself-on-the-back-win for the Bears.
But a win over a ranked UCLA team -- that could go a long way toward restoring a bit of confidence to a team that sorely needed it.
"We talked about really using adversity as an opportunity to do something," said Cal coach Jeff Tedford. "It was great to see the team play like they did and their excitement throughout the game and after the game. It's been three weeks of playing three tough, hard-fought games and not coming out on the right side of the scoreboard. It was great to have some success and see the joy and fun that goes into a win. But also understanding that it can't be a one-night stand. We're back to work and focused and attention to detail and all of the things we've been preaching and doing."
With their 43-17 win last week over the Bruins, the Bears could be on their way to salvaging their season. Quarterback Zach Maynard had one of the best games of his career, the running game came alive and the defense forced six turnovers. Now they visit Pullman, Wash., to face a 2-4 Cougars squad that has had some troubles of its own. A victory would bring the Bears to 3-4, setting up a crucial matchup with rival Stanford that could very well determine Cal's postseason fate.
There are still some issues, as you'd expect from a 2-4 team. The Bears are still allowing too many third-down conversions on defense and one good offensive performance doesn't mean they'll continue to be this efficient. But it's a much-needed step in the right direction. Part of the success can be attributed to a healthy Richard Rodgers. The tight end had a monster game against the Bruins, catching seven balls for 129 yards. You combine his underneath play with the stretch-the-field ability of Keenan Allen (eight catches, 79 yards, two touchdowns) and you have more dimensions to an offense that is at its most efficient when the entire field is in play.
Rodgers' play opened up the running game for C.J. Anderson (21 carries, 151 yards, one touchdown) and the defense was able to snag six turnovers to get the ball back. It was a complete team effort -- something the Bears had been missing.
"It's a team game and everybody has to do their job," Tedford said. "[Maynard] had a great game against Ohio State and he played real well against UCLA, but it's about catching the ball. It's about pass protection. It's all of it. Not getting penalties and [ending up] in long situations. He was very consistent and made good decisions. He didn't force the football. That's what we're looking for out of him. But he has to have some help to enable him to play consistently -- an effective run game, pass protection, catching footballs, the whole bit.
"... [Rodgers] is still not 100 percent. To have him back in the game and be able to contribute, it definitely gives you another phase of your offense. It was nice to see him do some of the things we thought he has the potential to do."
Up in Pullman, the Cougars have dropped two straight and head coach Mike Leach is making news after his now infamous "empty corpses" remark.
For the second time this season, Washington State failed to score a touchdown. Quarterback Connor Halliday was intercepted three times and Jeff Tuel was picked off once in a 19-6 loss to Oregon State.
The transition to the Air Raid hasn't happened as quickly as Leach would have hoped. The Cougars lead the conference in interceptions thrown and though they average 312 yards in the air per game (third behind Arizona and Oregon State), they are eighth in passing efficiency.
"You always want as much as possible as early as possible," Leach said. "I knew we were going to have to play a lot of young guys. I knew there were going to be a lot of new faces that hadn't played ... I knew it was going to be a work in progress. We just have to continue to work to get better."