“We needed guys to compete hard,” said head coach Jeff Tedford. “They didn't want to end at the half. They wanted to get out and keep fighting.”
That attitude resulted in the offense finally moving the ball and scoring points. That pride resulted in the defense keeping an always-potent USC offense out of the end zone.
Despite the game already being decided, and despite the fans, players, and coaches all probably with second thoughts about the state of their team, the Bears did what they thought needed to be done if the second half of the season is to be more successful than the first half.
Never mind USC, Tedford and his players made the second halves about themselves. Their deficiencies, their expectations, and their pride – all was on the line in defeat. However, there are six more games to leave their mark, six more chances to end 9-3.
“What we've talked about is we're halfway through the season and we're 3-3,” Tedford said. “We take one game at a time and put our heart and soul into everything we do for each week and lay it on the line. Prepare, focus, and take one game at time. You can't look at the big picture and start to worry about things like that. It's about focus and preparation for this week, that's all that matters.”
The focus and preparation this week means a home date with the Arizona State Sun Devils (3-3, 1-2). Don't be fooled by Arizona State's record: their losses include a 1-point loss on the road to then No. 11 ranked Wisconsin, a three-point road loss to Oregon State, and a tough 42-31 loss to No. 1 Oregon – Oregon's closest game of the year. Also on the resume is an impressive road win at Washington, who had already beaten USC on the road.
Arizona State is lead by their junior quarterback Steven Threet, a transfer from Michigan who has taken the reigns of the offense. Through Threet's arm, the Sun Devils are averaging 299 passing yards per contest – good for 15th in the nation. It is quite apparent that the Bears, in their attempt to rebound from USC's air attack, will have another major test on their hands. A performance like last week and the Bears could find themselves with their first home loss of the season.
Senior safety Chris Conte – coming off a career high 14 tackles in last week's loss – says that their matchup with Threet and Arizona State will be all about – you guessed it – themselves.
“I can speak for the defense, but I think [there will be] a lot tougher coaching this week,” said Conte. “This week we're going to really get back to that and focus on just everyone's fundamentals, their responsibilities and what they have in each coverage and really just be on top of that and play good assignment football again.”
The best way for the California defense to right momentum and get back on track is by forcing turnovers. By the looks of it, the secondary will have their chances to turn momentum. Threet, despite piling up yards, has also thrown 11 interceptions on the year. The Bears have managed five interceptions, including one touchdown.
The Cal offense will be dealing with a veteran Arizona State defense that ranks 51st nationally in points allowed. However, it is more than apparent that Tedford will have a keen eye on the Sun Devils' stud middle linebacker, sophomore Vontaze Burfict.
“He's a guy you have to make sure you keep your eye on, no question about it,” said Tedford. “He's a great football player and he runs around, he's big, he's physical, very athletic.”
Despite Burfict's presence, the offense will look to continue moving the ball in ways similar to the second half at USC. In order for that to happen, the Bears know that the onus is on themselves to make it happen.
Much like it will be on themselves to improve and finish the 2010 season strong.
“We're going to work hard every day, to do the best we possibly can,” said Tedford. “We can work hard, we can try to put the players in position to make plays and then players have to step up and make plays, and we have to stick together and compete, every down, one week at a time...we're not going to give up...we're going to fight as hard as we can to play our best each and every week.”
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