A perplexing Cal season became more puzzling with the Bears' 35-7 loss to Oregon State on Saturday in Corvallis, Ore.
Not only did Cal continue its pattern of playing poorly on the road after being outstanding at home, but the Bears also lost Kevin Riley, the only player who has received meaningful playing time at quarterback the past two seasons.
Riley sustained a knee injury in the first quarter and probably will miss the rest of the season. He will certainly miss the Bears' Nov. 6 game at Washington State, which means inexperienced Brock Mansion will be the Bears' quarterback when Cal tries to end its road problems.
The disparity between Cal's effectiveness at home and on the road is as inexplicable as it is vast. The Bears are 4-0 at home, with all four wins coming by lopsided margins, including the 50-17 victory over Arizona State on Oct. 23. But Cal is 0-4 on the road, and it has been blown out three times. That includes the loss to Oregon State, which totally dominated the first half while building a 28-0 halftime lead.
"We really couldn't stop them for most of the game," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said.
Although the Cal offense has struggled on the road, it is the Bears' defense that defies explanation. The Bears have been outstanding on defense at home. Cal's defense has not yielded more than seven points in any home game, and it gave up just three points against Arizona State, which scored its two touchdowns on a fumble return and a blocked punt.
But on the road, the Bears' defense has been almost non-existent. Cal's defense did play well in a 10-9 road loss to Arizona, but Nevada, USC and Oregon State marched through the Cal defense almost unopposed in the first half of those three games. USC rolled up 42 first-half points, and Oregon State scored 28 points while collecting 16 first downs and 256 yards over the first two quarters.
Cal focused its defensive attention on Oregon State tailback Jacquizz Rodgers, but Rodgers rushed for 119 yards, more than half of which came in the first quarter, and he also threw a touchdown pass.
Washington State's offense is the weakest in the Pac-10, but the Bears' defensive problems on the road suggest even the Cougars and quarterback Jeff Tuel may have offensive success against them.
And the Cal offense is a bigger question mark. Mansion had attempted one pass -- an incompletion -- before the Oregon State game, and he had not completed a pass since 2008.
Mansion performed adequately against Oregon State, completing 14 of 24 passes. His success in the closing minutes, when he was 6-for-6 on Cal's final possession that produced a touchdown, may provide him with some confidence, although it came well after the game had been decided and with Oregon State's defense no longer applying pressure.
Cal may rely more heavily on its running game against the Cougars, but tailback Shane Vereen managed just 53 rushing yards on 12 carries against the Beavers.
NOTES & QUOTES
Through eight games, Cal has outscored its opponents 189-34 at home, and the defense has yielded just 20 of those points at home. Cal has been outscored 145-61 on the road, and three of the road foes have scored 35 points or more. Cal had yielded 97 first-half points on the road.
Cal was penalized 103 yards against Oregon State, and that does not include two other penalties that were declined and would have cost the Bears 20 more yards. Even Cal coach Jeff Tedford was hit with a 15-yard penalty in the first half for arguing with officials.
Cal, which is 4-4 after its Oct. 30 loss to Oregon State, must win at least two of its final four games to earn a bowl berth for the eighth straight season. The Bears also need two wins to avoid their first losing season since Tedford became head coach prior to the 2002 season.
GAME BALL GOES TO: WR Keenan Allen -- Allen had 171 all-purpose yards, including 65 yards on eight receptions. It was the second straight game in which the freshman produced pretty good numbers. But Allen also fumbled the ball away in the second quarter, and a lot of his all-purpose yardage came because he returned so many kickoffs. Nobody really deserved a game ball.
KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Brock Mansion -- Mansion had been the third-string quarterback most of the season, and he just surpassed Beau Sweeney for the backup spot in the week leading up to the Oct. 23 game against Arizona State. Mansion has the tools. A smart player who has a good arm, Mansion had decent numbers (14-for-24, no interceptions) against Oregon State in the first meaningful playing time of his career. He may be the Bears' quarterback the rest of the season, and the Bears' chances of getting into a bowl for the eighth straight season rest with him. If he plays well the rest of the season, he could secure the starting quarterback spot for next year.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It looked like we never practiced with noise before." -- Cal coach Jeff Tedford, on the Bears' execution and penalty problems in front of Oregon State's crowd.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Punter Bryan Anger and the Bears' punt coverage team. Anger was not great, but he did average 43.5 yards on his eight punts, including a 61-yarder. Oregon State returned only one of those punts, for a total of 5 yards, so the punt coverage was good, too. The punting team won this award by default.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Everything needs work, but the one thing Cal must do is stay out of difficult down-and-distance situations while having bad field position on offense. On nearly every first-half possession against USC and Oregon State, the Bears found themselves deep in their own territory facing third down with more than 10 yards to go. The offensive rhythm Cal developed at home never developed in the Bears' road games. That will be particularly important with a different, inexperienced quarterback in charge of the Cal offense for the immediate future and perhaps for the rest of the season.
QB Kevin Riley was injured when he took a hit after releasing a pass that went for a 32-yard completion. He was taken to the hospital for X-rays, and the initial reports were that he had a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee. That probably means he is out for the remainder of the season, but nothing conclusive had been reported as of Oct. 31.
NT Derrick Hill injured his shoulder and missed most of the game against Oregon State. His status for the Nov. 6 game at Washington State is uncertain.
TB Shane Vereen had his streak of catching at least one pass in a game halted. After catching a pass in all 34 college games in which he had played, he did not have a reception against Oregon State.