For Cal's defense – which has been hot-and-cold all year – they decided to show their 'good' side at the right time.
Facing No. 1 Oregon and their prolific spread offense, Cal was valiant.
Oregon came into Saturday's game averaging 54.7 points per game. Cal's defense only gave up seven points, which came on one 29-yard drive following a turnover.
Oregon came into Saturday's game averaging 567 yards per contest. Cal held Oregon to a season-low 317 yards on Saturday.
Oregon came into Saturday averaging a ridiculous 7.2 yards per play. On Saturday, the Ducks only managed only 3.8 yards per play.
"[The defense] played their hearts out," Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said.
"There is no question about it. To give up one touchdown against that offense...they played great. The defensive coaches had a great plan; the kids executed it. All week long, they sold out in the preparation. The belief and intensity going into the game was awesome."
On top of that, when the team needed points and needed a boost...well, the defense provided that, too.
With 9:11 left to go in the third quarter, and the Bears trailing by eight points and losing momentum, Oregon was looking to put in the figurative dagger.
Instead, the defense – and senior defensive lineman Derrick Hill in particular – came up big.
Hill, who has dealt with everything from apathy to gout throughout his career, forced his way into the backfield and managed to strip the ball from Oregon sophomore quarterback Darron Thomas. The ball traveled backwards into the end zone, where Hill chased after and managed to dive onto the ball for the touchdown. That play gave the Bears a chance to tie, along with all the momentum.
"[Defensive Coordinator Clancy Pendergast] put us in a situation where we were expecting pass," said Hill regarding the play. "We always practice strip drill mechanics with [Defensive Line coach Tosh Lupoi]. So, when the opportunity came, I took the best advantage of it."
"I would not expect the ball to come out as deep as it did. And then, when it came out, I was hoping the ball would slow down for me so that I could make it to the end zone and make sure that I was going to keep the ball in front of me."
For one moment, the Memorial Stadium crowd of 65,963 became loud, and the atmosphere was dynamic. The defense, which has faced its share of criticism all year, had given the Bears that chance to win, that chance to pull off the upset over a No. 1 team. Unfortunately, the Bears fell short.
"It is a shame," said Tedford. "It's a shame. I feel sick for the kids."
Sure, the offense struggled at points – quarterback Brock Mansion had a period of 11 straight in-completions. Sure, special teams struggled – giving up a punt return touchdown and junior kicker Giorgio Tavecchio missed the go-ahead field goal.
But the defense proved that, even with other units struggling, they give California a chance to win.
And with another top-10 team in Stanford coming to Berkeley next week for the Big Game, the Bears will likely depend on their defense to give them a chance next weekend.
Yes, Saturday was a loss. But next Saturday's game is just another opportunity.
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