BERKELEY, Calif. – When UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley’s pass was caught in the end zone in the final minute of the first half Saturday evening, it was all because of recognition of an adjustment the redshirt freshman made at the line.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, it was California cornerback Kameron Jackson that picked up on the hand signal, not receiver Shaquelle Evans, who gave up on the route, allowing Jackson to come down with the first of his three interceptions.
“The signal usually means it’s mainly going to be a fade, but I guess they miscommunicated with each other and the ball went straight to me,” Jackson said Saturday night.
“Coach (Ashley) Ambrose and (defensive coordinator Clancy) Pendergast and coach (Kenwick) Thompson, they did a great job of figuring out little things that were going to help us in this game,” safety Avery Sebastian added Sunday afternoon. “That was one thing Kameron was able to pick up on, and right when they did it, he was able to make a play on the ball. He came out there ready to play.”
It was preparation during the week that saved the Bears at least three points headed into the locker room, setting the stage for a dominant second half and a 43-17 rout of UCLA, the result of what players universally hailed as their best week of practice this season.
“Last week, our biggest thing is we had great practices all week, like really good practices,” center Brian Schwenke said. “Everybody was focused and doing what they needed to do. There were mistakes made, but those mistakes were fixed within practice.
“We need to do the same thing this week and we’ll be alright.”
There is still plenty to work on, and head coach Jeff Tedford made sure to remind them of specific deficiencies. Even in the win, Cal committed three turnovers, had two extra points blocked, and was penalized 11 times for 100 yards.
“We have to be mature enough and smart enough to understand the focus and attention to detail and work ethic that it takes because really it is about us, not so much on our opponent,” Tedford said.
Said Schwenke: “We didn’t play a perfect game against UCLA, far from it, but the fact we stayed focused and kept executing our assignments paid dividends. That’s what we need to do at Washington State.”
Still, there was plenty to be proud of, with a resurgent and balanced offense that was able to capitalize on six takeaways by the defense by turning them into 27 points. C.J. Anderson rushed for a career-high 151 yards and one touchdown, while catching another. The offensive line allowed only three sacks, tremendous progress after allowing 20 in the preceding three games. Jackson, now tied for sixth in the Pac-12 and 20th nationally after his three-pick performance, helped cause another by deflecting a pass that was intercepted by safety Michael Lowe. Nose guard Kendrick Payne had two of the defense’s five sacks.
It was, in short, the kind of performance Cal knew it was capable of, the reason it was able to keep the faith while posting a dismal 1-4 in September.
“When you put yourself in position to make good plays it makes a lot of things easier,” Anderson said. “It’s always something that Cal beats Cal. It’s never them out-physicalling us or outsmarting us.”
But it never hurts to have a little luck along the way. Asked if Jackson would have been playing if starter Marc Anthony had not aggravated a knee injury that happened late in the loss to Arizona State the week before, Tedford admitted, “Probably not.
“Marc is the starter. Marc has been there and done a good job for a long time, but it gives you a lot of confidence to know that if Marc is slowed up or hampered by something you have a lot of confidence in Kameron to go play.”
Jackson had received additional reps throughout the week in practice because of Anthony’s injury, and was able to put himself in position to makes those plays.
“Just because you are in position doesn’t mean you are going to make the play,” Tedford said. “How many times have you seen a guy jump early and the ball goes over his head. Those are great interceptions because they weren’t gimmes. They weren’t hitting him in the chest. He was catching those things at the high point and really challenging for the ball.”
Now the challenge is to do it again, come through with another great week of practice and see the results on game day.
“I think a big part of it is wanting to practice,” Schwenke said. “We get up here early, most people are up by 5:30 to head over here. People are beat up and sore in the morning.
“You can go out there and kind of just get through it, or you can go out there to really accomplish something. Everybody knows that, so I think it helps when people see what happens when we practice well.”
Grateful For The Support
Players were extremely appreciative for the backing from the fans Saturday night at Memorial Stadium, with Schwenke calling it “probably one of the better experiences I’ve had at Cal.
“It was awesome,” he said. “You could just feel the emotions in the stadium. Seeing those UCLA fans leave, that was nice. I really enjoyed it.”
Tedford did not immediately know if Anthony would be available to play this week.
Outside linebacker Chris McCain was fine after being shaken up late in the fourth quarter, Tedford said. It has become seemingly a weekly occurrence that the sophomore has to be helped off the field, which Tedford attributed to his aggressive approach to the game.
“He plays really hard and very reckless, so there are times where he leaves it all out there and is going to get banged up or need a blow because of how hard he plays,” Tedford said. “As he came off, he said, ‘I’ll be ready.’ He’s a warrior.”
Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.