In his last regular season game as a Golden Bear, senior Wendell Hunter represented the seniors well, making the key play of the game. He scooped up a blocked extra point attempt and returned it 85 yards for a defensive conversion. His long run was aided by Harrison Smith's terrific block near the USM 17-yard-line. Instead of facing a tie game with 5:56 remaining, the Bears suddenly had a three- point advantage.
The match-up between the Golden Bears and Golden Eagles featured some of the hardest hitting Bear fans saw all year. Southern Mississippi skillfully executed the fundamentals of blocking and tackling as well as any Cal opponent. The physical nature of the game can be summed up by one play. In the first half, Matt Giordano suffered a blow to the mouth, causing a cut that required a reported 100+ stitches to close.
USM did an excellent job of protecting QB Dustin Almond. The Bears were unable to pressure him without bringing additional support from the linebackers and defensive backs. Almond took advantage of the protection by passing for a personal best of 304 yards. Also, USM's strategy of having Almond throw the ball below the knees of his receivers paid off. The Golden Eagle receivers made several outstanding diving catches.
As successful as the USM offensive were protecting Almond, they were equally unsuccessful running the ball. The Golden Eagles generated only 41yards on 17 carries.
In a game that was hauntingly reminiscent of their play against Southern California, Cal marched up and down the field, but had little to show for their efforts. Cal rolled up 546 total yards with only three touchdowns as the USM defense stiffened in the red zone. Despite this frustration, there were some shining moments. The second Cal TD, a second quarter pass from Aaron Rodgers to Garrett Cross, illustrated the offensive genius of Jeff Tedford/George Cortez as well as any play this season. On the play immediately preceding the scoring pass, the Bears lined up in a double TE formation with Cross on the left and Stevens on the right. Cross went in motion to the right and then down the field into the end zone. Stevens trailed behind him into the right flat. When the USM defenders ran to cover Cross, Rodgers threw to Stevens for a five yard gain. On the next play, the Bears lined up in the same formation. Once again Cross went into motion to the right and into the end zone after the snap, with Stevens trailing him into the flat. This time, the Golden Eagle defenders converged on Stevens, leaving Cross wide open in the end zone for an easy score.
Any summary of the game must include special mention of the efforts of seniors J.J. Arrington and Geoff McArthur. Before a huge assemblage of his extended family, Arrington ran for a career best 261 yards. (third on the all-time Cal list). This extended his Cal season rushing record total to 1845 yards, 6th all-time on the Pac-10 single season list. After the game, J.J. was surrounded by a throng of well-wishers, all proudly displaying the Number 30 somewhere on their clothing.
GMac personified courage. He was injured late in the first half on a tremendous effort to haul in a deep Rodgers pass. In the second half, he returned to make one reception, a fingertip catch of a long Rodgers pass down the left sideline. Later, McArthur broke his leg making a block. Although he will miss his second consecutive bowl game, GMac will long be remembered at Cal for the toughness he displayed on the field and the leadership he exhibited in the locker room. Of all the memories this senior class provided Bear fans, McArthur's growth as a person will be the most lasting. When it comes to the complete individual, on and off the field, GMac stands with Russell White as an example of what is right about college athletics. I look forward to the day when Geoff McArthur takes his place in the California Athletic Hall of Fame alongside other Bear greats.
Any one of the following six, Hunter, GMac, Arrington, Rodgers, DeCoud and the collective O-Line, would be appropriate selections; however, in his last game as a Golden Bear, GMac is the man. Congrats on a great career.
ROAD TRIP NOTES: The flight to New Orleans on Friday was heavily populated by Golden Bears, including a former yell leader who organized a CAL spell out as we were flying into Louis Armstrong Airport. Cal spirit is alive in the air.
On Friday night in the French Quarter, it was great to see a large number of people wearing Cal colors so far from home. Cal spirit is alive on the ground.
Speaking of Cal colors, seeing individuals with their Cal Football Family jackets is a reminder of the commitment that families make as they travel around the country to support their sons. Without a doubt, our Bears are backed by some great people. We should always remember that the players are not machines, they are young men doing their best to represent themselves, their families and our University. (and a special hello to the Malele's and Fraley's – it was nice to have a chance to chat).
Southern hospitality is thriving. By far, the USM fans are the most hospitable I have encountered on a road trip. Before the game, several tailgaters invited me to partake at their setups. After the game, at least a half-dozen USM fans stopped me and wished us well at our Bowl Game, including several who just wanted to talk about the game and our program.
Finally, I have never attended a Cal win in which the Bear fans left the stadium in such a downcast mood. It was a sign of the distance our program has come in the last three years as much as it was disappointment. We have arrived at the threshold. Next year, we will knock the door down by controlling our own destiny…
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