Cal’s football mantra and marketing slogan this year has been “Every Game Counts.” But it’s clear that some games count less than others. Take this Saturday’s game at Memorial Stadium against winless Washington. Please.
The 7-4 Bears have already wrapped up a bowl game. They’re going to either the Las Vegas Bowl or, most likely, the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco. The outcome of Saturday’s game probably won’t truly enter into their postseason equation.
This is a game that even Oski and Joe Kapp would have trouble getting excited about.
So it came as no surprise when Cal coach Jeff Tedford showed up at his press conference Tuesday and went all Lou Holtz on us. Well, minus the mumbling and the politically incorrect gaffes. Tedford pointed out repeatedly how dangerous these Huskies are, especially playing in fired coach Tyrone Willingham’s final game and being down to their last chance to avoid a winless season.
This is the same “Beware of Dogs” sermon Tedford has been preaching to his team. And it’s clear that he’s reaching deep into his bag of motivational tricks to prevent a letdown against the Huskies.
Trick No. 1 is a no-brainer. Tedford has already pulled out the videotape of Cal’s 37-23 loss to Washington last season at Husky Stadium and showed it to his team. That loss ranks as arguably the worst and most embarrassing in Tedford’s tenure at Cal.
It wasn’t just the fact that the Bears lost to a struggling Washington team that was missing injured quarterback Jake Locker. It’s the way that they lost. The Huskies rushed for 360 yards that day. Louis Rankin carried 21 times for 224 yards. Brandon Johnson added 121 yards on 23 carries.
After the game, the usually mild-mannered Tedford tore into his players at a volume you’d expect from Bobby Knight.
“The last time we played these guys, they embarrassed us,” Tedford said. “They knocked us off the ball. They were more physical.”
If there’s anything a football team hates, it’s getting physically manhandled.
“I remember the defense getting beat up pretty much the whole day,” Cal linebacker Anthony Felder said. “We played pretty bad that day. I think even if you were trying to forget it, the coaches wouldn’t let you.”
“I think our guys will be pretty focused to get some revenge,” Cal cornerback Darian Hagan said.
The Bears entered last year’s game in Seattle in a terrible slump. They had lost four of their past five games and were coming off a 24-17 loss to USC. Even so, Felder said the Bears took the Huskies lightly.
“I don’t think we were prepared mentally,” Felder said.
This shapes us as an even bigger “trap” game for the Bears. I mean, it’s not easy going oh-for August, September, October and November in college football, as the Huskies have done. It’s not easy losing 16-13 in double-overtime to a Washington State team that many consider to be one of the worst teams in Pac-10 history.
In their past five games, the Huskies have averaged 9.2 points. That’s tough to do, too.
“When you watch them on tape, these guys do a lot of good things,” Tedford said.
“I don’t think this is your typical 0-11 team,” Cal quarterback Kevin Riley said. “They have athletes all over the field.”
At least Riley didn’t say Washington was the best 0-11 team in America.
After listening to a handful of Cal players on Tuesday, it appears that Tedford has them convinced that the Huskies won’t lie down like dogs on Saturday.
“Every year they play us tough,” Cal fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou said. “No matter what their record is, they’re going to come out and fight.”
“At 0-11, you can’t just keel over,” Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan said. “They have to be fired up. People have too much pride.”
The Bears will try to draw motivation from a multitude of sources this week. They want to finish the season undefeated at Memorial Stadium. They want to give their seniors a victory in their final home game. They certainly don’t want to be the only team to lose to Washington. Consider that the motivation of fear.
Then there’s the matter of Jahvid Best’s pursuit of the Pac-10 rushing crown. He trails Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers by 170 yards. Best is coming off a career-high 201 yards against Stanford.
“I think that would be a great accomplishment for the offense as a whole,” Ta’ufo’ou said.
Finding reasons to get excited about this game is an accomplishment in itself.