How To React To A Blowout

Well, that was something, now wasn't it?

66-3.

Seriously?  Seriously.

That's just crazy.  As a Cal fan, I don't even know how to react.  Yesterday was easy.  Lots of drinking and celebrating.  (I must admit, where I was watching the game, we were late getting back to the second half because we were having too much fun playing 'Rock Band'.  Nobody really minded.)

Today, however, it's more difficult.  I sat down today to try and write something intelligent about yesterday's game, and I found myself a little stuck.  Which way should I go?  On one hand, it's hard to be anything but overwhelmingly positive about such a lopsided blowout.  Touchdowns came seemingly at will for the Bears on offense, and the defense nearly pitched a shutout with the help of four interceptions.  What kind of ungrateful fans would complain about such a performance?

However, any Cal fans who remember last year's collapse under the weight of our own hubris (not to mention the pre-Tedford fans who are always waiting for Cal's other cleat to drop, so to speak) are immediately wary of such success.  No one wants to get caught flat-footed when the good times come to an end, so the skeptics among us search for the early warning signs of failure, whether they're there or not.

As Cal fans, how do we handle success?

Yesterday's blowout of Washington State was an annihilation of Trojan-like proportions.  Indeed, it's hard to look at a score like 66-3 and not immediately think of USC's current run of dominance.  The early barrage of touchdowns after three- or four-play drives, the stifling, turnover-hawing defense, and the starters taking the second half off while the backups continued to dominate all invite comparisons to Pete Carroll's best teams.  So let's compare:

Over the past seven years, USC has blown out a number of opponents in impressive fashion; their 52-7 dismantling of Virginia to open this season is only the latest example, not the most impressive.  Still, the Bears' 66 points equals the largest point total Carroll's teams have ever racked up in a Pac-10 conference game, a 66-19 embarrassment of UCLA in 2005.  Really, the game wasn't even that close, as the score was already 59-6 late in the fourth quarter before a pair of Bruin touchdowns closed the gap somewhat.  (It's hard to say that any one game got Karl Dorrell fired, but I think that game played a large part.)  Even USC's biggest blowout, a 70-17 destruction of Arkansas earlier that year, fell short of Cal's margin of victory yesterday by 10 points; not even the vaunted Bush/Leinart teams ever defeated an opponent by nine touchdowns.

Here's some more fun facts from yesterday's game:  Cal had as many touchdowns (9) as Washington State had first downs (and WSU needed a personal foul from Tyson Alualu to get one of those).  In fact, the Cougs' offense was shut down so completely that after Washington State opened the second half by driving down to the Cal 13 yard line (only to throw an interception to Bernard Hicks), they would not even get a first down the rest of the game.  Jahvid Best ran for 200 yards all by his lonesome, 33 more yards than the Cougs had in total offense (167).  In fact, he had two touchdown runs (for 86 and 80 yards, respectively) that were longer than the Cougs entire rushing total (57).

The astounding numbers don't stop there.  Syd'Quan Thompson had nearly as many yards returning intercepted Coug passes (108) as Washington State had passing to their own players (110).  More signs of futility:  WSU's yards per pass was bad (3.7), but not as bad as their yards per rush (1.6) or their third-down conversion rate (1 for 13).  If Washington State is looking for some consolation, all I can offer is that the Cougars couldn't possibly play any worse than they did on Saturday; by the law of averages, they almost have to get better.

Well, if those statistics make you deliriously optimistic, I don't know what will.  Still, I think by now Cal fans now what inevitably follows delirous optimism:  crushing reminders of reality.  For those of you wary of this early taste of success and weary of the the letdown of unexpected failure, there ARE some nits you could pick with yesterday's performance.

First off, Cal's passing game, especially with Riley under center, was less than spectacular:  just 6/14 passing for 51 yards and a score.  Granted, Riley hardly had time to get into much of a rhythm, as Cal's first three drives took just 1, 2, and 7 plays to score touchdowns, with Riley only attempting 4 passes.  But on the next three possessions, Cal's offense goes 3 and out, and if Cal's defense and special teams doesn't come through, we could have had a game on our hands.  Luckily, Longshore came on in relief, completing 7 of 8 passes for 53 yards (more than Riley!).

Further, Cal's kickoff coverage was still pretty pedestrian, and they did allow a return to Cal's own 22 yard line, which led directly to Wazzu's only points on the day.  (At least, with all of Cal's scoring, they got lots of practice!)  More worrisome, Bryan Anger didn't look the same as he did against Michigan State -- I hope his sprained knee doesn't lead to lingering ill effects.

Look, if you want to worry about Cal's issues and areas in need of improvement -- minor or not -- that's fine.  I'm sure Coach Tedford is, and hopefully the team is too.  If 66-3 makes them too cocky, we WILL see them get their comeupance eventually.  But for me, this win is pretty darn encouraging, and at least for this week, I'm going to enjoy it.  You should too.  They'll be plenty to worry over next Saturday -- there always is.

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