One of the best non-Big Game Cal Football games of the decade has to be the 2002 Cal vs. Baylor game for many objective reasons. However, before I get into the reasons why that game was so great, let me set up a few little personal subjective reasons why that game was even more memorable for me.
The 2002 Cal vs. Baylor game was my FIRST Cal game as a Cal student. I had been to two or three other Cal games prior to the Cal vs. Baylor game. Those games were before I was a Cal fan or student. One game was for a birthday party when I was a kid, and another one or two games were preliminary attempts by one of my high school music instructors to get me interested in attending Cal. Back then, I had no interest in Cal, or its football team. I don't even remember who Cal played for those games. But I think we can all agree that football games mean so much more to you when you currently go to that school (or graduated from that school). So as you can imagine, I was absolutely stoked to see this game.
The Cal vs. Baylor game was also my FIRST Cal game as a true college football fan. Prior to attending college, I was a huge NFL fan. I was used to seeing pro-style offenses, and only 4-3 defenses. Option offenses were for wussies! Real football teams didn't play 3-3-5 defenses! College football was an inferior brand of football! But upon my entrance to Cal, I was determined to become a die-hard Cal fan (that came very easily), and also a die hard college football fan (happened a lot easier than I imagined). So this game was also my first real indulgence into college football.
Now, because 2002 was my first season as a Cal fan, I (thankfully!) missed out on the 2001 season. But my older Cal friends, people who had actually endured through the 2001 season without slitting their wrists, told me all about it. "We only beat Rutgers! Rutgers of all teams!!!" "Beating Rutgers doesn't even count as a win!" "We're even lucky to score one touchdown in a game!" "People come to Cal Football games for the band, not for the football team!" I heard it all. I knew Cal's Football team was bad, prior to attending Cal. My Cal fan relatives told me that. I knew what I was getting into. I had low hopes. I had low expectations. Clearly, so did my older Cal friends.
Some other stuff made this game significant too. When I first arrived onto Cal's campus a few weeks before the season started, I heard some mumbojumbo about Cal having some new head coach. Some random dude from Oregon. My reaction: Cool. Whatever. I don't care.
WHATEVER?!?!?!?! I DON'T CARE! (Now I'm like this dude's biggest fan and number one stalker!)
So the stage is set. In 2001, Cal lost all but one game. It's final game of the season against Rutgers, which got moved back because of 9/11. Cal was the doormat of the Pac-10. Cal fired its old coach Tom Holmoe and hired some new young gun named Jeff Tedford.
As far as I remember, that day was a nice clear sunny day. Memorial Stadium was filled with a whopping 27,185 people (roughly 37% of capacity). The only good thing about having a bad football team, one of my relatives told me, is that you get a whole section to yourself and you can spread out. I must admit, I was rather disappointed by the lack of home crowd. I had envisioned my first Cal game as a student being in a jam-packed rocking stadium.
I don't remember who won the coin toss, but Cal was getting the ball first. Baylor kicked the ball off and...
Kickoff returned by James Bethea (CAL) for 15 yards to the Cal 29 yardline.
Cool. Whatevs. Nothing spectacular. Let's see if my Bears can now get a first down.
Oh how I was about to be taken aback by the EPICNESS of what was to happen next.
As you know, this next play was the first playcall of Jeff Tedford's career. Now, for most coaches, in most football games, would probably just call something mundane. Something like a run up the middle to settle down the offense and get into a rhythm. But this wasn't most coaches. This wasn't most games. This was a Tedford's first game of the season. This was was the first offensive play of the season for a former 1 win team, under a new coach. It was time to awaken the crowd, and the players. It was time to send a message. A new football team was here.
So with that, the offense took the field to execute perhaps the most famous Cal play of the last decade (viewable at 0:50 in the video below, thanks swamphunter!)
OH THE EPICNESS!!! Runningback pass?!??! Double pass?!??! The crowd goes wild! All of a sudden everyone around me is hugging each other and jumping for joy! Nobody was expecting that.
DID THAT JUST HAPPEN?!?!
Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. In that 10 seconds of football right there, I was sold. I was a Cal fan and Jeff Tedford fan. How could you NOT be???
By the way, let's talk about how this was all set up ingeniously by Tedford too. Note how Terrell Williams is a lefty. That means, to pass the ball faster, it's more efficient for him to be to the right of the offensive line so that when he catches the ball, his left arm is already back and he can throw. Otherwise, if he was to the left of the offensive line, then he has to turn his whole body a whole 180 degrees, before he can throw. This way, by being to the right of the offensive line, he doesn't have to turn his body at all. Quicker, and more efficient.
Also note how because Terrell Williams is lefty and has to be to the right of the offensive line, that requires more room to the offense's right for the fake bubble screen. Thus, now note where the ball location is between the hashes. The ball is on the LEFT hash, thus putting the fake bubble screen towards the open side of the field to give them more room. How did Tedford get the ball on the left hash? By calling the kick return to the LEFT side!!! Okay, so I don't really remember the direction of the kick return, but since Tedford had this play picked out as the first play of the game for two weeks, then he must have had this pre-planned too. Oh the genius! Tedford had this all set up beforehand.
Once more in summary:
Kick return left puts ball on left hash thus leaving room to the offense's right for the fake bubble screen and the bubble screen has to be to the right of the offense because Terrell Williams is lefty!!!
Chess, people. It's all just chess.
So Cal goes up 7-0 in mere seconds! But will the excitement last?!
The very first Baylor offensive play:
Baylor at 14:40 BAY CAL 1st and 10 at BAY 20 Greg Cicero (BU) pass left side intercepted by James Bethea (CAL). Returned for 50 yards. 0 7 DRIVE TOTALS: 1 play, 0 yards
Oh my! Oh what?! INTERCEPTION!!!
Then quite quickly:
California at 14:30 BAY CAL 1st and 9 at BAY 9 Joe Igber (CAL) rushed left side for 3 yards. 0 7 2nd and 6 at BAY 6 Joe Igber (CAL) rushed left side for 2 yards. 3rd and 4 at BAY 4 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass left side complete to Geoff McArthur (CAL) for a 4 yard touchdown. 0 13 0th and Goal at CAL 0 Extra point by Mark-Christian Jensen (CAL) is good. 0 14 0th and Goal at BAY 17 Kickoff returned by Chris Deleenheer (BU) for 6 yards.
My friend who had endured the 2001 season were practically having heart attacks. TWO touchdowns in a game?!?! Is this really the Cal Football team?!?!
Kyle Boller and Geoff MacArthur share a tender moment.
Baylor gets the ball back after the kickoff, and then this happens:
Baylor at 12:49 BAY CAL 1st and 10 at BAY 23 Jonathan Golden (BU) rushed left side for 4 yards. 0 14 3rd and 1 at BAY 32 Jonathan Golden (BU) rushed left side for -1 yards. 4th and 2 at BAY 31 Punt by Jeremy Parker (BU) no return by Golden Bears. DRIVE TOTALS: 2 plays, 9 yards
Second down disappeared! OH WHAT?!?! It's like God himself had rigged this game!!! What's next, the scoreboard suddenly goes bonkers and the score is Cal 99 to Baylor 0???
On Cal's third possession of the game, a mere 4 minutes into the game:
California at 11:00 BAY CAL 1st and 10 at CAL 40 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass left side complete to Jonathan Makonnen (CAL) for 12 yards. 0 14 1st and 10 at BAY 47 Joe Igber (CAL) rushed left side for 6 yards. 2nd and 4 at BAY 41 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass left side complete to Geoff McArthur (CAL) for 7 yards. 1st and 10 at BAY 34 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass left side complete to Jonathan Makonnen (CAL) for 19 yards. 1st and 10 at BAY 15 Joe Igber (CAL) rushed left side for 7 yards. 2nd and 3 at BAY 8 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass left side complete to Joe Igber (CAL) for a 8 yard touchdown. 0 20 0th and Goal at CAL 0 Extra point by Mark-Christian Jensen (CAL) is good. 0 21 0th and Goal at BAY 20 Golden Bears kickoff, touchback by Bears.
GOAL!!! Three touchdowns! At this point, everyone had to be thinking: (1) Tedford is God; (2) when is Baylor going to score 50 straight points and Cal loses?
Answer, right now. Baylor gets the ball back on the next possession, and they start stuffing it down the Cal Defense's throat.
Baylor at 8:14 BAY CAL 1st and 10 at BAY 20 Jonathan Golden (BU) rushed up the middle for 3 yards. 0 21 2nd and 7 at BAY 23 Greg Cicero (BU) pass left side complete to Jonathan Golden (BU) for 12 yards. 1st and 10 at BAY 35 Greg Cicero (BU) pass left side complete to Jonathan Golden (BU) for 7 yards. 2nd and 3 at BAY 42 Rashad Armstrong (BU) rushed left side for 5 yards. 1st and 10 at BAY 47 Rashad Armstrong (BU) rushed right side for 5 yards. 2nd and 5 at CAL 48 Greg Cicero (BU) pass left side complete to Jonathan Golden (BU) for 5 yards. 1st and 10 at CAL 43 Greg Cicero (BU) rushed up the middle for -3 yards. 2nd and 13 at CAL 46 Greg Cicero (BU) pass left side complete to Jonathan Golden (BU) for 7 yards. 3rd and 6 at CAL 39 Greg Cicero (BU) pass left side complete to Rashad Armstrong (BU) for 8 yards. 1st and 10 at CAL 31 Rashad Armstrong (BU) rushed left side for -1 yards. 2nd and 11 at CAL 32 Greg Cicero (BU) pass left side complete to Jonathan Golden (BU) for 30 yards. 1st and 2 at CAL 2 Rashad Armstrong (BU) rushed left side for no gain. 2nd and 2 at CAL 2 Rashad Armstrong (BU) rushed left side for -4 yards.
They went from their own 20, to Cal's own 2 yard line. The dream ends here. The dream ends here. At this time, I was like: Cal Football, it was nice while it lasted. You got my hopes up with three straight touchdowns. I actually thought we might, you know, win the game. *sigh*
GOD WAS JUST TEASING US!!! INTERCEPTION RETURN FOR A 101 YARD TOUCHDOWN!!!
via grfx.cstv.com. Matt Nixon intercepts the ball and prepares to run 101 yards for a defensive touchdown.
I remember Nixon running along that west sideline towards that south goal. He was tripping over dudes, stumbling, and bumbling. Other Cal defenders were blocking for him with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind because, you know, Cal might score (read that -->) FOUR touchdowns in a game! Nixon started getting tired after only like 30 yards and seemed to running exponentially slower. Everyone was just dying in the agony of watching him run so slow, for so long, with Baylor defenders attempting to shed the Cal blocks to get the finger on him that they only needed to tip him over. But alas, nobody got him and he crumbled across the goalline in fatigue.
THERE IS A GOD!!! FOUR TOUCHDOWNS! CAL MIGHT WIN!!! IT'S PRETTY FUCKING HARD TO BLOW A 28 POINT LEAD!!!
By this time, I think everyone was thinking "when is the silliness going to end?" I mean, scoring a touchdown on a double pass on the first play of the game is pretty epic. Then immediately intercepting the ball, and scoring on the second possession is pretty epic too. But then scoring a THIRD touchdown? And then scoring a 100+ yard interception return for a touchdown??? Silly. Just plain silly.
But then on Baylor's next possession:
Baylor at 1:20 BAY CAL 1st and 10 at BAY 24 Jonathan Golden (BU) rushed left side for 1 yard. 0 28 2nd and 9 at BAY 25 Greg Cicero (BU) pass left side intercepted by Jemeel Powell (CAL). Returned for a 27 yard touchdown. 0 34 DRIVE TOTALS: 1 play, 25 yards
Here's where it finally set in that we were probably going to win the game. I mean, nobody blows a 35 point lead. Nobody.
Enter pessimistic old blue: "Nobody but Cal." How very true. After the 2001 season, I could definitely still imagine some old blues nervously fidgeting in their seats just waiting for the wheels to fall off this freight train. Because despite the score being 35-0, it was only the first quarter. Yup. The first quarter. In other words, Baylor had like a good 45 minutes to catch up.
But this was the new Cal Football, baby! Once it gets going, it just don't stop! Freight train!
In the second quarter, Cal continued the humiliating beat-down:
2nd and 12 at BAY 23 Terrell Williams (CAL) rushed left side for 3 yards. 7 35 2nd and 7 at BAY 7 11 yard penalty on Golden Bears. 1st and 18 at BAY 18 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass left side complete to Chris Manderino (CAL) for a 18 yard touchdown. 7 41 0th and Goal at CAL 0 Extra point by Mark-Christian Jensen (CAL) is good.
Touchdown to Chris Manderino! This day was getting even crazier! Fullbacks are scoring touchdowns! On passing plays nonetheless!
Chris Manderino catches a touchdown pass!
California at 4:22 BAY CAL 1st and 10 at BAY 45 Chris Manderino (CAL) rushed left side for 7 yards. 7 42 1st and 10 at BAY 38 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass left side complete to Geoff McArthur (CAL) for 9 yards. 2nd and 1 at BAY 29 Joe Igber (CAL) rushed up the middle for 5 yards. 1st and 10 at BAY 24 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass left side complete to Geoff McArthur (CAL) for 5 yards. 2nd and 5 at BAY 19 Terrell Williams (CAL) pass left side complete to Kyle Boller (CAL) for 7 yards. 1st and 10 at BAY 12 Joe Igber (CAL) rushed left side for 2 yards. 2nd and 8 at BAY 10 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass left side complete to Chris Manderino (CAL) for 4 yards. 3rd and 4 at BAY 6 Television timeout; 01:00 remaining 2nd quarter 3rd and 4 at BAY 6 Geoff McArthur (CAL) rushed left side for a 6 yard touchdown. 7 48 0th and Goal at CAL 0 Extra point by Mark-Christian Jensen (CAL) is good.
Wide receivers scoring rushing touchdowns?!?!!!! What's next? Punters scoring touchdowns on fake-punt triple reverses?!?!
At halftime, the score was a whopping 49-7. Old Blues -- those who hadn't endured cardiac arrest from all the (gasp!) scoring -- were in at least in shock. It didn't matter if it was Baylor that Cal was beating up on (who would finish the season 3-9). What mattered was that Cal was winning, Cal was scoring points on both sides of the ball, and Cal was winning in impressive dominant fashion. In a fashion that hadn't been seen for at least a good year or more. I think all Cal fans knew at that time that this might just be the start of something special. Just maybe.
But when the third quarter came and went... without Cal scoring any points, that something special seemed to be slowing dying away. Everyone wants to win. And everyone loves to win by piling on points quick to jump to an early impressive lead. But nobody then wants to win without doing even more damage in the second half of a game. I mean, how horrible would it look if Cal got shut out in the second half of the game? People would probably be thinking that Cal just really got the jump on Baylor in the first half and the Cal Football team was still its normal 2001 self except for the fact that it just got lucky this game. Cal fans needed more points. They needed proof that Cal could keep the points coming in all four quarters and that it just wasn't a first half fluke that Cal scored 49 points.
And so the team responded by tacking on three more scores:
California at 15:00 BAY CAL 2nd and 8 at CAL 30 Start of the 4th quarter. 15 49 2nd and 8 at CAL 30 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass left side complete to LaShaun Ward (CAL) for 8 yards. 1st and 10 at CAL 38 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass left side complete to Geoff McArthur (CAL) for 8 yards. 1st and 10 at CAL 46 Terrell Williams (CAL) rushed left side for 4 yards. 2nd and 6 at CAL 50 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass left side complete to Geoff McArthur (CAL) for 48 yards. 1st and 2 at BAY 2 Kyle Boller (CAL) rushed up the middle for -1 yards. 2nd and 3 at BAY 3 Television timeout; 12:15 remaining 4th quarter 2nd and 3 at BAY 3 Kyle Boller (CAL) rushed up the middle for a 3 yard touchdown. 15 55 0th and Goal at CAL 0 Extra point by Mark-Christian Jensen (CAL) is good.
Kyle Boller scored a rushing touchdown! The dude can actually do something else besides throw the ball really really hard and make every Cal coed swoon! Who woulda thunk???
California at 11:00 BAY CAL 1st and 10 at CAL 20 27 yard penalty on Bears. 15 56 1st and 10 at CAL 47 Michael Porter (CAL) rushed up the middle for no gain. 2nd and 10 at CAL 47 Kyle Boller (CAL) [sic] pass left side complete to LaShaun Ward (CAL) for a 52 yard touchdown. 15 62 0th and Goal at CAL 0 Extra point by Mark-Christian Jensen (CAL) is good.
Reggie Robertson throws a touchdown to LaShaun Ward! (ESPN stats are incorrect)
California at 7:15 BAY CAL 1st and 10 at CAL 46 4 yard penalty on Golden Bears. 15 63 1st and 15 at CAL 50 Marcus O'Keith (CAL) rushed left side for 5 yards. 2nd and 10 at BAY 45 Reggie Robertson (CAL) pass left side complete to Burl Toler (CAL) for 12 yards. 1st and 10 at BAY 33 Marcus O'Keith (CAL) rushed left side for 3 yards. 2nd and 7 at BAY 30 Marcus O'Keith (CAL) rushed left side for 4 yards. 3rd and 3 at BAY 26 13 yard penalty on Bears. 1st and 10 at BAY 13 Marcus O'Keith (CAL) rushed left side for 8 yards. 2nd and 2 at BAY 5 2 yard penalty on Bears. 1st and 3 at BAY 3 Television timeout; 04:21 remaining 4th quarter 1st and 3 at BAY 3 Marcus O'Keith (CAL) rushed left side for a 2 yard touchdown. 15 69 0th and Goal at CAL 0 Extra point by Mark-Christian Jensen (CAL) is good.
O'Keith scores the final Cal touchdown of the day. And the game ended with a final score of 70-22.
Phew. That was a lot of scoring.
Some of my fellow Cal Band friends were joking about how they were tired from playing Fight For California so much due to all the scoring. Some were (jokingly) saying "no more scoring!"
Now let's look at some of the more specific stat lines for the day.
Our beloved rocket-armed Kyle Boller threw for 213 yards (18/26 attempts) and 3 touchdowns. Even Reggie Robertson got in on the action with a touchdown in the fourth quarter to Lashaun Ward.
Passing Att-Cmp-Int Yds TD Long Sck
Boller,Kyle 26-18-0 213 3 47 1
Williams,T. 2-2-0 78 1 71 0
Robertson,R. 2-2-0 64 1 52 0
Totals... 30-22-0 355 5 71 1
In terms of rushing, the team wasn't spectacular but it was solid. Igber had a productive day.
Rushing No Gain Loss Net TD Lg Avg
Igber,Joe 13 66 1 65 0 15 5.0
O'Keith,Marcus 5 21 0 21 1 8 4.2
Williams,T. 4 13 0 13 0 5 3.2
Porter,Michael 4 7 0 7 0 3 1.8
Mcarthur,Geoff 1 5 0 5 1 5 5.0
Boller,Kyle 4 3 9 -6 1 3 -1.5
Totals... 31 115 10 105 3 15 3.4
Cal's receiving game really seemed to thrive. Note how Boller even caught a pass. I don't remember that. Does anyone remember how that happened?
Receiving No. Yds TD Long
Mcarthur,Geoff 7 90 1 47
Ward,Lashaun 4 77 1 52
Makonnen,J. 3 43 0 19
Manderino,C. 3 41 1 18
Igber,Joe 2 14 1 8
Gray,David 1 71 1 71
Toler,Burl 1 12 0 12
Boller,Kyle 1 7 0 7
Totals... 22 355 5 71
Kyle Boller passes the ball. But he can also run and catch too.
Here are the final status for the game:
FIRST DOWNS................... 21 21
Rushing..................... 5 4
Passing..................... 13 14
Penalty..................... 3 3
Rushing Attempts.............. 40 31
Yards Gained Rushing.......... 127 115
Yards Lost Rushing............ 48 10
NET YARDS RUSHING............. 79 105
NET YARDS PASSING............. 323 355
Passes Attempted............ 39 30
Passes Completed............ 23 22
Had Intercepted............. 4 0
TOTAL OFFENSIVE PLAYS......... 79 61
TOTAL NET YARDS............... 402 460
Average Gain Per Play....... 5.1 7.5
Fumbles: Number-Lost.......... 3-1 1-0
Penalties: Number-Yards....... 12-95 10-81
Number of Punts-Yards......... 8-248 4-157
Average Per Punt............ 31.0 39.2
Punt Returns: Number-Yards.... 2-20 4-29
Kickoff Returns: Number-Yards. 10-161 4-105
Interceptions: Number-Yards... 0-0 4-174
Fumble Returns: Number-Yards.. 0-0 1-6
Miscellaneous Yards........... 0 0
Possession Time............... 35:18 24:42
Third-Down Conversions........ 7 of 16 4 of 10
Fourth-Down Conversions....... 0 of 0 0 of 0
Red-Zone Scores-Chances....... 2-3 6-6
Sacks By: Number-Yards........ 1-8 3-24
Note that despite the huge pile-up of points, Cal only had 460 yards of offense. But the hidden yardage is in the interception returns. Cal had 4 interceptions for 174 yards of offensive-defense ("offensive" yards coming from the defense)!
What also pops out is how many first downs Cal obtained via the air compared to via the ground. Of Cal's 18 first downs that it obtained without a Baylor penalty, 14 of them were from passing (77.8%). Kyle Boller and the wide receiving corps really came through on the day. However, Tedford did have this say about Boller's performance:
Kyle did okay. He still needs to get a little bit better, a little sharper. He missed a couple of guys that were open, but he ran the offense very well. I thought he had great huddle command and good control of the offense. He didn't turn the football over. He made good decisions that way. I thought he handled it (the offensive system) very well. I'm happy for Kyle.
In the post-game interviews Tedford explained his rationale behind the double pass on the first play of the game:
"We wanted to pretty much start out the game with a bang and get the crowd into it,'' Tedford said. "I don't think it was statement of anything except, 'We think this will score a touchdown.'''
The effect of that first play had huge impacts on the players:
"Everything is different this year,'' said quarterback Kyle Boller, who might finally reach his potential under Tedford's tutelage. "Guys are fired up to play football again. It's fun again. It's been a long time since we had some real fun.''
And so the first game of the Jeff Tedford era started with a bang. A real big bang. Cal set itself up for a solid opening season under Jeff Tedford and finished 7-5. Tedford won Pac-10 Coach of the Year, and won the hearts of minds of Cal fans everywhere. He was a god. He was God.