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October 9, 2010BERKELEY-At least three times during Saturday's 35-7 Homecoming romp over visiting UCLA, the Cal football team received a lengthy and raucous standing ovation.
Well, not the whole team, mind you. Those standing O's were all for the D.
"They're very aggressive, and we're very proud of their effort today," said Bears head football coach Jeff Tedford. "They rallied to the ball, they gang-tackled, put pressure on the passer-they did about everything you could ask of them."
That same defensive unit that surrendered 52 points and nearly 500 yards against Nevada's pistol offense made the Bruins' rendition look like little more than a dime-store squirt gun.
"I don't want to put their offense down, at all, but it's-and I think they would admit it-it's not quite to the Reno stage yet," Tedford said of UCLA's pistol. "Reno's been doing it a long time and their quarterback is excellent with it, so they're very, very efficient. UCLA's not quite there yet."
Cal (3-2, 1-1 in the Pac-10) limited a Bruins run game that had averaged 262.4 yards per game, to a measly 26 yards on the ground.
"The last six years I've been a defensive coordinator, we've always gone back and worked on the fundamentals within the defense during a bye week," said defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. "We did that last week. We worked on gap-integrity, getting off blocks at every level of the defense and a lot of technique-type work. That night against Nevada, we didn't play with a lot of discipline. We didn't play with good gap integrity, and that was something that I felt like, during the bye week, it was more about us, not about who we played, who we're going to play, so we really focused on improving as a defense. We made some strides just in terms of doing those things better."
The Bears surrendered 144 yards of total offense to UCLA (3-3, 1-2) , a far cry from their dismal performance weeks ago in Reno, and the second time this season that Cal has held an opponent below 150 total yards. The last time the Bears accomplished that feat, it was against FCS UC Davis.
"We'd already seen that type of offense before, so we were a little more prepared," said senior defensive end Cameron Jordan, who had four tackles and a sack. "Everybody had their assignments, and the theme this week was just, 'Do your job.'"
No one did their job better than senior cornerback Darian Hagan, who, while he was charged with two pass interference penalties, also recorded two sacks along with an interception and a pass break-up on his way to a five-tackle game, blitzing off the edge and making life difficult on Bruins quarterback Kevin Prince.
"This defense is going to allow everyone to get touches," Pendergast said of letting his playmakers off the chain. "Whether you're a defensive lineman or a linebacker or a secondary guy, you're going to get a chance to get in the action. Based on some of the things that we liked, (rushing Hagan) was something that we felt we could benefit us as far as playing a good game defensively, so we were able to utilize that a couple times today."
Hagan's two sacks were the first two of his collegiate career, and the only two that the senior corner can remember.
"That was actually my first sack, ever, in life, playing football," Hagan said of the hit he laid on Prince on second-and-nine on the Cal 39 late in the first quarter. "When they called that play, my eyes just got big, and when they snapped the ball, I saw nobody was coming, they got even bigger. I went out there, tried to tackle him, and made it happen."
Hagan's five stops were tied for team-best with Chris Conte, Sean Cattouse and Mike Mohamed.
Bringing both Hagan and Mychal Kendricks off the edge proved to be an inspired move on the part of the defense, as Kendricks made four tackles-2.5 for a loss-and one of the Bears' five sacks on the day.
"It's always nice when you bring the corner and it lands," Tedford said. "(Hagan) had two of them off the edge today and he had an interception, so he played a very solid game. Kendricks, again, just continues to play so hard and so well, and it was nice to have Mike Mohamed back in the game. I thought the defensive front played very well. A lot of things you can't see unless you watch the tape is all the things that they're doing up front, with Kendricks and the guys stopping the run. You see a lot of things in the backfield that happen, but those guys were doing a lot of work inside to stop the run."
Following the game, Pendergast was clearly pleased with his charges' defensive effort, one which put Prince on his back four times (five sacks total), posted a season-high 10 tackles for loss (for a total of 47 yards), five pass break ups and three quarterback hurries.
"Reading your keys, trust, accountability; we meet as a whole defense, a lot, and we put peer pressure on guys and say, 'Look, this is your gap and you're not in it,' and we've got 30 guys sitting in the room there, and 29 of them can see that there's 10 out of the 11 on the field doing it right," Pendergast said of how he prepares the defense. "The peer pressure of those guys, having to be in the right spots and being accountable, is how you get it done."
While the defense clearly did "get it done," this afternoon, the offense was largely inconsistent, despite staking Cal to an early lead.
In the first half, the Bears reeled off 28 unanswered points behind a 17-carry 103-yard performance from junior tailback Shane Vereen.
"We felt like we were going to challenge them downhill," Tedford said. "Some of the teams that (UCLA) has been successful against were spread teams. Houston is a spread team; Texas is a spread team. Stanford played them well running downhill against them. We felt we were going to test them downhill and make it a physical football game."
Vereen accounted for Cal's first two scores of the day-both in the first quarter-tallying multiple TDs for the eighth time in his career and the sixth time in his last eight games.
"We all understand what Shane brings to the table," Tedford said. "He has been a productive, consistent back, be it in the backup role or as a starter towards the end of last season and so far this year. He is very dependable and very tough. He is a very smart guy."
Vereen's first TD rumble-a one-yard scamper-capped off the Bears' first drive of the game: a 10-play, 70-yard, 4:31 marathon that set the tone for the rest of the game. He also tore off an 11-yard run that got Cal down to the one-yard line two plays before.
"Right from the opening series, they set the tone," said senior quarterback Kevin Riley of the running game. "From the line blocking, the receivers blocking, Shane running the ball, after that first drive, we were just running the ball constantly."
After the two squads traded three-and-outs, and Bears punter Bryan Anger crushed a 52-yard bomb to UCLA's eight-yard line. On the first play from the eight, the Bruins' Johnathan Franklin was mobbed by Cal's two most-senior defenders: Mohamed and Conte. Conte chopped down on the ball and popped it loose, and Josh Hill fell on it at the UCLA 17.
"The fumble hurts," Franklin said. "We were down seven with a chance to come back and the momentum was on their side. Their offense was doing a great job driving down the field, and it's hard to come back from that. I, myself, put the team in a bad situation with that fumble."
Riley hooked up with Vereen for a gain of 12 yards through the air on the first play of the drive, marking the 31st time in Vereen's career that he'd caught a pass. For those scoring at home, that means Shane the Train has caught a pass in every one of his collegiate games.
Vereen finished the game with a game-high 151 total yards on the ground on 25 carries, about what Tedford said is the limit for the No. 1 tailback. Vereen also had three catches for 51 yards, including a 31-yard grab to set up a Riley rushing touchdown with 1:36 left in the first half.
"We need to spell him and keep him fresh," Tedford said. "If you're going to put a number on Shane, that would have to be 25 (carries). He had a very good game today, and we came out of this game pretty much fairly healthy."
However, as good as Vereen was at keying the offense in the first half, Tedford was, to say the least, displeased with how the second half turned out. The Bears gained just 141 of their 387 offensive yards after halftime, and came out flat at the start of the third quarter.
"(Riley) needs to improve, and we need to improve as a pass offense," Tedford said. "We made some decisions that we need to get better with. He needs to throw the ball away when he can throw it away. He needs to complete balls. He didn't throw any interceptions, though, so he's smart with the football, and I would prefer that. But we need to improve in the passing game. We need to protect the passer a little bit better and we need to make sure that we're making good decisions and completing balls to guys who are open."
Riley went 6-of-8 before halftime for 66 yards, and 3-of-8 after for 17, unable to hook up with playmakers Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones with any regularity.
"We didn't get the ball into any of the receivers' hands," Tedford said. "Yeah, it was tough, I mean, besides Marv; he had that reverse in the second half. And, Keenan caught a ball in the second half, a hitch-route on the side and made eight, nine yards on it."
The reverse to Jones was similar to the one run against UC Davis, but this time, Allen went in motion, Riley handed the ball off to Vereen, who reversed to the junior wideout. Jones got some key blocks from Allen and offensive lineman Brian Schwenke and ripped off an un-touched 48-yard TD run on the left side for the Bears' only score of the second half-and a career-long run.
"It felt great," said Jones, who had one catch for nine yards. "We've been running that play ever since fall camp, so whenever the number was called, I mean, we ran it previously, in the (Davis) game, but whenever that's called, we know there's a chance for it to be a big play. I got some nice blocking and made something happen."
Allen-the last man to run that play with almost identical results-did have plenty of balls thrown his way, but many were high and out of even the 6-foot-3's lengthy reach.
"We've definitely got to be more productive in the passing game," Tedford said. "Not just getting it to Keenan, but with everyone."
The true freshman ended the day tied for a team-high three catches for 19 yards, and rushed twice for 10 yards. His touchdown snag late in the second quarter gave him three TD catches on the year-the most on the team. But, only two of Allen's five touches came after halftime.
"I wasn't happy at all about the second half, to tell you the truth," Tedford said. "I was very disappointed about the way the offense played in the second half. Other than the first drive, the defense played great. They came out, ran some play action passes and hit a couple things, then we got a pass interference call on third-and-12 that kept their drive alive."
UCLA drew first blood in the second half, parlaying a six-play. 48-yard drive into a six-yard TD strike from Prince to Christian Ramirez, a drive that took up the first 2:17 of the third quarter.
"I was fired up about the way we came out in the second half with the opening drive, going down and getting the touchdown," said UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel. "Defense gave us some chances, but we were not efficient in the throwing game."
After that opening scoring drive, the Cal defense recovered, allowing just two drives that went for more than 10 yards out of the next seven UCLA possessions.
"The defense just kept answering," Tedford said. "But, I was not pleased, at all, with the offense's production in the second half, and some of the things on special teams: a roughing-the-punter penalty, a fumbled punt return inside the five-yard line-those are just things you can't have happen, because they're going to come back to haunt you. The offensive play has to get better. The defense cannot be on the field for that long."
But no matter how long the defense was on the field, they held the line.
"There's kind of a theme amongst the linebackers and the D-line: BallHawk.com," smiled Jordan, smacking his lips. "It's what we do. We run to the ball. We get balls back. We're going to force fumbles. We're going to tackle. That's how we came out, and we did pretty well."
• Dominic Galas got his first career start at center today, and got a lot of push up front, despite being dinged for a few false start penalties. Senior Chris Guarnero was laboring under a sprained ankle all week, and did not practice much, meaning Galas got the nod.
"He would have been available, but Galas practiced all week," Tedford said. "He would have been available if we needed him to be, but Galas did a fine job."
• Spelling Vereen at times was No. 2 tailback Isi Sofele, who rushed 13 times for 80 yards, including a career-long 24-yard dash in the first quarter. He also saw time taking direct snaps in the wildcat formation.
"Isi was productive when he was in there," Tedford said. "Shane had 25 carries, and that's about the limit. That's about where we'd like to keep it and then let Isi take the rest of them. Shane played another real good game today, but we definitely need to get Isi more involved in the game.
"We've done that (the direct snap) for a long time. Instead of Shane, that's where Isi's carries were going to come, instead of Shane taking extra reps from there. Isi has a real good feel for it and did a nice job with it."
Sofele's marks of 13 carries and 80 yards were career-highs.
• Vereen is now nine yards from tying Reynard Rutherford for No. 10 on the Bears' all-time career rushing list. It was Vereen's third straight 100-yard game.
His 202 all-purpose yards moved him to 10th all-time at Cal in that category, with 3,389.
• Conte recorded his first career forced fumble, which was recovered by Josh Hill.