No More California Heartbreak: Bears Must Maintain Late-Game Composure
In college football's opening two weeks, we have found out a lot about Cal.
Jahvid Best has been as good as advertised.
The defensive line and linebackers have brought consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, while an ever-improving offensive line has prevented the same from happening to Kevin Riley.
Cal's offense has struck from the air (see Maryland) and on the ground (see Eastern Washington)—but either way, points have come early and often, to the tune of over 50 per game.
Heck, even the marching band has shown its mettle.
But on the same Saturday that saw the Bears cruise against the Eagles, a rival from southern California got things done the hard way against Ohio State, inadvertently asking an important unknown about Cal:
"Can you muster a score when it really counts, in a hostile environment? Can your offense, even on an off day, come together and get the job done late?"
Unfortunately, outside of mentioning Oregon in 2007, a Cal fan searching the team's recent history for responses will mostly find the wrong kind of examples.
Such as the final fourth quarter drive at the Colosseum in 2004, where Cal needed a score from a first and goal to beat the Trojans; they instead got a sack and three incompletions.
The very next season, Joe Ayoob's overthrow of of an open David Gray against the Ducks sealed a Bears overtime loss.
Two years later, the city of Angels would continue to be Cal's demon, as Bears fans and Nate Longshore got to know UCLA's Alterraun Verner for all the wrong reasons (somewhere Gus Johnson must have been yelling "Heartbreak City!").
Then, there's the 2007 Big Game, which featured two fourth-quarter interceptions (to the same player) and a game-tying touchdown slipping through Lavelle Hawkins' hands.
The losses, beside jeopardizing Cal fans' livers, took away top national rankings, BCS dreams, and rival bragging rights.
Will 2009 be the year in which the Bears deny their detractors any more ammunition?
Cal, thus far unchallenged, will certainly have to play from behind at some point this season—most likely in a less-than-friendly atmosphere.
It may be at rowdy Autzen Stadium (at a time when pundits aren't going to be sleeping soundly); or a sure-to-be packed Rose Bowl, which has been the team's house of horrors for the last decade.
In fact, the No. 8 Bears' first real test may come as soon as Saturday against Minnesota.
And if not on the road, you can expect plenty of drama in home tilts against the Trojans and Beavers.
It's only a matter of time until real adversity strikes. When it does, let's hope the pressure is not too much for Cal to bear.
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