Cal’s theme for Saturday’s home game against Southern Utah is simple: Don’t panic.
The Golden Bears performed poorly in the season-opening 31-24 loss to Nevada, and coach Jeff Tedford wants to avoid letting that game affect the team going forward. The focus is less on the opponent, which is an FCS team the Bears should handle even if they don’t play their best, and more on Cal’s psyche.
Tedford has seen previous Cal teams go on an early-season swoon as a result of a bad start, and he needs to get his team in a good rhythm with road games against Ohio State and Southern Cal in the next two weeks. The Bears will be underdogs in those two games even if they play well against Southern Utah, and it could get ugly if the Bears head into Columbus, Ohio, on Sept. 15 on the heels of another sub-par performance.
“It’s the next game, so it’s the biggest game, and we’ve got to come prepared,” Cal quarterback Zach Maynard said.
For a team that needs a feel-good experience, Cal probably found the right second-game opponent in Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds lost their opener to Utah State 34-3, and the Aggies outgained Southern Utah 240-19 in the first quarter. Southern Utah has a quarterback (Brad Sorensen) who has received some attention from the NFL, but he was just 12-for-31 against Utah State.
Utah State is a pretty good team, but there was little about the game that suggested Cal should be worried about the Thunderbirds. The only possible concern is Sorensen, especially after Nevada’s Cody Fajardo carved up the Cal defense in the opener.
The Bears are in need of a confidence-boosting game. If Sorensen is able to complete passes and move the ball consistently, it will suggest that the Bears’ defensive problems against Nevada were not just a product of the Wolf Pack’s spread option pistol offense that has bothered Cal in the past.