Because Jeff Tedford learned from his mistakes, Cal is on the road to a possible 10-win season.
Tedford has always been a coach who cares about his players, academically and athletically. I’ve often seen him talking to individual players after practice about their academics and lives on campus. He’s made certain there won’t be a repeat of academically ineligible players in games, which had Cal on NCAA probation in his first year.
This year, senior safety Marcus Ezeff had a schedule conflict because a course he needed had lectures scheduled for Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons, so he would miss practice. Tedford gave him permission. Imagine that happening at an SEC school. Actually, no, you can’t imagine it because it would never happen. The lack of practice cost Ezeff his starting position, but he’ll get his education, which is the most important thing.
But Tedford forgot what had worked for him before when the Bears went into a tailspin in the 2007 season, retreating to his Xs-and-Os, looking for a schematic answer to what was really a human problem.
He vowed never to let that happen again, and he has spent even more time with players this season, visiting with individual players in the locker room after practice. When the Bears suffered devastating back-to-back losses to Oregon and USC, it seemed their season might be a repeat of 2007, but it hasn’t been. This year, the Bears have won five of six games since then, and they put an exclamation point on that surge with a 34-28 Big Game win.
Tedford’s teams have won seven of eight Big Games, but this had to be the most satisfying because Stanford seemed to have all the momentum after big wins over Oregon and USC, the same teams that had rolled over Cal.
It was also redemption time for defensive coordinator Bob Gregory, who had been the whipping boy for unhappy Cal supporters who had answers for him in Web site postings and angry e-mails, mostly calling for more blitzing instead of Gregory’s containment schemes.
Gregory has been an excellent coordinator in his eight seasons at Cal, but this year, the Bears lacked a great outside pass rusher like Zach Follett and they had some young defensive backs Gregory was trying to protect with his schemes.
The young DBs started to come of age against Arizona, and the defense as a whole played its best game against Stanford. The offense did its part by eating up time and scoring points in long touchdown drives, but the defense held the explosive Cardinal offense to two touchdowns in the final thee quarters. Linebacker Mike Mohamed sealed the victory with an interception of an Andrew Luck pass just as Stanford seemed to be on its way to the winning touchdown.
Now, the Bears stand at 8-3 overall, 5-3 in the Pac-10 Conference. A win over Washington in Seattle in eight days would add a win in both categories and a win in a bowl game would move them to double digits for the third time in Tedford’s time at Cal.
Since taking over a team that had won only one game the previous season, Tedford has had eight straight winning seasons. In his first 100 games, his teams have won 67.
But no games have been as important as the five he lost in 2007 because that taught him an important lesson.