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Originally published October 6, 2009 at 5:52 PM | Page modified October 6, 2009 at 8:01 PM

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Bud Withers

Looking for reasons for Cal's collapse

Golden Bears having problems offensively.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

California is one of the nation's great research universities, so in the spirit of the Golden Bears, we researched.

Specifically, we went looking for instances in the 32-season history of the Pac-10 Conference when a program's offense mustered no more than a field goal in consecutive games.

Not to name names, but that's exactly what the Bears did the past two times out against Oregon and USC. In becoming as bogus as Bernie Madoff in the 2009 Pac-10 race, Cal got outscored 72-6.

Cal became the 11th team to do the field-goal-or-nothing quinella. Here's the company Cal's keeping: four of the previous 10 were by Oregon State during its 28-year streak of losing seasons.

But what's striking is, most of that offensive fruitlessness came in infant programs, places where a first- or second-year coach had a team in transition.

In none of the 10 had the coach completed five seasons. This is No. 8 for Cal's Jeff Tedford.

A lot of reasons have been advanced for Cal's struggles: Five offensive coordinators in five seasons, with ex-Oregon assistant coach Andy Ludwig now at it. Play-calling that doesn't slow aggressive defenses. A line that isn't up to the Bears' recent standards. And spotty quarterback play by Kevin Riley.

Since Tedford struck gold with Aaron Rodgers — and some good ones at Oregon — Tedford's success at recruiting and developing quarterbacks has been alarming. He had Joe Ayoob, he had Nate Longshore, and now he's got Riley, who completed 38 percent of his passes the past two weeks and doesn't make plays with less than maximum support around him.

When I asked Tedford on Tuesday's Pac-10 conference call about the ongoing inconsistency, he said Longshore "won a lot of games here, then he got injured and that kind of went downhill."

In 2006, when Cal was 10-3, Longshore completed 60 percent, threw 24 touchdown passes but also had 13 interceptions. The next year, everything began changing when Longshore injured an ankle as Cal went to 5-0 with a stirring win at Oregon.

He never seemed the same after that. He threw another 13 interceptions in '07, as he and Riley bobbed in and out of prominence both that year and 2008.

It was in 2007 that Cal's season flew out of control, the Bears losing six of their last seven regular-season games. Among some of its fans, this season has the same scent, although after this week's bye, the schedule suggests there's momentum to be mounted.

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"Two of the toughest things to do in our conference are to play at Autzen Stadium and to play against USC," said Tedford. "We haven't played well, but there's a lot of football left.

"There's no shame in being knocked down. But if we don't get back up, there is."

It's also worth noting that sweeping conclusions are pretty disposable in college football. Here's what was written in The San Francisco Chronicle after Cal went 3-0 by beating Minnesota:

"The win against Minnesota also showed the impact of [Ludwig]. His creative play-calling was on full display in the first half ... "

Chip and chips

You've heard of that expression "sawing wood," as in being persistent? Well, Washington State is collecting chips.

Paul Wulff, the WSU coach, didn't react well to Oregon coach Chip Kelly's replay challenge of Marshall Lobbestael's quarterback sneak for a touchdown the other night — with Oregon leading 45-0 late in the third quarter.

Referring to his first two seasons, Wulff said, "There's been some chips thrown on our coaches' and players' shoulders, that we're going to carry for a while. We'll have plenty of motivation moving forward, believe me."

He'll remember that challenge, then? "Yes."

And what's more ...

• Nobody has thrown a touchdown pass on USC.

• Oregon's game at UCLA is fraught with quarterback uncertainty. Jeremiah Masoli missed practice with a knee injury Tuesday and The Eugene Register-Guard wrote that it's likely Nick Costa will start against the Bruins, who are expected to get confirmation today that Kevin Prince is ready to go after missing two games with a broken jaw.

• Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh on fullback Owen Marecic: "He's probably my favorite player on the team."

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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About Bud Withers

Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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