One by one, beaten Cal players emerged from their locker room at Autzen Stadium on Saturday insisting their goals for the season were still intact: They could win the Pac-10, and maybe the national championship.
Having just lost to Oregon 42-3, perhaps winning their next game might be a more manageable goal.
The loss to the Ducks raised a pocketful of questions, most notably whether Cal is a championship-caliber team. A 3-0 start had moved the Bears from No. 12 to No. 6 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, and many were picking them as the favorite to win the conference after USC lost to Washington.
But those expectations took a serious hit Saturday. The Bears, now ranked 24th, insist they just made some mistakes and had a bad day in Oregon. Saturday's game against No. 7 USC will demonstrate if that is true or if bigger problems exist.
"Watching film, that just wasn't our team," Cal defensive end Tyson Alualu said. "It wasn't our identity. There's no doubt in my mind that nobody is doubting what we can do here at Cal. I definitely feel like everybody is ready to respond to show America what we're really about."
If the Bears' downfall against the Ducks really can be traced to mistakes, there must have been a lot. Oregon appeared to be stronger, faster and better prepared.
The Ducks' spread option offense created a wide-open field for quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and had Cal's defense on its heels the entire game. Oregon's defense, meanwhile, dominated the line of scrimmage, holding Cal tailback Jahvid Best to 55 yards rushing and putting unrelenting pressure on quarterback Kevin Riley.
"It was a bad day," Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed said. "I don't really have an explanation for what happened, but we don't feel like that was us out there. We're focusing on turning it around and getting back to playing the Cal football that we know we can."
The Bears (3-1) should get a boost this weekend by playing in front of a sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium, but they will be tested by arguably the most physically gifted team on their 2009 schedule.
"We had a bad day, and they had a really good day. And that's a bad combination," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "That doesn't really work very well in your favor if you're not executing. It was like 10-man football. We had 10 guys that are doing it right and one guy maybe doesn't do his job. It's important that everyone execute in all phases of the game. That's correctable."
Making those corrections would be a good first step before entertaining the idea that Cal can contend for its first outright Pac-10 championship in 51 years.
"We still believe in each other and we still believe in our goals," Cal left tackle Mike Tepper said. "We have long-term goals. It's not just one game. We can still achieve everything we want to achieve and still have a great season. We all know that wasn't the way we play. We believe in how we can play. That just wasn't us."
Note: Starting left guard Matt Summers-Gavin has missed the last two days of practice with a sprained shoulder and is questionable for Saturday's game. Mark Boskovich would start in his place.