PASADENA

Vanquished is the curse that brought Cal coach Jeff Tedford seven losses in his first seven visits to Southern California.

Validated are the words of Golden Bears linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who first guaranteed victory and then punctuated it in the final minutes with a 68-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Gone is the two-game losing streak, as well as the indignity of sharing eighth place in the Pac-10 with a UCLA program in the embryonic stages of rebuilding under second-year head coach Rick Neuheisel.

Under a remorseless sun radiating 100-degree heat upon 67,317 at the Rose Bowl, Cal on Saturday assembled a 45-26 win over the Bruins that accomplished many things for the concerned citizens of Bear territory. Though those folks may permit themselves a long, slow exhale, the larger perspective indicated not so much a dramatic turnaround than perhaps the restoring of stability.

Which is progress nonetheless, coming after two Pac-10 losses by a combined score of 72-6.

There was, though, little to suggest the Bears are appreciably better than they were two weeks ago, when they lost to USC by 27, or five weeks ago, when they clobbered Eastern Washington by 52.


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Given the production of a UCLA offense that through five games ranked ninth in the conference, Cal's defense was less than impressive.

"Seeing some of the things they were able to do (against us) shows us how much work we still have to do," junior cornerback Darian Hagan said.

Cal surrendered to the Bruins a season-high 448 yards in total offense — 165 more than their average. UCLA's 26 points were its most since opening with a 33-14 win over a San Diego State languishing in the bottom half of Mountain West.

Bruins running backs gained 116 yards — at 6.4 yards a carry — while redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Prince, making his fourth career start, completed 21 of 41 passes for 311 yards. Nine pass plays went for 15 or more yards.

Tedford's quickie postgame analysis was that the Bruins made plays despite relatively good coverage — but his D defended the red zone well enough to hold the Bruins to two touchdowns. Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory chimed in, blaming the elasticity on too many instances of poor technique.

"We were there," Gregory said of his defenders. "We just didn't make some of the plays we should have." Yet linebacker Eddie Young insisted much of the bye week was spent working on technique, a logical reaction after allowing 72 points the two previous weeks.

"The big plays they made, those plays really shouldn't happen," he said. "If we want to be the kind of team we think we can be, and play the kind of defense we're capable of, we can't let those kinds of things happen."

Which brings us to the core issue: Six games into the season, with a 4-2 record (1-2 in the Pac-10), what kind of team is Cal?

The Bears — ranked sixth in the nation on the morning of Sept. 26 but since vanished from the rankings — are a quality team, talented enough on a good day to beat another quality team. Cal can handle poor-to-mediocre squads on most any day. UCLA (3-3, 0-3) most assuredly fits in the latter category and easily could finish ninth in the Pac-10.

Oregon (5-1, 3-0) and USC (5-1, 2-1), which spent back-to-back Saturdays eviscerating Cal, appear primed to separate themselves from the other eight teams in the conference. The Ducks and Trojans carry the flag for the conference, with one likely going to the Rose Bowl and the other to the Holiday Bowl.

That leaves Cal, Stanford, Oregon State, Arizona State, Arizona and Washington — the six teams below Oregon and USC but above UCLA and Washington State — scrapping for the bowls Sun, Emerald, Las Vegas and Poinsettia.

In short, Cal's spurious national title fantasy, which became a dubious Pac-10 title fantasy, has given way to third-tier bowl reality.

So the kind of team Cal is depends on where you set your bar. If it's at 7-5 or 8-4, you're in pretty good shape.

Yet this was a therapeutic win, killing an eye-opening two-game losing streak, ensuring there will be no repeat of the epic collapse of 2007, when the unbeaten Bears lost three in a row, flubbing their way out of the Top 10 and to the outer edge of college football's landscape.

So you take this one for what it is, perhaps enough to calm anxieties for a week.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • next game:
    Saturday, vs.
    Washington State, 1:30 p.m.