It's one of the oldest passages in the football coaching bible, and one of the most revered: Never express unconditional satisfaction after a game. Even a blowout. Especially a blowout.
Thus, the aftermath of the 49-17 power wedgie which Cal administered to Washington State on Saturday was as predictable as the game's outcome. The first chance coach Jeff Tedford got, he played the "If That's The Best We Can Do, God Help Us All" card.
And the first chance he got was when he was asked about his team's defensive play.
"I felt like we got sloppy with our fundamentals," he said, recalling the final 11:14 of the second quarter when the Bears saw their 35-3 lead whittled to 35-17. "More than anything, I was disappointed in our tackling."
So much so that Tedford lit into the defense at halftime. "I told them," he said with a coy smile, "we needed to tackle better — in so many words."
Giving Tedford's anguish its due, Cal did surrender 299 first-half yards to Washington State — 30 more than the Cougars had been averaging for a full day's work. But the fire and brimstone? Classic. And it evoked a classic response.
"It seemed like it was almost too easy," defensive end Cameron Jordan said of the game's early moments. "Coach definitely let us know we were in a fistfight."
Then came the part no one expected. When Tedford had finished dousing his defenders in lighter fluid, linebacker Steve Fanua set them on fire.
"He's a young buck, a redshirt freshman," Jordan said, smiling. "He has fire in his veins. He gave us a nice little talk."
And this was received how?
"That only amps you up more," Jordan said. "Here's a guy, barely 18 years old, letting us know what this means for him. He's a young kid. He's hungry."
So was Cal's defense when it returned to the field. Jordan recorded two of his two-and-a-half sacks, and three of his six tackles in the second half. One sack defused Washington State's first drive after the intermission. Another, coming on fourth-and-10, ended a Cougars drive at the Cal 18.
Jordan also was credited in the official play-by-play with a handful of hurries on quarterback Jeff Tuel. It's not an official stat, but it's redeemable for a pat on the helmet from the head coach.
"At times we put a little pressure on them," Tedford said. "Even sometimes when we didn't get sacks we forced their quarterback to step up and throw errant passes."
The proof was in the numbers. Cal pitched a shutout in the second half, holding Washington State to a more palatable 141 yards.
It was, if not a breakout game for the 6-foot-4, 287-pound Jordan, then a study in irony. Blessed with size and strength, he has at times confounded his coaches with an approach to the game that mirrors his fun-loving personality as opposed to the hyper-intense nature of life along the line of scrimmage. How interesting, then, that his intensity helped spark the defense in the kind of lop-sided game that can set a fellow's mind to wandering.
"We came out in the first quarter so strong," Jordan said. "Then, we didn't plateau, but it seemed like it."
So how do you walk away from a game you dominated with half your attention span tied behind your back?
"You never walk away from any game satisfied," Jordan said. "You can always work on something."
What Cal needs to work on now is making inroads on the Pac-10's upper echelon. The Bears' two conference wins have come against teams that are a combined 0-9 in Pac-10 play, and they've been gouged for 888 yards of offense in the process. Their two losses have come against teams with a combined 6-1 conference record.
Next up: Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz., followed by home games against Oregon State and Arizona. Winnable games, but beyond anything Cal has achieved so far this season.
Jordan welcomes the challenge — especially the next one. A native of Chandler, Ariz., Jordan has already made one triumphant return home. He returned a fumble for a touchdown, albeit in a Cal loss, at Arizona State two years ago.
"Anytime I can get back to Arizona is good for me," he said. "And Arizona State has been good to me."
More of the same come Saturday would be a welcome development for Cal. In so many words.
Contact Gary Peterson at email@example.com.