Friday, October 26, 2007

After two-week tumble, No. 18 California gets it together again

AP Sports Writer

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -
So California's season went downhill faster than DeSean Jackson gets downfield. The star receiver won't give up just because most of the Golden Bears' dreams have vanished.

``The Pac-10 is unpredictable, man,'' Jackson said. ``We've still got a good second half of the season left. We're just looking forward to going out there and making good things happen.''

A mere two weeks ago, everything was good for Jackson and his teammates. Cal had a perfect record, a No. 2 ranking - its highest in a half-century - and legitimate national title hopes.

Just about all the Golden Bears (5-2, 2-2 Pac-10) have left is their pride after back-to-back losses to Oregon State and UCLA severely injured their BCS dreams and conference title aspirations.

Cal must attempt to avoid its first three-game losing streak under coach Jeff Tedford on Saturday night when the Bears visit No. 7 Arizona State (7-0, 4-0). Just two weeks after being the nation's No. 2 team, the Bears are merely hoping to play spoilers.

``You've got to keep your head up in a situation like this,'' linebacker Worrell Williams said. ``We've got to play for pride, but we've still got a chance to accomplish some of our goals. We're still fighting. We're still in this thing.''

Running back Justin Forsett plans to make sure his teammates know they're still in the race for the conference's biggest prizes, even if it's only mathematical.

``After two losses like that, you can lose sight of the joy of playing football,'' said Forsett, the Pac-10's second-leading rusher. ``That's something Marshawn (Lynch) always taught me. You've got to enjoy the process of playing football.''

The losses are a new challenge for Tedford, who hasn't had to deal with too much disappointment in his six years since turning a terrible program into a contender. The Golden Bears have exceeded expectations for most of his tenure - and that's why he lost plenty of sleep over the last 10 days.

``I think one thing that we learn from this is that the expectations, when they get so high and so great, that when you do stumble, it's a long fall and it's a hard fall,'' Tedford said. ``It's not pleasant by any means.

``Of course it's going to get blown out of proportion because of what the rankings were, but it's disappointing, because they hear it everywhere they go - they hear it in class, they hear it on campus. There's no hiding. There's no getting away from it. It's just something that you have to grit your teeth and hope that you prepare well enough to win the next game.''

Tedford has stayed positive through the defeats, emphasizing the positive aspects of two disheartening losses. Both came down to two late-game mistakes by the quarterbacks who are personally tutored by him.

Kevin Riley made an ill-advised scramble in the closing seconds against Oregon State, preventing Cal's kicking unit from getting on the field to try a game-tying field goal. Last weekend, Nate Longshore threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown in the final moments against UCLA with a two-point deficit and the Bears driving for a field goal.

Tedford expects Longshore to play again Saturday despite a sprained ankle, and he doesn't believe the junior's confidence has been injured.

``For the most part, I thought he did a great job of running the show,'' Tedford said. ``He didn't have a lot of reps in practice last week, but I thought he threw the ball very sharp.''

Tedford also met this week with his top three receivers - Jackson, Robert Jordan and Lavelle Hawkins - to make sure they're happy with a game plan that's still trying to find balance among several big offensive weapons. Jackson said the Bears ought to consider throwing more on first down after the loss at UCLA, though Cal already does so frequently.

``He just came to us to see if there was anything going wrong and what he could do different,'' Jackson said. ``He's our coach, and we have to abide by him and do all of the things that he says. We're cool with him. We just want to start winning games, that's the biggest thing.''