Well, at least nothing else can go wrong.
After holding strong during three straight losses in which the offense and special teams took turns handing the opposition easy scores, Cal’s vaunted defense finally collapsed at Arizona State Saturday, giving up nine plays of over 25 yards on the way to a 30-10 loss. The Sun Devils’ long plays included three touchdown passes of at least 50 yards.
The offense didn’t do the team any favors either, as quarterback Kyle Boller threw for just 127 yards and was so ineffective head coach Tom Holmoe pulled him for the first time this season. Joe Igber ran for 181 yards on only 15 carries, but managed to offset his great day with a lost fumble and an inexplicable collapse at the one-foot line on his longest run of the day. The Bears (1-4) managed just three drives into Arizona State territory for the game, and two of them ended in turnovers.
But the Bears’ secondary was the scapegoat of the day. Despite good pressure by the defensive line and the Sun Devils starting their third-string quarterback, the Bears defensive backs gave up 420 yards in the air, constantly letting the Arizona State (4-1) receivers get behind them for big gains. Cornerback Lashaun Ward was particularly helpless, giving up four passes of at least 30 yards by Griffin Goodman, a senior walk-on who had thrown just 46 passes in two years coming into the game.
The game started promisingly for the Bears, as Igber scampered for 20 yards, then took a screen pass 30 yards to the ASU 22-yard line. But on third down, Boller scrambled out of the grasp of two Sun Devils only to have defensive end Kurt Wallin knock the ball from his grasp. Arizona State’s Lee Suggs fell on the ball to kill the early scoring chance.
The Bears’ next drive stalled before reaching midfield, but Holmoe daringly called for a fake punt. The Sun Devils were completely fooled, but punter Nick Harris’ pass was a floater and safety Deway Hale was forced to leap for it, crashing to the turf two yards short of the first down with nothing but open grass in front of him.
The home team struck quickly on the ensuing drive. After a run produced no yardage, Goodman faked a handoff to tailback Mike Williams. Every Cal player bit on the fake, including safety Bert Watts, who was supposed to cover tight end Todd Heap. Goodman hit the wide-open Heap for a 50-yard touchdown, putting the Bears in a 6-0 hole.
The next 15 minutes of the game were probably the ugliest spectacle most fans will see this year. The Bears next drive lost six yards, and Goodman answered back with three straight incompletions. After a Sun Devil punt, Igber fumbled the ball. Arizona State’s Adam Archuleta, who found a home for the afternoon in the Bear backfield, recovered the ball. Archuleta finished with seven tackles, including three for losses, and was in Boller’s face all game long.
Following a Jacob Waasdorp sack, Williams coughed the ball up on a hit by defensive end Shaun Paga, who has proven to be an impact player for the Bears in his first year back after a two-year break from football. Paga has now caused two fumbles on the season to go with a safety, 15 tackles and a sack.
Boller found tight end Keala Keanaaina on two play-action passes sandwiched around a scramble for 18 yards to get the Bears to the ASU 10, and Mark Jensen converted the 27-yard field goal to cut the deficit to three points. That was as close as Cal would get for the rest of the game.
On a third-and-seven on the ensuing drive, Heap caught a short pass across the middle. Watts had a chance to stop the big tight end short of the first down, but Heap simply lowered his head and steamrolled over him, rumbling for another 50-yard gain.
Cal’s defense stiffened again, and ASU kicker Mike Barth hit an impressive 41-yard field goal. But Cal’s Chidi Iwuoma was offside on the play, giving the Sun Devils a first down and prolonging the drive. The home team’s offensive line then committed two false starts and one holding penalty to back ASU out of field goal range.
But as the Sun Devils attempted to shoot themselves in the foot, the Bear defense snatched the gun away and tried to blow its own leg off. On second-and-30, the Bears appeared to have an interception that could have turned the tide of the game. But the visitors were called for defensive holding, giving the ball back to the Sun Devils, then committed the same infraction on third-and-19 to put Arizona State right back into field goal range. Barth was good from 36, and the score stood 9-3.
From that point, the Bears looked utterly clueless in most facets of the game. Goodman began to pick on Ward and Harold Pearson, and he connected on bomb after bomb to receivers Shaun McDonald, Ryan Dennard and Donnie O’Neal. The Sun Devils’ last drive of the first half covered 92 yards in just two passes, a 33-yarder to tailback Davaren Hightower and a post pattern to McDonald, who beat Pearson by three yards and strolled into the end zone untouched to give Arizona State a 16-3 halftime lead.
Goodman shook off a Ward interception early in the second half, connecting with McDonald again for 54 yards to set up a seven-yard touchdown run by running back Tom Pace. Six minutes later, Goodman found O’Neal for another 50-yard score, finishing the Sun Devils’ scoring. Goodman sat down for the final quarter of the game, giving sophomore Matt Cooper some time at quarterback. Goodman completed just 11 of his 28 pass attempts, but made each completion count, racking up 394 yards and three touchdowns in his three quarters of work.
All that was left for the Bears was their pride. Buried deep in their own half, Cal looked to have a bit of life left when Igber burst through the Arizona State defense and was 15 yards in the clear, headed towards the end zone. But he ran out of gas with 30 yards to go and eventually fell down untouched just short of the goal line. Cal’s frustration was complete when fullback Ryan Stanger fumbled the ball on the next play, and even a blocked punt by linebacker John Klotsche and a one-yard touchdown run by Joe Echema to set the final score couldn’t make up for a day full of disappointments.