Holmoe says Boller is still the starter
Having started the season 0-3 and just heading into the tough portion of their schedule, the Cal Bears are certainly a team in need of a lift. Head coach Tom Holmoe and senior linebacker Scott Fujita are both trying to do just that.
“When I see a player down on the sideline, I grab him and look him straight in the eye,” Holmoe said Tuesday. “I’m trying to give them my strength.”
Fujita has taken a different tack, talking to his teammates off of the field.
“I’ve been soul-searching for ways to help guys,” he said. “I’ve been talking to guys one-on-one, and I try to help with things outside of football. I know our coaches don’t want to focus on those things, so I’m trying to help.”
You can’t blame Holmoe and Fujita for trying new tactics. The Bears have been a huge disappointment so far this year, being trounced by Illinois, BYU and Washington State, not exactly a Murderer’s Row of opponents. The offense, defense and special teams have all performed well below expectations, and it could get worse with powerhouses Washington, Oregon and UCLA coming in the next four weeks.
“Our patience, our wits and our dignity will be tested to the core,” Holmoe said. “The first game (a 44-17 loss to Illinois) took the wind out of our sails, and now we have to get back in the water. We’re at low, low tide when it comes to confidence level.”
Sailing analogies aside, Holmoe knows his job is in serious jeopardy. Several sources have said that new athletic director Steve Gladstone has already decided to axe the fifth-year head coach once the season ends. Some of Holmoe’s comments this week sound as if he considers himself a lame duck.
“These future eight games are all we have, so we want to enjoy them,” he said. “We’re addressing some unanswerable questions.”
A good start would be upsetting the Huskies this Saturday. Although the Bears haven’t beaten Washington since 1976, they have come very close the last two tries. Two years ago, Washington’s Maurice Shaw scored with 50 seconds left in the game to give the Huskies a 31-27 win. Last season, the Bears had a 24-13 lead in the fourth quarter, but two fumbles, an interception and a blocked punt led to Washington scoring 23 points in a six-minute stretch, ending in a 36-24 Husky win in Seattle.
“We know we can play with them. We almost had the game locked up last year, but we let it slip away,” Cal linebacker Matt Nixon said this week.
The Huskies have a much different look on offense this season, as the loss of quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo to the NFL has left a hole in the passing game. Replacement Cody Pickett had thrown six passes coming into the season and has yet to throw for a touchdown.
“Their offense clearly isn’t the same without Marques, but they are a very good team,” Holmoe said.
That may be, but injuries have hit Washington hard. In last week’s 53-3 blowout over Idaho, the Huskies lost starting tailback Willie Hearst and premier tight end Jerramy Stevens, as well as backup running back Braxton Cleman. But as usual, they have exceptional depth at running back, with Rich Alexis steps in to the starting lineup after running for 740 yards last year, and Paul Arnold could move back from receiver after switching positions to start the season. Throw in the fact that the Washington offensive line averages 306 pounds per starter, and it could be a long day for the Bears run-stoppers.
“We know they’re gonna pound the ball, so we just have to get ready for that,” Fujita said. “The front seven made a big step up and we need to carry our momentum into this game.”
Momentum is something the Bears would love to have on offense, but that’s hard to get when you don’t even trust your starting quarterback. Junior Kyle Boller was yanked from last week’s 51-20 loss to Washington State, the first time Boller has sat the bench since he was a freshman.
Backup Eric Holtfreter failed to impress during his time on the field, and Boller went back in late in the game. Holmoe said Boller is still the starter heading into Saturday’s game, but hopes the wake-up call got through to him.
“Kyle’s a competitor, so he didn’t like coming out of the game, but he accepted the decision and played better when he went back in,” Holmoe said. “We didn’t do it to give him a slap on the hand. We wanted him to step out and watch, and get his groove back.”
Holmoe was quick to point out that the offense’s failure to get into the end zone with regularity can’t be solely blamed on Boller.
“This is not the time to say ‘you’re our only hope, it’s all on your shoulders,’” Holmoe said. “We’ve stepped up our game on offense, but we’ve been cutting our own throats with turnovers. Once adversity hits, the wheels just come off.