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The Bears are for real

By Larry Lage
Monday September 16, 2002

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Cal has already exceeded expectations. The Golden Bears are not content, however. 

Cal quarterback Kyle Boller accounted for four touchdowns – two throwing, one running and one receiving – as the Golden Bears humbled then-15th-ranked Michigan State 46-22 Saturday. 

The Bears moved into The Associated Press poll with a No. 23 ranking and the Spartans fell out of the Top 25. 

One season after going 1-10, first-year coach Jeff Tedford has the Bears believing. 

The last time the Bears beat such a highly ranked team was Oct. 5, 1974, when they defeated No. 14 Illinois. They’re 3-0 for the first time since 1996 – Steve Mariucci’s only season before leaving for the San Francisco 49ers – and have defeated a Top 15 team for the first time since 1974. 

Despite tripling last year’s win total, the Golden Bears were businesslike after first silencing, then emptying, Spartan Stadium. 

“I think it’s just an attitude that we’ve been trying to instill since Day 1,” said Tedford, who replaced Tom Holmoe after he was 16-39 over five seasons. “We’re going to expect to win and do things the right way. When I look at our kids, I don’t see any surprise in their faces.” 

Some picked the Spartans (2-1) to be one of the surprising teams in the nation, but what they did Saturday showed that the consistency problems the program has been plagued with for years are still lingering. 

“We didn’t coach. We didn’t play. We didn’t do anything. ... I’m mostly disappointed in myself. I’ll take the hit. Put it all on me,” Michigan State coach Bobby Williams said. 

Receiver Charles Rogers might have been the only Michigan State player who didn’t have an awful game. He caught nine passes for 166 yards and a TD. He has caught at least one TD pass in his last 11 regular-season games – one short of the NCAA record held by Marshall’s Randy Moss, Michigan’s Desmond Howard and Pacific’s Aaron Turner. 

Counting last season’s Silicon Valley Bowl, Rogers has caught a TD pass in 12 straight games. 

“I’d rather have the win,” said Rogers, who also broke the school record with his seventh straight 100-yard game. “Luckily, it wasn’t during the Big Ten season. We still have nine games left this season and still have a chance to make our run and we plan on doing so.” 

Michigan State (2-1) plays No. 12 Notre Dame (3-0) at home Saturday. The Spartans have won five straight over the Fighting Irish, who are off to their best start since 1996. 

The Bears will play Air Force at home on Saturday before beginning the Pac-10 season at home against Washington State and at Washington. 

Tedford has brought Cal immediate respect one year after the team went a miserable 1-10. The passing game was Tedford’s specialty at Oregon and Fresno State before that, and so far the Bears have outscored their opponents 91-10 in first halves and 150-57 overall. 

“We know we have the athletes to play with anybody in the country,” Ward said. “Our coaching staff has told us that, and we’re all believers. We expected to win here, so we’re not surprised.” 

Defense has been the real surprise for Cal, however. The Bears forced five Michigan State turnovers and gave up only one, and they’re plus-10 in turnover margin this season after ranking 114th out of 115 Division I-A schools with a minus-17 margin last year. 

Michigan State drove to Cal’s 1 and 2 on consecutive drives in the first quarter, but the Spartans turned the ball over both times. They also fumbled the kickoff after two of the Bears’ first-half scores. 

Cal’s first-half outburst began with Jemeel Powell’s 90-yard punt return for a TD – the Bears’ longest in 36 years – midway through the first half. 

Ward returned a kickoff 56 yards, breaking several tackles, to set up Mark Jensen’s career-long 51-yard kick, which gave Cal a 12-0 lead. 

A trick play made it 22-0 with 19 seconds left in the half. Ward, a receiver, went in motion from left to right, caught a pitch from Boller, then lobbed the ball back to the quarterback for a 14-yard TD. 

Michigan State had brief hopes for a comeback in the second half. 

On the opening drive, the Spartans went 91 yards, capped by Smoker’s 15-yard TD pass to Rogers. On Cal’s next play, Jason Harmon intercepted a pass by Boller. 

Smoker’s 2-yard pass to Jason Randall cut the deficit to 25-14 midway through the third quarter. 

The Bears quickly ended the threat with Boller’s touchdown run, James Bethea’s second interception and Boller’s two TD passes. 

“That deflated us a bit,” Williams said. 

Boller was 19-of-33 for 232 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He caught a 14-yard TD pass from receiver LaShaun Ward in the second quarter and scored the first of Cal’s three second-half touchdowns on a 2-yard run. 

“This is awesome,” Boller said. “Playing quarterback for a 1-10 or 3-7 team like I have is not fun. This is.”