It’s difficult to determine whether Cal should be encouraged or discouraged by its 35-28 loss to No. 12 Ohio State on Saturday.
The Golden Bears played by far their best game of the young season, demonstrating capabilities that did not seem to be present in the first two games — a home loss to Nevada and a victory over FCS school Southern Utah, which was very much in the game until the fourth quarter.
The Bears outplayed the nationally ranked Buckeyes in the second half and had a chance to pull off their biggest road win in years.
Quarterback Zach Maynard clearly played his best game of the season and probably the best game of his career, completing 26-of-37 passes with just one late interception despite facing constant pressure from the Ohio State defense. And Brendan Bigelow emerged as the big-play back the Bears had been lacking, producing touchdown runs of 81 and 49 yards, the former being one of the most impressive runs by a Cal back in recent memory.
However, much of that good news was canceled by the fact that Cal failed to finish off the victory, falling to 1-2 with a road game next at USC, which lost to Stanford 21-14.
The final five minutes were particularly disappointing for the Golden Bears. First, they failed to score points after getting to the Ohio State 25-yard line in a tie game. Then they gave up the game-winning touchdown on a horribly blown coverage that allowed Buckeyes receiver Devin Smith to get 10 yards behind the closest Cal defender on his way to an easy 72-yard touchdown reception on a third-and-seven play with 3:26 left.
It’s also difficult to determine whether the result eased or increased the pressure on Cal coach Jeff Tedford.
The Bears’ overall improvement, which included just four penalties, suggested Tedford had not lost control of the team. It also indicated the Bears have improved significantly since the opener and are capable of competing against high-quality opponents on the road.
But being unable to get his team to finish off the big win and getting the wrong result on a tough decision he made late in the game will mean the critics will remain.
Facing a fourth-and-one at the Ohio State 25 with 4:26 left in a tie game, Tedford opted to attempt a 42-yard field goal, even though kicker Vince D’Amato had missed his two previous field-goal attempts — of 40 and 42 yards, the former by a wide margin.
He missed this by an even wider margin, leaving the game tied and setting up the Buckeyes’ game-winning score. D’Amato’s three misses on makeable field goals played a major role in the loss.