Sept. 10, 2000
BERKELEY - California hopes for a second consecutive upset to open the 2000 season when the Golden Bears travel to Champaign, Ill., for an intersectional match-up against No. 19 ranked Illinois. Last week's 24-21 win over a favored Utah team gave Cal it's fifth consecutive season-opening victory. The Bears will attempt to get to 2-0 for the first time since the 1997 season. Cal and Illinois have met six times thus far with the Illini holding a 5-1 edge. However, the last time the two teams met, Cal emerged with a 31-14 upset victory in Champaign over No. 14 ranked Illinois in 1974. It was Steve Bartkowski who did the most damage in that game, hitting 14-of-19 passes for 244 yards with a pair of TDs and no interceptions. Running back Howard Strickland ran for 105 yards on 13 carries. A year from now, Illinois comes to Cal to open the season on Sept. 1 as the second part of a two-game contract between the two schools.
Cal Offense Takes a Major Step Forward
It wasn't a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly Cal's offensive effort in its season-opener last week was an encouraging sign. After ranking dead last in the Pac-10 in virtually every offensive category last season, the Bears displayed improved productivity against Utah. On the first play of the season, quarterback Kyle Boller hit wide receiver Phillip Pipersburg on a 45-yard pass. Cal had drives into Utah territory on each of its first four possessions, and could have built a sizable lead. However, the Bears managed only one TD, as a missed 44-yard field goal, a fumble and a punt ended the other drives. Still, Cal had 173 yards of total offense in the first quarter and out-gained the Utes 210 yards to 72 yards at halftime. The Bears scored on three of their first four possessions in the second half (aided by great field position) and then pulled in the reins the rest of the game while protecting a big lead. While the 329 yards of total offense vs. Utah isn't exactly going to instill fear in the college football world, it is a step in the right direction as Cal topped that number only twice last year (371 yards vs. UCLA, 340 yards vs. Washington).
Hit Squad Nucleus Gone, but Cal Defense Continues to Dominate
There were many who predicted doom for a Golden Bear defense that lost its nucleus from a year ago to graduation. Not only did the Bears, who led the league in total defense last season, lose Pac-10 sack leader Mawuko Tugbenyoh and one of the top tacklers in school history in Matt Beck, but also four other defenders who are currently on NFL teams (Sekou Sanyika, Deltha O'Neal, Keith Miller and Jeremiah Parker) and another on a NFL practice squad (Jerry DeLoach). That's a pretty big chunk of talent to replace. However, coordinator Lyle Setencich seems to have worked his magic in piecing together another potent defensive unit for the Golden Bears. Cal held a veteran Utah offense to just 297 yards, and was particularly dominant early in the game. After the first five drives of the game, Utah had managed only a grand total of 8 yards of total offense and had punted five times. If you take away a punt return for a TD and an interception return for a TD, Cal's defense gave up just a single touchdown and that came when Utah converted a 4th-and-1 situation on an 18-yard TD run. That's a fairly remarkable performance for a defense that features five sophomores in its starting-line-up.
Young Cal Secondary Has Impressive Performance in Season-Opener
One of the biggest question marks entering the 2000 season was how a rebuilt Cal secondary would perform. The Bears are starting three new players in the defensive backfield along with veteran cornerback Chidi Iwuoma. Prior to Saturday's opener, the trio of Nnamdi Asomugha, Dewey Hale and Harold Pearson had a grand total of one collegiate start between them. However, the initial results look very promising for that group. The Bears held a powerful Utah passing game to just 158 yards, less than 10 yards per completion. The starting quartet was joined by a pair of promising sophomores - LaShaun Ward and Jemeel Powell - in the playing rotation and they all seemed to play well. It was Powell that made Cal's lone interception, and it was a big one as he made a leaping pick of a Utah pass in the corner of the end zone with just seconds left in the first half to preserve a 7-7 tie at the intermission. Pearson tied for the team's leading tackler as he had seven tackles, including one for a 9-yard loss. Asomugha had six tackles, but three of them were behind the line of scrimmage, and he caused one fumble early in the third quarter that Cal recovered at the Utah 44-yard-line and set up Cal's go-ahead touchdown. Hale was credited with four tackles. Ward made a couple big plays in the fourth quarter, deflecting a third down pass and making a tackle on fourth down to shut down a Utah drive in the final three minutes of the game.
Bears Don't Ignore Passing Game Despite New Emphasis on the Run
With a wealth of talent in the backfield and a solid offensive line, Cal figured to accent a running game in 2000. The Bears did manage to get tailback Joe Igber 26 carries in the Utah opener and the total of 120 rushing yards was exceeded in only four games last season. However, the Bears still like to throw ball and that was evident early on in the opener. Cal threw the ball on its first four plays and 8 of the first 10 offensive plays. The final stats showed Cal ran the ball on 45 of its 73 offensive plays (62 percent). However, the Bears were probably more conservative than they normally will be, thanks to a 24-7 lead in the second half.
Cal Announces New Contract Extension for Tom Holmoe
Cal Chancellor Robert Berdahl and Athletic Director John Kasser announced last Friday afternoon that they had agreed with head coach Tom Holmoe on a one-year extension to his current contract. The new agreement extends his contract through the end of the 2002 football season. Holmoe has expressed reticence in formally agreeing to a contract extension that has been on the table for the past year, saying he preferred the timing to coincide with improvement in the win-loss column. While he has continued to put on hold an offer from the school for a longer-term extension, he agreed this week to do the single-year extension. "I didn't feel this was necessary because I hope to be at Cal a long time," said Holmoe. "I also understand that everyone wants success for the program, and I am accountable for that, and I sincerely believe in postponing any rewards until we have that success. However, the administration felt this was a symbol of their commitment to our program. For that gesture, I am grateful."
Kyle Boller Shows What a Difference a Year of Experience Can Make
It's still too early to make plans for an All-America campaign for Kyle Boller, but clearly he seems a much different quarterback than he was last year when he started eight games as a true freshman and struggled badly. A year of experience and an off-season in which he became more comfortable in understanding the offense has paid major dividends. He played nearly mistake-free football last Saturday as he completed 18-of-28 passes for 209 yards and one touchdown. His only interception of the day came when his arm was hit while trying to throw a deep ball and Andre Dyson returned the floater 58 yards for a TD. He also fumbled the ball once while scrambling out of the pocket. However, his 131.6 pass efficiency rating looks a whole lot better than the 80.75 mark he compiled last season. He currently ranks No. 2 in the Pac-10 in the pass efficiency rankings.
Freshman Receivers Have Major Impact in Cal Passing Game
Cal's plan this year is to spread the ball around with a receiving corps that has superb depth. Even with a pair of JC transfers who sat out the opening game due to injuries (Chad Heydorff, Derek Swafford), the Bears still completed passes to nine different receivers. Cal's freshman group played a major role in the outcome of the game. True-freshman Geoff McArthur was the team's leading receiver with 4 catches for 34 yards. It was his 21-yard reception to convert a 3rd-and-3 situation that was the key play in Cal's third quarter TD drive that gave the Bears the lead for good at 14-7. Fellow true-freshman Chase Lyman also had an influential play as he snagged a 20-yard pass over his shoulders to take the ball to the Utah 18-yard-line on Cal's first touchdown drive of the game in the first quarter. He finished the day with a pair of catches for 37 yards. Redshirt-freshman James Smith made his college debut in fine fashion as well. He made a leaping catch in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown to open up Cal's second half scoring. He is regarded as Cal's best blocker at the wide receiver position. Senior Phillip Pipersburg also made a solid contribution as he opened the game by catching a career-long 44-yard reception.
Cal Defense Will Have its Hands Full with Balanced Illinois Attack
Cal will entertain one of the biggest defensive challenges of the season this Saturday against an Illinois team that entered the season with a reputation as one of the top passing teams in college football. However, after the first two games, Illinois is ranked fourth in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 272.0 yards per game. The Illini seem to have one of the top one-two punches in the nation in tailbacks Rocky Harvey and Antoineo Harris. They each have put up a pair of 100-yard rushing games in both of Illinois two wins thus far. Harvey is averaging 7.9 yards per carry and his 118.0 yards a game ranks No. 20 nationally. Harvey is averaging 122.5 yards a game to rank 18th in the nation. Traditionally, Cal has played the run well, ranking second in the Pac-10 last season in that category. However, this will be an even sterner challenge as Illinois can certainly take advantage of any defense that stacks against the run. Illinois quarterback Kurt Kittner is regarded as one of college football's top passers, having thrown for 3,817 yards in just over two seasons as the starting quarterback. His current passing efficiency rating of 160.3 for the 2000 season ranks him No. 12 in the NCAA.
For the first time since he became Cal's starting punter in 1997, Nick Harris was one the sidelines with the Golden Bears in punt formation last week, he suffered a concussion while being blocked on a punt return midway through the second half and was kept out of the game the rest of the way as a precaution, he is expected back in full health this Saturday...Among the players making their first collegiate starts last week were right guard Robert Truhitte, right tackle Mark Wilson, defensive end Tully Banta-Cain, inside linebacker John Klotsche, inside linebacker Matt Nixon, cornerback Harold Pearson and safety Nnamdi Asomugha...In a change from last season, Cal offensive coordinator Steve Hagen is spending the game in the press box, as opposed to last season when he was on the sidelines...Cal's schedule was ranked the third toughest in the nation by Inside Players magazine and the sixth toughest nationally by Sports Illustrated...With the win over Utah, Cal has now won five consecutive season-openers, including four straight under Tom Holmoe.