Nov. 24, 2003
Riding the heroics of wide receiver Geoff McArthur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the California Golden Bears added an exclamation point to their grueling 2003 season with a 28-16 win over Stanford in the 106th Big Game at Stadium Stadium Saturday--a victory that clinched Cal's first back-to-back winning seasons in 12 years and first postseason bowl berth since 1996.
Cal's ever-improving defense also figured prominently in the Golden Bears' second straight Big Game victory, muzzling the Cardinal offense to 284 total yards and 16 points (with Stanford's last TD coming on the final play of the game).
The Bears finished with a flourish, winning their final two games, four of their last five, and six of their last nine contests. Their 7-6 overall record marks the only time this year they have been perched above the .500 mark, as they conclude the campaign in a third-place tie with Oregon (both at 5-3). Oregon State, currently 4-3, can also grab a share of third place if the Beavers upset Pac-10 leader and nationally No. 2 ranked USC on Dec. 7 in Los Angeles.
Cal must now wait for its first bowl game invitation in seven years. That invitation will most likely come Sunday, Dec. 6, with the Insight Bowl in Phoenix (Dec. 26) or Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 24) the most likely destinations.
McArthur was nothing short of brilliant in the Bears' regular season finale, as the 6-1, 200-pound junior hauled in a school-record 16 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns in paving the way for a 28-point second-half explosion that erased a 10-0 Stanford lead at intermission. His 16 receptions rank second on the all-time Pac-10 single game list (three shy of the conference mark of 19, set by Arizona State's Ron Fair in 1989), while his 245 yards rank second in Cal history. His catches and yards were also both Big Game marks.
Rodgers, who carved up the Cardinal defense for a career-high 359 yards passing and another 55 yards rushing, broke Jim Plunkett's 34-year-old Big Game record for total offense (409) by tallying 414 combined yards on Saturday. He completed 26-of-37 passes on the afternoon, including a sizzling 12-for-14 for 189 yards and three touchdowns in the decisive second half.
The Bears, who entered the Big Game having committed the fewest turnovers in school history, coughed up the ball four times (three fumbles, one interception) in the first 30 minutes, which led to a 10-0 Stanford halftime lead. But Cal would not be denied, scoring four touchdowns in the second half to post its first Big Game victory at Stanford Stadium in 10 years.
By directing the 2003 Bears to a winning record and bowl berth, Jeff Tedford may have even exceeded his performance from a year ago, when he earned Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors. This year's club, which tied with Florida and South Carolina for the fewest returning starters (nine) in NCAA Divison 1-A football, had been picked to finish eighth in the Pac-10 in the preseason conference media poll. Tedford, instead, guided his Bears to a 5-3 third-place showing that included victories over then nationally No. 3 ranked USC, Arizona State and Washington--schools which were predicted as the top three finishers in that same preseason survey.
In leading Cal to 14 victories in his first two years at Berkeley, Tedford has won more games in his first two seasons than any Bear head coach in the past 55 years. The last coach to win more games in his first two campaigns was the legendary Pappy Waldorf, who chalked up a 19-2 mark in 1947-48.
Bears Claim 1st Back-to-Back Winning Seasons in 12 Years, 1st Bowl Berth Since Mariucci's 1996 Aloha Bowl Team
The arrival of Jeff Tedford continues to transform the Cal football program. In his first season at the helm in 2002, Tedford inherited a Golden Bear club that had gone 1-10 the previous season and promptly staged one of the biggest one-year turnarounds in school history in leading Cal to its first winning season (7-5) in nine years. Named the Pac-10 Coach of the Year in 2002, Tedford has now continued his coaching wizardry in his second campaign at Cal. Picked to finish eighth in the conference by Pac-10 media in the pre-season survey, the Bears once again have risen above outside expectations to post a 7-6 overall record and third-place tie in the Pac-10. Their 5-3 showing in the Pac-10 is the best conference mark by a Cal team since the 1991 Citrus Bowl club registered a 6-2 record. Among its 2003 victims are nationally No. 2 ranked USC, Arizona State and Washington, schools that were selected in that same media poll to finish first through third, respectively, in this year's conference race. In completing the regular season with a 7-6 ledger, the Bears have posted the school's first back-to-back winning seasons in 12 years-not since Bruce Snyder's teams finished 7-4-1 in 1990 and 10-2 in 1991-and have earned Cal's first post-season bowl appearance since Steve Mariucci's 1996 club went 6-6 and received an invitation to the Aloha Bowl. But unlike that '96 team, which lost its final three games and five of the last six in the regular season, this year's Bear unit closed fast, winning its final two games and four of its final five contests. What makes this year's record all the more impressive is the fact that Tedford and his coaching staff lost 23 seniors and 15 starters off the 2002 club.
Tedford Becomes 1st Cal Coach to Win 14 Games in 1st 2 Years at Helm Since Pappy Waldorf Posted 19-2 Mark in '47-48 To further illustrate the impact that Tedford has made on the Cal football scene, consider this: this season he became the first Cal coach to win 14 games in his first two years at the helm since the legendary Pappy Waldorf chiseled out a 19-2 record in his first two seasons of 1947-48. Tedford, who followed the five-year Tom Holmoe era, which endured a 16-39-1 record, has guided the new, improved Bears to a 14-11 ledger over the past two seasons.
Cal Leads Pac-10 in Rushing (170.7 YPG) for 1st Time in 45 Years; Echemandu & Arrington Give Bears the Circuit's Top 1-2 Punch
Not since Joe Kapp's 1958 team churned out 238.0 yards per game has California led the conference in rushing, yet prospects appear good that the 2003 Bears may very well lay claim to that same distinction. Led by the conference's best one-two punch in Adimchinobe Echemandu and J.J. Arrington, Cal rushed for 170.7 yards per contest this year. That's slightly ahead of USC, the No. 2 ground team in the Pac-10 at 168.1 ypg. The Trojans still have one remaining league game against Oregon State and its vaunted defense on Dec. 6, while both USC and Cal will also add a bowl game to their final stats. But if the Bears maintain their lead, it will be the first time Cal has paced the conference in rushing in 45 years. Currently, Echemandu ranks second in the circuit with 1,161 yards and a 5.2 yards-per-carry average, while Arrington is listed 10th with 570 yards and a league-leading 5.9 yards-per-carry figure.
Echemandu Averages 116.6 Rushing Yards in Last 7 Games to Claim 3rd Place on Cal's Single Season List With 1,161 Yards
Senior tailback Adimchinobe Echemandu has been perseverance personified, having overcome back-to-back missed seasons due to personal reasons to finally emerge as one of the Pac-10's premier rushers. Despite missing the Washington game (Nov. 15) with a sprained ankle, Echemandu is the eighth player in Cal history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. The Nigeria native chalked up 1,161 yards and 12 touchdowns on 225 carries in 12 games this season to rank No. 3 on Cal's all-time single season rushing list, trailing only Chuck Muncie (1,460 in 1975) and Russell White (1,177 in 1991). Echemandu's 96.8 yards-per-game average ranks second in the Pac-10 behind Oregon State's Steven Jackson, who's out of sight at 121.3 ypg. Buoyed by a career-high 201 yards (30 carries) and three touchdowns on the ground against Arizona Oct. 25 and a 128-yard, two-TD performance in Tempe Nov. 1, the 225-pound senior has averaged a jaw-dropping 116.6 rushing yards per game over his last seven appearances. His 12 rushing touchdowns were the fourth-most in school history, only two shy of the school record for a single season (shared by White and Lindsey Chapman).
Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: Cal Has Lost 5 Games By Combined 13 Points During 1st 2 Years of Tedford Era in Berkeley
When you build a football program, you can expect a few bumps in the road. For California head coach Jeff Tedford, who now owns a 14-11 overall record since arriving in Berkeley last season, his Bears have endured six losses by seven points or less in his brief Cal career (including five by a combined 13 points: 30-28 to USC and 23-21 to Air Force last year, and 23-21 to Colorado State, 23-20 in OT to UCLA and 21-17 to Oregon this year). In all, Tedford's 11 defeats at Cal over the past two years have been decided by an average of 7.2 points.
The Numbers Don't Lie: McArthur Earns Tag as Pac-10's Most Underrated Receiver as Nation's No. 2 Yard Gainer (1,504)
Emerging as one of the nation's leading receivers this year, junior wide receiver Geoff McArthur enjoyed one of the greatest seasons in Pac-10 history. He feasted on opponents for 85 receptions, 1,504 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2003, and along the way, set numerous records. His 1,504 yards shattered Cal's single season mark and was only 16 yards shy of the Pac-10 record, trailing only USC's Johnnie Morton (1,520 in 1993) and Stanford's Troy Walters (1,508 in 1999) in conference history. His 85 catches were the second-most in school annals and the 10th-highest total in Pac-10 history. A former national high school receiving yardage champion (1,779 yards on 91 catches at Palisades High in Pacific Palisades, Calif.), he averaged 115.7 yards per game over a grueling 13-game season--an average that ranked first in the Pac-10 and second nationally behind Pitt's Larry Fitzgerald. He gained at least 150 yards in five different games and reached the 100-yard mark in seven contests this year, both unprecedented milestones in Cal history. His 6.54 receptions per game ranked fourth in the Pac-10 and 12th nationally, while his 17.7 yards-per-catch was only surpassed in conference by Oregon's Demetrius Williams, who averaged 18.9 yards on 38 fewer catches. He capped his junior campaign by reeling off the second and eighth greatest receiving yardage days ever by a Cal player in his final two regular-season games. He combined for 22 catches, 425 yards and three touchdowns in those final two contests, hauling in six passes for 180 yards and one score vs. Washington Nov. 15 and then hunting down a school-record 16 receptions for 245 yards and two TDs at Stanford Nov. 22.