Oct. 22, 2000
The California football team is on the road for the fifth time in eight games this season when the Golden Bears travel to Los Angeles to take on the USC Trojans. The 3:30 p.m. game will be on the Pac-10/Fox Syndication Network, marking sixth time in eight weeks the Bears have been on live television. Saturday's game marks the 75th consecutive season that Cal and USC have met on the gridiron, dating back to 1926. USC holds a 54-28-5 overall record in the series, but Cal has won three of the last four contests. In games played in Los Angeles, USC has a 26-15-3. The Trojans were winless in Los Angeles in the first nine games in the Cal-USC series from 1912-26 (including a pair of ties) and haven't beaten Cal in L.A. since 1994.
Bears Seem to Love L.A. in Rugged Pac-10 Wars
With 43 players on its roster from the southern California area, it's no surprise that the annual games between Cal and USC and UCLA are major motivational targets for the Golden Bear players. This includes many key players, with 10 of Cal's 22 starters on offense and defense calling that area their home. Whatever the reason, Cal has fared extremely well of late against the L.A. rivals. Cal is 4-1 against USC and UCLA since the start of the 1998 season. That comes during a period when the Bears have been 3-12 against the rest of the Pac-10 Conference. The Bears are bidding to sweep both L.A. schools in consecutive seasons for the first time in 50 years. The last time that feat happened was when Pappy Waldorf was coach and Cal posted sweeps over USC and UCLA in 1949 and '50 (both Rose Bowl seasons for the Bears). Since 1990, Cal is 10-9-1 against its Los Angeles rivals (4-5-1 against USC and 6-4 against UCLA).
Five-minute Seattle Avalanche Spoils Cal's Bid to Upset No. 9 Ranked Washington
Entering the final 11 minutes of last week's game, Cal seemed assured of its second straight upset of a national Top 15 team. The Bears had controlled the No. 9 ranked Huskies for most of the game, building a 24-13 lead in a hostile road environment. However, it all came crashing down in a flurry of bad plays and bad luck as Washington scored 23 points in a stretch of 6:01 without going more than 31 yards in any drive. Facing a 3rd-and-5 at its own 25, Kyle Boller was hit while beginning his throwing motion and the resulting fumble was recovered by the Huskies at the Cal 12. After moving only 1 yard, Washington cut the lead to 24-16 with a field goal with 10:35 left in the game. Three plays later, Boller lofted a pass down the left sideline, but receiver Derek Swafford slipped making a cut, and the ball went straight into the hands of cornerback Omare Lowe at the Cal 31. Washington went on to score a TD, but the Bears knocked down the 2-point conversion pass and clung to a 24-22 lead with 6:49 left. On Cal's next play, Joe Igber fumbled the ball, which Washington recovered at the Cal 16. An option pitch resulted in a quick Washington TD, and the Huskies grabbed their first lead of the game at 29-24. Four plays later, a Nick Harris punt was blocked and Washington recovered at the Cal 9-yard-line. That resulted in a 7-yard TD pass and the final 36-24 margin with 4:34 left in the game. It wiped out almost 50 minutes of good football by a Cal team that is proving it can play with anybody in the nation. Now, the task for an emerging Golden Bear squad is to turn long patches of excellent play into marks in the victory column.
Comparing the Golden Bears with Next Two Opponents
California will face three of the top four offensive teams in the Pac-10 the next three weeks, as USC ranks fourth in the Pac-10, averaging 396.4 yards per game, Oregon State is atop the conference at 412.3 ypg and Oregon is third in that category, averaging 404.0 ypg. Cal's defense ranks only sixth in the league in total defense, giving up 365.3 yards a game and is only seventh in scoring defense, allowing 25.7 points a game, including 74 points the last two games. While those stats may be somewhat misleading, the Golden Bear defense will have its hands full the next three weeks against offenses that will put pressure on opposing defenses.
Category Cal USC Oregon State
Total Offense 86th (320.3 ypg) 39th (396.4 ypg) 26th (412.3 ypg) Rushing Offense 60th (140.7 ypg) 48th (155.4 ypg) 20th (192.4 ypg) Passing Offense 87th (179.6 ypg) 30th (241.0 ypg) 53rd (219.9 ypg) Scoring Offense T86th (19.9 ppg) T68th (23.3 ppg) 23rd (32.4 ppg) Total Defense 64th (365.3 ypg) 49th (346.3 ypg) T31st (316.1 ypg) Rushing Defense 28th (110.0 ypg) 44th (129.0 ypg) 25th (105.0 ypg) Pass Efficiency Defense 85th (129.5 rating) 53rd (115.4 rating) 41st (110.3 rating) Scoring Defense 70th (25.7 ppg) 60th (23.6 ppg) 33rd (20.0 ppg) Turnover Margin T78th (-.43) T95th (-1.0) T6th (+1.43) Net Punting 39th (36.1 ypp) 80th (33.1 ypp) 41st (36.0 ypp)
Joe Igber Becoming One of Pac-10's Dominant Offensive Threats
Midway through his sophomore season, Joe Igber is establishing himself as one of the top threats in Cal Football history. Although he's only started 11 games in his career, he already has posted five 100-yard rushing games, something only 10 other players in Cal annals have achieved. He has now rushed for 1,303 yards in his brief career on 270 carries and is on the verge of breaking into Cal's Top 15 career rushing list. He needs just 101 yards to match No. 15 Arleigh Williams, who had 1,404 yards from 1932-34. Igber currently ranks No. 5 in the Pac-10 and No. 39 nationally, averaging 87.0 yards a game. On his current pace, he would finish with 965 yards this season, which would ninth-best single-season rushing mark in Cal history. He is averaging 5.0 yards per carry this season, bettered only by Oregon State's Ken Simonton (5.3 ypc) and USC's Sultan McCullough (5.2 ypc) among the top rushers in the conference. Igber's contributions go far beyond taking handoffs, as he also rates as Cal's leading pass receiver with 17 catches. He isn't just taking short dump-off passes either as he's averaging 13.2 yards per reception. The last three games, Igber has accounted for 530 yards of all-purpose rushing (207 yards at ASU, 175 yards vs. UCLA and 148 yards at Washington). That's an amazing 48.2 percent of Cal's total offense of 1,094 yards in those three games. Overall, Igber ranks No. 3 in the Pac-10 and 51st nationally in all-purpose rushing, averaging 119.0 yards per game. Below is a listing of all of Igber's runs and catches this season.
Joe Igber's Rushes and Receptions in 2000 Season
Utah 5,4,7,9,4,4,0,4,-1,2,1,7 (half) 0,4,9,-3,4,13td,2,0,1,-1,11,-1,0 Receptions: 7,5,12 Illinois 1,3,5,2,6,9,4,0 (half) 9,-1,1 Receptions: -1 Fresno State 3,1,2,-3,2,21,1,6,4 (half) 12,4,8,0,5 Receptions: 14 Washington State 5,2,0,21,1,5,3,8,8,2 (half) 0,5,1,7,3,6,0,-3 Receptions: 8,-4 Arizona State 20,0,25,2,3,-1,0,1 (half) 12,9,5,2,80,15,8 Receptions: 30,-4 UCLA -3,1,2,-1,7,4,1,0,8 (half) 1,2,0,3,1,4,9,2,2,3,0 3td Receptions: 23td,36td,34,26,7 Washington 2,3,2,0,1,6,6,2,9,2,16 (half) 16,1,0,40,5,5 Receptions: 5,7,20
Nick Harris Should Claim NCAA Punting Record on Saturday
Nobody in Pac-10 history has ever punted for more yards than Cal's Nick Harris. On Saturday, the Cal senior figures to set a new NCAA record for most punting yards in a career. Harris has punted for 12,885 yards in his brilliant Cal career, averaging 43.53 on those punts. He needs just 63 yards on Saturday to take over the top spot in the NCAA record books, overtaking Cameron Young of TCU, who punted for 12,947 yards from 1976-79 on 320 punts. Harris also should eventually break Young's 320-punt record as well, needing to average 6.0 punts over the final four games to capture that national mark. Harris only ranks 43rd nationally in punting this season with a 41.15 average, but that stat is misleading. He has been asked to punt for placement rather than distance most of the season as 17 of his 47 punts (36.2 percent) this season have come with a line of scrimmage inside opponent territory. He's has 27 punts downed inside the opponent 20-yard-line ( 57.4%). Included in that total are 9 punts inside opponent's 5-yard-line. Harris is a candidate for the Ray Guy Award for the nation's top punter.
Nick Harris Career Punting Statistics
Year Punts Yards Avg LG In 20 1997 77 3250 42.2 63 8 1998 87 3546 40.8 63 27 1999 85 3744 44.0 70 21 2000 47 1934 41.2 64 27 Total 296 12,885 43.53 70 83
Cal Quarterback Kyle Boller Showing Signs of Emerging as Star
Do what you want with the statistics that show Cal sophomore quarterback Kyle Boller ranking ninth in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency with a rating of 100.6, or having one of the nation's lower completion rates at 46.4 percent, or having thrown six interceptions this year, including two fourth quarter picks the last two weeks that aided comebacks by UCLA and Washington. The fact of the matter is that Boller is clearly developing the type of skills that should make him an All-America candidate before his Cal career is over. There were those who had their doubts through a ragged performance as a true-freshman, and those who began to vocalize questions about his skills earlier this season when he struggled in various games. However, the last two weeks, Boller has been superb. Forget the fact that he's only hit only 30-of-66 passes during those games. Those who have been at the games or studied the films will find that he's been right on the money on almost all his attempts, with several drops and incompletions when he is getting rid of the football, skewing his percentage completion. With the interceptions, one came when H-back Keala Keanaaina juggled a leaping attempt and the ball fell to a UCLA safety on the ground. The other came when receiver Derek Swafford slipped on an out route and a perfectly thrown ball became an interception. During that two-game span, Boller has thrown for an average of 232.5 yards a game and four touchdowns. In his previous 15 games, he had passed for an average of only 139.1 yards a game and 0.87 touchdowns a game. He has shown a far superior command of the offense in recent games and shown great decision-making. In the last two games, he twice scrambled to convert third downs (one on a Cal TD drive) against UCLA and scrambled 15yards for a TD at Washington. Nobody is willing to call Boller a honors candidate yet, but the Cal coaching staff and those opponents studying the Golden Bear game films know that Boller will be a major force on the collegiate scene the next two seasons.
Cal Linebacker Crew Developing into One of Elite Units in Pac-10
Entering the 2000 season, Cal's trio of starting linebackers could hardly be considered an imposing group. One (Scott Fujita) is a former walk-on whose playing status was in serious jeopardy after off-season surgery on his neck. Another (John Klotsche) is a 6-0, 235-pound walk-on who earned a scholarship during the off-season due to his fine special teams play. The third (Matt Nixon) is a player generously listed at 215 pounds who only had offers from Ivy League schools and Nevada before Cal issued him a scholarship late in the 1998 recruiting season. Not the type of stuff to elicit a lot of pre-season hype and a major contrast to a group like USC that had pre-season All-America accolades raining down on its linebacker group. However, as Cal enters the stretch run, it's safe to say that there aren't many linebacker groups in the Pac-10 playing at a higher level than the Golden Bear trio. Klotsche started the first game of the season, before moving into a supporting role for the next four games. He returned to the starting line-up against UCLA and has been spectacular the last two weeks. After registering six tackles vs. the Bruins, making several big plays in helping the Bears hold the UCLA rushing attack to 45 yards on 45 attempts, Klotsche was the game's leading tackler at Washington with 12 tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage for minus 13 yards (one a 12-yard sack). He also had a fumble recovery that he returned 34 yards for a touchdown vs. UW. Nixon was Cal's leading tackler vs. UCLA with 8 stops, including three behind the line of scrimmage for minus 4 yards. Last week, he contributed one tackle behind the line for minus one yard among his 3 tackles. Fujita has played steadily all season. He had two tackles behind the line among his four stops vs. UCLA and added another behind the line among his six unassisted tackles at Washington. As a group, the trio has accounted for 18 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and played almost mistake-free football. Another linebacker who gets significant playing time is junior Chris Ball, who has five tackles behind the line of scrimmage thus far. The good news is that nucleus will return in tact next season and may even attract attention as honors candidates.
Cal Defense Much Stauncher than Statistics Seem to Indicate
Starting a defense that features six sophomores and one freshman is a recipe for disaster in a conference such as the Pac-10, but Cal has managed to hold up very well with the young group. Aside from a bad outing at Arizona State, Cal's youthful defense has played dominant football this season. The stats show Cal is giving up 25.7 points per game, but a closer inspection reveals that many of those points have come on short fields due to offensive or special teams mistakes. Cal has given up 22 touchdowns, but one of those came on an interception return, another on a punt return. Also, seven more touchdowns have come on drives less than 25 yards after Cal turnovers.
Cal Offense Starts to Take Advantage of Opportunities in Opponent Territory
California has had more than its share of opportunities to emerge as a high scoring team. The Bears have moved into opponent territory no less than 56 times this season. The problem has been that Cal hasn't been able to take advantage of those opportunities. Prior to the last two games, Cal had converted only 28.6 percent of those chances into scores (8 touchdowns, 4 field goals). However, the Bears have been much improved the last two weeks, converting 9 of 17 possessions, including 7 touchdowns.