After getting off to a particularly rough start in 2012, going 1-3 in the first three games, it seemed the Bears were turning things around with two solid victories over UCLA at home and Washington State on the road.
But anyone who latched onto the hope that the Bears had turned the corner and might somehow salvage the season with a minor bowl game have been thoroughly disabused of that overly-optimistic notion after the latest disastrous loss.
The game started with enough promise, with the Bears driving 43 yards, followed by a 49-yard field goal by the suddenly-reliable Vincenzo D'Amato, who leads the Pac 12 in field goal percentage, including nine straight successful attempts. But that was the only lead the Bears would hold all evening as the Utes beat the Bears for the third time in four years.
The Utes exposed the Bears in all phases of the game tonight, with returner/wide receiver Reggie Dunn leading the way by torching Cal for a pair of 100 yard touchdown kick returns on the night. Dunn became only the 16th player in NCAA history to record two kick returns for touchdowns in the same day while also setting an NCAA record for average kick return yardage with an impressive 74 yards per return.
"It felt really good," said Dunn. "A lot of credit goes to the special teams coordinator and kick return unit."
Offensively, the Bears struggled mightily until the final minutes of the game, where they rallied for a pair of scores in the 4th.
A Zach Maynard interception off the hands of receiver Keenan Allen, a Maynard fumble lost deep in Cal territory and returned for a touchdown and an array of overthrown passes were all on the menu for the offense's offensive performance tonight.
On defense, the Bears allowed Utah to consistently sustain drives as well as letting tailback John White get back on track with 108 yards and two touchdowns after struggling mightily this year to get back to his All-Pac 12 form of 2011.
"We just had to keep pounding the defense and it would open things up eventually," said White. "Cal was doing everything they shoed during the season and we just took advantage and got after it on the ground.
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson was effecient on the day, completing 67% of his passes for 156 yards -many of which came on critical 3rd down situations.
While Maynard's stat line of 20-for-32 for 288 yards was solid, it almost seems like a mistake after watching several poorly-thrown balls and drive-killing plays throughout the game. Many of the yards were also accumulated late in the game when the affair was clearly out of reach.
It remains a mystery why Tedford refuses to play any of the talented young quarterbacks on the Bears' roster when Maynard's play is ineffective -either to try and jump start the team in looking for a hot hand or to build for the future after Mayard departs this year.
Also on the mystery front is the question of how can you keep the ball out of the hands of the Bears' biggest home run threat since Jahvid Best in soph running back Brendan Bigelow?
Reminiscent of his incredible breakout performance at Ohio State when he ran for two long, spectacular touchdowns, Bigelow took the very first ball he touched to the house, breaking several tackles on his td romp.
"We got a couple plays for him in the 2nd half but we can't run that play every time," said Tedford, begging the question of why not, if the defense can often neither tackle or catch the speedy and elusive running back?
At 3-6, the Bears would have to sweep their final three games against Washington, Oregon and Oregon State to be bowl eligible -a task with long odds, to say the least.
There were good things that happened tonight, such as junior receiver Keenan Allen breaking Cal's all-time reception mark with 204 catches on his way to hauling in five receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown on the evening. Allen also extended his streak of games with receptions to 33 -every game of his Cal career.
"It's a great accomplishment to set the record today but I'd rather come away with a win," said Allen.
Other positives beyond Bigelow's electric run and Allen's record included an outstanding game from tight end Richard Rodgers, with 76 yards and a touchdown on three receptions.
But the positives were positively swamped in the Bears' disastrours drubbing at the hands of the Utes.
If the players are getting down on the staff and packing it in, they're not showing any hints of dissention and discord.
And as for Tedford, he was emphatic that he's not lost the players at this point.
"Not all all," said Tedford. "Not at all. Emphatically, no way.
"We've not lost this team. They've competed hard and there's absolutely no way."
But whether or not there's discord and dissention, the fact remains that the team and the staff are clearly not getting it done. They've reached a tipping point where drastic changes need to be made on all fronts to seemingly have any chance of moving this program forward.