The California Golden Bears are now 1-4 on the season and 0-2 in Pac-12 Conference play after being dominated up front offensively -- again -- in a 27-17 loss to the Arizona State Sun Devils on Saturday, Sept. 29.
It is the Bears' worst start in coach Jeff Tedford's 11 seasons on the Berkeley campus and the team's worst start overall since 2001, when Cal lost its first 10 games under coach Tom Holmoe the year before Tedford took over the program.
Familiar problems were the culprit again Saturday. Tedford told BearTerritory.net that it was the offensive line issues that plagued Cal once again.
"We got physically beat up front," Tedford said. "We didn't really have much time to throw the football. We got a little bit going in the run game, but in the pass game we got beat by a more physical team."
The first instinct when looking at the post-game stats is to pin the loss on junior quarterback Zach Maynard, who was just 9-for-28 passing for 126 yards and a touchdown.
But the Sun Devils sacked Maynard six times -- making it 19 sacks surrendered by the Golden Bears in their past three games -- and on the rare occasions Maynard did have time to throw, he wasn't very accurate.
Isi Sofele was one of the lone bright spots on offense for the Bears. The senior running back from Salt Lake City ran for 105 yards on 15 carries and scored a touchdown while Cal put up 220 yards on the ground against the Pac-12's top-rated defense. But Sofele also had a key mistake, losing a fumble at the Cal 37-yard line late in the first half that set up a score for Arizona State that gave the Sun Devils a commanding 17-7 halftime lead.
Maynard isn't given to emotional outbursts but was screaming at sophomore right guard Chris Adcock after the lineman gave a Sun Devils rusher an unimpeded path to Maynard for a sack late in the game.
It's hard to remain optimistic about Cal's chances of returning to a bowl game this season. The Golden Bears are winless in four games against FBS competition, with their only win coming on Sept. 8 at home against FCS Southern Utah.
The Bears still have a road game at nationally ranked Oregon State and will host No. 2 Oregon and arch-rival Stanford, which was ranked in the top 10 before being shocked Thursday at Washington.
It's hard to look at the schedule and find the five additional wins necessary for bowl eligibility. At this point, even the game at perennial North Division doormat Washington State on Oct. 13 looks like a tossup.
The season has not been at all what the Golden Bears were hoping for after playing the 2011 season at San Francisco's AT&T Park while Memorial was being renovated.
Phil Watson is a longtime sportswriter and fan who became a supporter of the Golden Bears after watching the infamous "Stanford Band Play" as a high-schooler in 1982.