The sense of desperation that had provided the only remaining emotional boost for Cal disappeared on Nov. 2 when the Golden Bears lost to Washington 21-13 in a disheartening and mistake-filled Friday night home game in front of a national television audience.
At 3-7, the Bears are left with no tangible motivation, other than to avoid an utter collapse, and they probably will be without their best player and their starting quarterback to finish up the season.
No longer do they have a shot at a bowl game, which means they will be staying home for the second time in three years after playing a postseason game seven years in a row.
Cal is also guaranteed its second losing season in three years, after having winning seasons in Jeff Tedford's first eight years as coach. It raises serious questions about whether Tedford will return for the 2013 season, even though he had built the program from nothing to a national player before the recent slide.
The final two games may influence whether Tedford is retained, but those two games shape up as the toughest of the Bears' season -- a Nov. 10 home game against unbeaten Oregon, which entered the weekend No. 2 in both polls, and a Nov. 17 road game against Oregon State, which entered the weekend No. 11 in the BCS standings.
Cal will be a clear underdog in both games, and two more defeats would mean the Bears would end the season with five straight losses and a 3-9 record. Those are not trends that will do the program or Tedford's job security any good.
Plus, there is the issue of mounting injuries to key players, the most important being wide receiver Keenan Allen, who is the school's all-time leader in career receptions, and quarterback Zach Maynard.
Allen's knee injury kept him out of the Washington game and is expected to sideline him for at least one more game and quite possibly both.
Meanwhile, there is no immediate prognosis for Maynard, who left the game against Washington with about four minutes left with a knee injury. But he had to be taken to the locker room on a cart, and it certainly did not appear to be the kind of injury that would allow him to return against Oregon. You'd have to think his chances of playing again this season are slim.
That will leave things up to Allan Bridgford, who is 4-for-16 for the season after going 2-for-7 against Washington and failing to get the Bears into the end zone on their final possession. His fourth-down pass to C.J. Anderson from the Washington 25-yard line with 1:08 left was well off line.
It was one of the many scoring chances wasted by the Bears, who got outstanding games from freshman wide receiver Chris Harper (101 receiving yards), running back Anderson (160 rushing yards) and its banged-up defense, which forced four turnovers.
But again, the Cal offense could not convert opportunities, getting more first downs and more yards than the Huskies but turning the ball over four times and failing to get touchdowns when it got close.
WHAT'S AHEAD: Cal plays Oregon on Nov. 10 at home, then faces Oregon State on the road in its final game of the season on Nov. 17. The Bears will be clear underdogs in both. Those two teams entered their Nov. 3 games with a combined record of 14-1, and both are ranked in the top 11 of the BCS standings. Oregon entered the weekend as the nation's top scoring team, and Cal has injury issues on defense.
--One of the most frustrating aspects of the game for Cal fans was the fact that Washington freshman S Shaq Thompson had an outstanding game. Thompson, the brother of former Cal CB Syd'Quan Thompson, had verbally committed to Cal before assistant coach Tosh Lupoi left the Cal staff to join Washington two weeks before signing day. Thompson changed his commitment to California to follow Lupoi. Against Cal, Thompson had seven tackles, including two for losses, and intercepted a pass that led to the Huskies' final touchdown.
--Washington (5-4) had been blown out in all three of its previous road games this season and had lost six straight on the road dating back to last season. Playing the Huskies at home represented the Bears' last best chance to get a victory, and in many aspects Cal outplayed Washington. But the Bears came away with a disappointing loss and have managed just one touchdown in their past two home games combined, against Stanford and Washington.
--Jeff Tedford's contract runs through the 2015 season, so if Cal fires Tedford and his staff, it will cost about $9 million to do it.
--Injuries continue to mount for Cal. Besides the injuries to WR Keenan Allen (knee) and QB Zach Maynard (knee), Cal played Washington without starters WR Bryce Treggs (ankle), CB Marc Anthony (head), ILB Jalen Jefferson (concussion) and NT Kendrick Payne (finger). During the game, DE Keni Kafusi, who had played well, broke his kneecap in the second quarter, and OT Matt Summers-Gavin left with a leg injury. OLBs Brennan Scarlett (hand) and Chris McCain (ankle) played despite being hampered by injuries.
--Cal came into the game having yielded 37 sacks, the most in the country, and the Bears allowed two more sacks against Washington.
--Cal committed four turnovers against Washington, which gives Cal 15 turnovers in the past five games and 23 for the season (among the most in the country).
KEEP AN EYE ON: Cal started two true freshmen at wide receiver -- Darius Powe and Chris Harper -- and both made some outstanding catches. Harper was particularly impressive with his seven catches for a career-high 101 yards. Three of his catches were of the spectacular variety, including one amazing one-handed grab early in the game. Harper also scored the Bears' only touchdown on a 14-yard run on an end-around.
LOOKING GOOD: The Bears' defense played well enough for Cal to win, and ILB Nick Forbes had the best game of his career, recording a game-high 11 tackles, two fumble recoveries and an interception. His pick with 17 seconds left in the second quarter prevented Washington from scoring after it had advanced to the Cal 9-yard line. Forbes dropped into coverage, deflected the ball high into the air, then caught it himself to complete the impressive interception.
STILL NEEDS WORK: The four turnovers and the two sacks are problems, but the biggest deficiency is the offense's inability to score touchdowns when it gets the chance. Cal scored one touchdown in four red-zone opportunities against Washington and has scored TDs less than half the time it has been inside the opponent's 20-yard line for the season (14 TDs in 33 red-zone opportunities, 42.4 percent, which is poor). But it is more than just the red-zone opportunities. Cal got inside the Washington 25 seven times and inside the Huskies' 10 three times and managed just one touchdown and 13 points.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The state of the program is fine. We had a bad year. We need to do some things better, continue to recruit. We have a good group of guys here. I'm very committed to this program and making sure we get make to where we need to be." -- Cal coach Jeff Tedford, after the 21-13 loss to Washington dropped the Bears to 3-7.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--TB C.J. Anderson had a career-high 160 yards rushing, including a 64-yard run on a third-and-23 play from the Cal 16-yard line that led to a third-quarter field goal that put the Bears ahead 10-7. It was Anderson's second game of more than 150 yards, and he leads the team in rushing with 696 yards while averaging 6.5 yards per carry.
--QB Zach Maynard moved past Mike Pawlawski into 10th place in career passing yards at Cal. Maynard has 5,204 career passing yards after going 15-for-29 for 175 yards and an interception against Washington.
--TB Brendan Bigelow carried the ball on Cal's first play from scrimmage and he had six carries for the game for 49 yards, an average of 8.2 yards a carry. He also had a nine-yard reception. However, he fumbled at the Washington 10-yard line in the first quarter, ruining a scoring opportunity. For the season, he has rushed 33 times for 292 yards, an average of 11.2 yards a carry.
--PK Vincenzo D'Amato made his first two field goal attempts against Washington to give him 11 straight made field goals, but he later missed a 41-yard attempt to end the streak.
--WR Chris Harper had six catches for a career-high 101 receiving yards and also had the first rushing touchdown of his career on a 14-yard run.
--WR Keenan Allen did not play against Washington because of a knee injury suffered against Utah, and he is doubtful for the Nov. 10 game against Oregon.
--QB Zach Maynard left the Washington game with about four minutes left when he twisted his knee. He is questionable for the Oregon game.
--CB Marc Anthony did not play against Washington because of a head injury, and his status for the Oregon game is uncertain.
--ILB Jalen Jefferson did not play against Washington because of a concussion sustained in the game against Washington State. His status for the Oregon game is questionable.
--NT Kendrick Payne did not play against Washington after having finger surgery a few days earlier. He is questionable for the game against Oregon.
--DL Kemi Kafusi left the Washington game with a broken kneecap, and he will not play against Oregon.
--WR Bryce Treggs missed the Washington game with an ankle injury. He is questionable for Oregon.
--DE Mustafa Jalil is out for the season after having knee surgery on Oct. 29.
--OLB Brennan Scarlett played against Washington despite having a cast on his broken left hand.
--OG Dominic Galas missed the Washington game after having surgery for appendicitis a week earlier.