Cal Bears staggered by 3 straight losses
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) Only a few weeks ago California was enjoying its best start in nearly a decade and making a strong push to be a part of the Pac-12 championship picture.
Now the Golden Bears are trying to get out of the deep end of the pool following three consecutive losses that have put a serious dent in the team's postseason hopes.
Not that Mustafa Jalil is too concerned.
Cal's senior defensive tackle walked into Tuesday's press conference carrying a plastic container of roasted duck in a nod to this week's game against defending Pac-12 champion Oregon.
''We're not looking ahead but why not get the feast started,'' Jalil said, opening the container to share the duck with reporters. ''We took three good punches in the face. When we started the season off we gave five good punches. I think everyone's jaw is a little bit hurt from the past three weeks.''
Jalil's culinary tastes aside, the Bears (5-3, 2-3 Pac-12) are in a tailspin that threatens their once promising season.
Cal opened the season 5-0 under third-year coach Sonny Dykes, the team's best start since 2007, and quarterback Jared Goff was being touted as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate.
Since then Cal's season - and Goff's play, to a certain extent - have gone in reverse.
Dykes' offense, which averaged more than 43 points a game during its five-game winning streak, has been effectively grounded in the three consecutive losses to No. 13 Utah, No. 22 UCLA and USC. The Bears were held to 24 points by the Utes and Bruins, then scored only 21 against the Trojans.
Goff, Cal's career passing leader who is being talked about as a potential first-round pick in 2016 should he forego his senior season, hasn't played as well as he was earlier this season either. He threw a career-high five interceptions against Utah on Oct. 10 and was picked off twice more in the Bears' 27-21 loss to USC last week.
Dykes thinks his junior quarterback might have been trying to do too much as the losses mounted.
''The biggest thing Jared's got to do is keep playing,'' Dykes said. ''When a lot's expected of you, you want to go out and sometimes force the issue. He just has to do a good job of executing and taking what the defense gives you. That's what it comes down to.''
Goff acknowledged he might have been pressing in recent weeks but doesn't see it as being too big an issue.
''That can happen sometimes, where I try to do a little bit more than I should probably but I'm just trying to make plays,'' Goff said. ''I've done that for three years now. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Most times it's worked. I'm not really going to change anything.''
Something needs to change if the Bears are to earn a bowl bid for the first time since 2011.
Cal has lost six straight to Oregon, including a 55-16 loss at Autzen Stadium in 2013 when Goff was a freshman.
The Ducks (5-3, 3-2) aren't as potent as they've been in recent years, however, but are coming off consecutive six-point wins over Washington and Arizona State to move above .500 in conference for the first time this season.
Cal needs a win over Oregon to keep pace with the Ducks in the Pac-12. Only then will Dykes allow himself a few moments to relax. Just don't expect him to celebrate with a meal like Jalil's.
''I don't really like duck myself,'' Dykes said. ''I don't know if I've ever had it. I'm pretty simple when it comes to food.''