Standing In No Man's Land

Jeff Tedford (US Presswire)

Utter domination at the hands of rival Stanford marks the end for Jeff Tedford at California, regardless of whether or not he returns as head coach next season.

BERKELEY, Calif. – There they stood, the chosen protectors of the Stanford Axe face-to-face in a corner of Memorial Stadium penned in by temporary white fencing. Neither side, the California Rally Committee wearing their familiar blue and gold rugby shirts nor the Stanford Axe Committee in red fleece pullovers, showed any emotion as the final seconds ticked away in the 115th Big Game.

It was, for the briefest of moments, college football's Korean Demilitarized Zone.

Until the clock struck zero, when the Stanford contingent turned towards their victorious team, smiles finally emerging after the stare down. They sprinted with the big-play speed the Cardinal had demonstrated in key moments Saturday afternoon, on wide receiver Drew Terrell's 37-yard punt return to set up the first touchdown, on tight end Zach Ertz's 68-yard catch-and-run as he slipped behind Golden Bear defenders to come totally free to set up the second score, on Ertz's touchdown to effectively end the game with 8:15 left in the second quarter.

Those Cal fans still present as the 21-3 pummeling from their archrival went final could only stand in silence, not the silence of shock, but at the totality of defeat.

Cal did not score a touchdown against Stanford for the first time since 1998. Cal had just three net yards rushing, as running backs Isi Sofele, C.J. Anderson, and Brendan Bigelow combined for 18 yards on 19 carries. Cal had only 12 first downs and 217 yards total, averaging a staggering 3.7 yards per play. Cal converted 1-of-14 third downs.

While it might not have had the overpowering final score of say USC's 50-0 pummeling of cross-town rival UCLA last season, it was nearly a perfect facsimile in terms of demonstrating the gap that has developed between two programs linked and compared and defined by one another in so many ways.

And that's why Jeff Tedford is doomed.

Even the most stalwart supporters of Tedford, who made Cal relevant again for the first time in decades and put the program in position where it could win a Pac-10 title, tantalizingly close to the Rose Bowl, and deemed worthy of hundreds of millions of dollars in long-overdue stadium renovations, had to see that the disheartening nature of this loss to Stanford represents a stark finality.

Tedford had made his name in part by dominating Stanford, winning seven of his first eight games in the series, including five in a row immediately after taking the job. But he has now suffered three consecutive defeats, twice being pummeled at home.

The offense, his trademark, can't even get into the end zone against Stanford, let alone consistently block its defensive front seven.

Cal shouldn't have to rely on a transfer from Buffalo to play quarterback. Cal shouldn't have to hope that a guard who missed the first seven games of the season with a torn pectoral muscle could stabilize the interior of its offensive line. Cal shouldn't have to watch as its most explosive offensive weapons, Bigelow and junior wide receiver Keenan Allen, combine to touch the ball just eight times.

Cal shouldn't have to endure being embarrassed for three hours and 17 minutes in front of a national TV audience.

That's all on the head coach, and certainly adequate grounds to make a change.

Maybe Tedford leads an inexplicable upset of Oregon or at Oregon State, along with wins at Utah and against Washington to secure a bowl game. Maybe Cal simply can't afford to buyout Tedford and his assistants and bring in a new coach of quality. Maybe the powers that be still hold out some hope that by bringing Tedford back next season, he can engineer the kind of remarkable turnaround that once-embattled Mike Riley has this year for the Beavers.

But the cult of personality he had, his last asset as Cal has stopped winning, is gone. It ended when 10,000 Stanford fans, players, and coaches celebrated in "Our House," as Cal players so often chant.

If Cal doesn't see the need to make a change, it might be staring at the Axe without touching it for a long time.

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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