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October 2, 2012

Graham, Tedford headed in opposite directions

BERKELEY -- A thematic narrative echoed out of Strawberry Canyon in the week leading up to Arizona State's visit, reverberating off the rolling hills from television and talk radio airways, bleeding into print: Cal coach Jeff Tedford would get win against the Sun Devils Saturday to avoid going 1-4 for the first time in his career because he needed it.

Tedford's done just enough, after all, to remain in place as the longest tenured coach in the conference -- 80-52 since taking over in 2002 -- to successfully wall off a building crescendo of dissent in this town known for its history of public rebuke.

But while a recently finished $321 million renovation to Memorial Stadium erased cracks in the venue's facade caused by its location directly on the Hayward Fault, new fissures have formed on campus that threaten to swallow its coach.

The Sun Devils pummeled Cal on its playing surface Saturday, winning for the first time in 15 years at the school, and then wide receiver Kevin Ozier used a sledgehammer to crack into pieces the rock representing the Golden Bears' in the team's post-game celebration.

It may well have been a metaphor for Tedford's status at the school: Irreparably broken.

"We couldn't get in a rhythm and couldn't get anything going," Tedford said of ASU's 27-17 win, which felt not nearly as close as the final score. "We got physically beat up front. 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."

What Tedford didn't say but should have is that his team was out-prepared, out-executed, out-coached. Nevermind the questionable decisions to reject two ASU penalties, Tedford's team was sloppier, less disciplined, less poised, more mistake-prone. Those are the attributes that should more deeply embed themselves in the bedrock of a program as time goes by, and yet it was first-year ASU coach Todd Graham's team that displayed a much sturdier foundation.

Tedford's tenure will likely find its way to the trash heap at some point this year, or perhaps the compost bin, this being Berkeley and all, as the last phase of Cal's football overhaul. You can provide a face lift to change the look of a stadium or even a person, but at his core, Tedford is the coach who will likely be remembered as the alleged offensive innovator who couldn't build a star quarterback after Aaron Rogers in 2005, who couldn't turn multiple Top-10 recruiting hauls into a BCS bowl appearance.

Doing less with more is how Tedford may be remembered in the Bay Area after losing no fewer than four games in each of his last five seasons at the school despite an inordinate amount of talent, and for at least a day, the juxtaposition between he and Graham couldn't have been more stark.

Playing at home, Cal had twelve penalties compared with just one for ASU -- though it could have been three had Tedford taken two others he probably should have -- and if the Sun Devils hadn't been as mediocre in the red zone, where it converted on just 4 of 7 trips, the game would have been ugly.

Graham tipped his cap last week to Cal's offensive line coach and scheme, then promptly unleashed his attack dogs, led by the seemingly rabid Will Sutton, to the tune of seven sacks. Tedford and his staff knew it was coming all week, but were unable to do anything about it.

The personification of the contrasting directions of the two programs was nowhere clearer than at quarterback, which saw supposed quarterback guru Tedford's signal caller Zach Maynard, a senior who started all 13 games a year ago, rattled, analogously, to the point of self immolation. On a warmer-than-average day in Berkeley, Maynard burned to the ground under pressure, completing just 9 of 28 passing attempts, many of which came against man coverage from ASU due to its frequent six man pressures.

Taylor Kelly, on the other hand, in his first year as starter and rookie Pac-12 road game, looked impossibly poised. On the rare mistake he did make, such as an underthrow that was tipped by an underneath defender, Kelly simply tapped himself on the chest once as if to say 'my bad' and then it was on to the next play.

Some of the contrast is no doubt related to the quarterbacks' personalities and talent levels, but some percentage has to be attributable to the teaching methodology.

Spend any significant amount of time around this ASU program this year and a few themes begin to become apparent. The strength coach uses the same language and mannerisms as the offensive coordinator, who sounds not unlike Graham. Not coincidentally, they're the three who have been around each other the longest on the staff. Ask the players about their opponents on any given week, and you'll hear them refer to the players by their numbers, not by their names, and even sometimes use the exact language and phrases as their coaches.

It stands to reason, with the examples of strength coach Shawn Griswold and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, that Graham's program will only increasingly resemble his likeness as time passes, and he is a coach who wears out words like discipline, character, ball security and special teams, and then wears out the clock implementing those core principles.

Graham's taken one of the most penalized, self-destructive teams in the country and in less than half a season set it on a clear course to become one of the smartest and most composed. Late whistles and shows of false bravado have been replaced by calm confidence and economy of movement. Only one first-year coach in America, Ohio State's Urban Meyer, has a better record.

Saturday was just one game, and a case could easily be made that ASU hasn't faced real adversity -- another favorite word of Graham's -- yet, has benefited by not having to play the best quarterback on three opponents' teams, but another case could also be made, and that's the one you'll get here: With a conference expanding from 10 teams to 12 and realizing tremendous growth in revenue and some measure of increased exposure, change is afoot in the Pac-12, and Graham and others have left long-running Tedford with a face full of muck in their wake.


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