Four New Starters?

September 28, 2008

Last season, after Cal slipped by Colorado State 34-28, fans continued to harbor BCS dreams.  This season, Cal destroyed the Rams 42-7 with an inspired defensive effort, a DJax-esque return fro Syd’Quan, and a strong second-half from Nat Longshore.  But, despite the score, a significant percentage of fans are freaking out (See here, here, and here).

In addition to the announcement of a sequel to the quarterback competition, Cal suffered three “devastating” injuries.  Chris Guarnero is out for the year with a torn tendon in his big toe (not sure if it was the same toe that had Guarnero listed as questionable for the Colorado state game).  Rulon Davis hobbled off the field with a leg injury (again) after the second quarter ended.  Worst of all, Jahvid Best went down in the third quarter with a dislocated elbow, x-rays do not show a fracture but Best will undergo an MRI today.

Hopefully, Rulon’s season isn’t over.  During spring ball and training camp, Rulon was apparently a force.  And, when he appeared in games last season, he consistently got pressure on the quarterback and made several athletic plays from the end position.  However, the loss of Rulon probably hurts more from a leadership standpoint than in production on the field.  Davis hasn’t emerged as a dominant pass rusher and it has been reported that Cameron Jordan was already pushing for the starting position.  Also, thankfully, Cal has developed some solid depth at defensive end, with Owusu and Browner playing well against the Rams yesterday.

The loss of Guarnero is unfortunate but Cal has recruited extremely well along the offensive line and his position will likely be filled by Mark Boskovich.

Best.  Our fragile flower.  Assuming he merely has a dislocated elbow, Best shouldn’t miss more than a week or two of playing time.  Actually, with Cal’s bye week after Arizona State, it’s highly possible he’ll miss only a single game.  What’s strange is the reaction to Best’s injury, as if Cal doesn’t have Shane Vereen to start in Best’s place.  Is there any evidence that Vereen can’t perform?  Yesterday, Vereen had 12 carries for 75 yards and 2 receptions for 19 yards.  Best ran 11 times for 85 yards and gained 27 yards from three catches.  Not much of a difference there.  Remember, when Best won the state 100m finals, Vereen came in third.  The bigger concern is whether Slocum can replace Vereen.  Slocum’s 4 rushes for 35 yards is a pretty good start.

The injuries, in my opinion, are not catastrophic.  They will not affect the team’s win-loss record.  What will impact the team’s success going forward is whether the passing game continues to struggle. Riley has struggled in 2 out of 4 games this year, and that gives him credit for a Maryland game where he was abysmal for the first half.  He has missed too many receivers over the past three weeks not to be concerned.  Riley still makes the remarkable play by often throwing passes that, at some point, are going to get intercepted.  Most troubling, the offense has been sputtering with Riley at the helm.

On the other hand, even the most pro-Riley fans can’t seriously ignore how smooth the passing game has looked with Longshore.  Yes, Nate threw two bad passes against Michigan State, but outside of those, he has looked very good.  Yesterday, Nate threw 2 touchdowns, including a dart to Jeremy Ross on a slant.  After the game, when asked whether Riley was still QB1, Tedford said, “We’ll see.”

The message boards, in response, have erupted.  How could Tedford pull Riley?  Tedford hates Riley!  Tedford wants to have Nate’s illegitimate baby!

Isn’t this exactly what Riley supporters and Tedford doubters wanted last year?  When a player isn’t performing, said player gets pulled.  Always comPETE.  Sorry, just because Tedford stuck with Nate last year doesn’t mean he owes Riley anything this year.  If things really have changed under Tedford, and Riley truly is ineffective in the eyes of JT and Cignetti, then Riley needs to sit.

From my armchair, I think Riley, assuming he has a good week of practice, should start against Arizona State.  But, the leash should be extremely short.  No waiting until the second half or until it’s too late.  There’s no guarantee the defense and special teams are going to put up 14 first half points.  With USC down and Cal controlling its own destiny at this point, there’s no time to play favorites (I’m looking at you Riley worshipers).