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).


Shocked and Awed

August 22, 2008

Throughout training camp Jonathan Okanes reported daily that the quarterback competition was close.  Longshore started strong and Riley came on as of late.  But, they were essentially even.  Yesterday, Tedford again reiterated how close it remains yet Kevin Riley is the new starting quarterback for the Cal Bears.

Like a lot of Cal fans, I am surprised by the decision.  If indeed the competition is close and the players are even, shouldn’t the tie go to the 5th year senior that led the team to a 10 win season in 2006 and 4th, 6th and 7th in passing efficiency, passing touchdowns, and passing yards respectively. Given this, perhaps the competition was not as close as reported.

On the other hand, according to Tedford, Longshore will play against Michigan State.  There is no reason not to believe him, Tedford made the same statement before the Armed Forces Bowl and indeed, both Riley and Longshore started.  However, while both players will get time this season, I still do not expect a dual quarterback situation.  Usually, when that is implemented the prototypical dropback quarterback starts and the more mobile quarterback plays in relief or in the redzone.

Personally, I am disappointed for Nate.  I do not know him, but in private I have been a Longshore supporter for quite some time.  I realize I’m in the minority, but I still believe Tedford was generally right to stick with Nate.  It cannot be easy to deal with dropping from being named the number one junior quarterback in the country to backup within one year.  That said, there is some silver lining for Longshore.  If Tedford chose Nate, the scrutiny would be at an all-time high and any slip-up would be amplified.  Now, if Riley stumbles, the scrutiny of Longshore will be lessened and perhaps the fans will actually appreciate his efficiency, professionalism and the success he has had over his career at Cal.

In other depth chart news, true freshman place kicker David Seawright has won the field goal and extra point duties and will probably perform kickoffs as well.  In addition to Seawright the following newcomers will also see playing time: Marvin Jones, Veeran Tucker, Kendrick Payne, Mychal Kendricks, Anthony Miller and Bryant Nnabuife.

Interestingly, Tedford also alluded that Nyan Boateng will not be a starter.  Boateng transfered to Cal from Florida with high expectations.  Boateng was heavily recruited out of high school and showed playmaking ability throughout spring practice and training camp.  Nevertheless, the additions of Jones and Tucker must have affected the depth chart quite a bit.  As it stands, Mike Calvin, Layrelle Cunningham, Jeremy Ross and Sean Young will play in addition to the above three receivers.  Cal typically runs very few plays that require more than three receivers so it is unlikely that all 6 players will see significant playing time.

Bears Trapped in a Cage

May 17, 2008


Well, well, that Glenn Dickey article certainly ignited a firestorm . . . on Bear Insider at least (See here, here, and here). Mutiny!!!! Run Longshore out of town!!!!! All hail King Riley, ruler of Cal Football, overlord of game clock management!!!!!


Let’s try to keep things in perspective and not go off the deep end. Jeff Tedford isn’t going to throw Nate under the bus, publicly. He also isn’t going to merely anoint a guy starter after almost two games at the helm. Is Tedford stubborn? It kind of looks that way. But, just because he didn’t go all Neuheisel on us and name a starter only to watch that starter and the backup subsequently go down to injury, doesn’t mean the right guy won’t win the job.

Remember, when Tedford refused to supplant Ayoob, he didn’t automatically give Steve Levy the job the following year. There was an open competition between Longshore, Levy and Ayoob. OK, it wasn’t the most riveting competition – Levy decided to take himself out by throwing a beer at some dude in North Beach and Ayoob still looked rattled. Still, to some Tedford looks stubborn, but maybe he is just patient. After all, he is still coaching our California Golden Bears and the SAHPC is not yet built.

Whether it’s patience or stubbornness, Tedford also seems to like information, a lot of it. That’s one of the reasons Cal does not give out a ton of early scholarship offers, they want to see how some of them change from their junior to senior years.

There are 105 days until kickoff. (Yes, I’m counting.) I am going to try my damnedest from here on out and try to avoid second guessing this process until we get some real news, not a Glenn Dicky article that parsed quotes to fit in to the theme he tried to articulate. Oh, who am I kidding? Tedford is out of control!!!! He needs to go!!!!! Hire Steve Spurrier!!!!!

QB1 Controversy Revisited

May 15, 2008

Glenn Dickey wrote a piece yesterday on Cal’s fall from grace last season and the changes made to address that fall. For the most part, Dickey seems to agree that Cal addressed those causes for concerns I spelled out in my first post, particularly the arrival of Cignetti and the new receivers. The most interesting part was about the QB1 controversy:

“I wish people would think of Nate as a warrior who was trying to do everything he could to help us win, but instead, it seemed everybody was blaming him when we lost,” said Tedford. “He’d be on campus and some pimple-faced freshman would come up to him and tell him he was a bum. Nate probably would have liked to haul off and hit him but he knew he couldn’t do that.”

Tedford is correct in calling the criticism by some segment of Cal fans as over-the-top.  That same treatment did in fact end Joe Ayoob’s career.  (Though, he still got his Cal degree.)  But, what Tedford doesn’t seem to recognize is the criticism of his stubbornness.  

Twice now Tedford stuck with a quarterback that was clearly performing below par (.e. Ayoob and Longshore).  He certainly had no problem pulling Reggie Robertson for Aaron Rodgers in 2003.  And, vice-versa in the upset of USC that year.  Since then, in perhaps an emotional attachment to his recruits, Tedford has latched onto his annointed leaders too long.

What’s most puzzling about this go-around is Tedford does not seem to recognize Riley’s superior play last year and Nate’s poor second-half performances: 

“Writers kept throwing up statistics like the number of touchdowns thrown in the fourth quarter and the number of interceptions, but there was more to it than that. Against UCLA, Nate was throwing very well against just about the best defense in the country when he threw that bad interception in the fourth quarter (returned for a touchdown). After that, he was intercepted twice more but those were just long passes he was hoping might connect.”

Coach, I would accept that explanation if it wasn’t for Longshore’s TRENDLINE.  It wasn’t just one game where Nate disappeared in the second-half, Nate has struggled after halftime more often than not over his entire career at Cal.  Maybe he tries to do too much.  Maybe it’s just a matter of receiver’s running the wrong routes.  Maybe it’s karma for not going on his Mormom mission.  Or, perhaps there is fire where there’s smoke.  

I am not saying definitively that Cal has to start Kevin Riley.  And, I understand that Tedford is not going to throw Longshore under the bus publicly.  But, I do think Coach has misinterpreted Nate’s second-half statistics.  And, it doesn’t seem like Riley has received enough praise for what he did accomplish, even if it was in a loss to Oregon State and a comeback bowl win over Air Force.