Archive for the ‘Kevin Riley’ Category

Spring Fish Wrap – Berkeley Bears Edition

June 1, 2009

Time for a look at the Berkeley Bears. Coming off a nine-win ’08 season that saw some major ups, including an Emerald Bowl victory over Miami, still something was, oh, I don’t know, missing. Maybe it’s because of the talent that Cal rolls out every week, which rivals only USC and Oregon for tops in the conference? Maybe it’s the super-genius tag applied to Jeff Tedford and his staff’s ability to recruit with the big boys, year after year? It’s hard to figure out.

The reality is that Cal is, quite simply, an upper-echelon program under Tedford. They’ve won at least seven games every year since 2002, including 10 wins in ’02 and ’06. Tedford hasn’t disappointed in bowl games either, now 5-1 in the postseason in his time at Cal. But while bowl games (and wins) are nice, still, you add it all up and there is one major thing left on the to-do list – a BCS bowl in the Tedford regime.

Will that change this year? Can they actually kick down that door to BCS fame-n-fortune? Or will they flirt with greatness, yet settle in once again to ten-nine-eight-win world? Read on for more…

2008: 9-4, 6-3 in the PAC-10. Started out pretty good, but hit some snags in early November, losing back-to-back games at USC and Oregon State. At 6-4, there were worries that Cal might be headed for a bit of a 2007 relapse, where the team folded up the tents after running into some mid-season adversity. But Cal rallied, winning their last three games, including the Emerald Bowl, to post a very respectable nine wins.

FANS ARE: Pretty pleased with where things are. They haven’t yet had a losing season with the current regime, and Tedford has built a top-shelf program. Outside of their 7-6 struggle of ’07, Cal is always rated right there with Oregon as the top threats to USC, yet still looking up with the rest of the world at the Trojans. But the fans are also ready for a BCS bowl. To keep things going in a great direction, a New Years day appearance would go a long way towards shortening the gap even more between themselves and the men of Troy.


OFFENSIVE SYSTEM: Basically a pro-set with a fullback and tight-end, but a lot of different formations and looks. Cal might be a bit hot-n-cold in the passing game on a yearly basis, but their staples are always a strong, deep running game spearheaded by excellent offensive line play. While o-line coach/offensive assistant Jim Michalczik has moved on to UW, and then the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, things should still be business as usual. Let’s face it, the offense is Tedford’s baby, and regardless of coaching titles and such, it will remain his stamp on the program for as long as he resides in Berkeley.

’08 OFFENSIVE RATINGS: 4th in the PAC-10 in scoring (32.6 ppg), 5th in total offense, and 4th in rushing offense. Not as great as many felt they would be early in ’08, but still, pretty impressive. The downside was the passing offense, just 7th in the league with 189.8 yards per game.

’09 RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: 7, including top backs Jahvid Best and Share Vareen, and QB Kevin Riley.

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: This is a layup. Jahvid Best is the top player on the team, the top running back in the PAC-10, and a sure Heisman candidate. The stats are extremely impressive (1580 rushing yards, 15 TD’s). But the yards per carry were an eye-popping 8.1, a school record! Think about that. That’s just 1.9 yards short of a first down, EVERY TIME HE CARRIED THE FOOTBALL! (Obligatory Youtube highlight in three…two…one….)

He finished the year on fire, including an amazing 311 yards rushing against the hapless Washington rushing defense. But it wasn’t just UW who he skewered down the stretch. Best would total 698 rushing yards in his last three games. A decent receiving threat with 246 yards receiving, Best was number two in the country in total yards per game. Oh yeah, he also had seven runs of at least 60 yards last year, including three that went for 80+. The man just defines explosive.

Now, the bad news – health. I liken Best to Achilles.

You know, just a fabulous specimen capable of pretty much anything you can conceive, yet he has that one soft spot on the heel that can bring him down. And health has not been Best’s buddy, with various ailments over the last couple of years that have somewhat kept him in check. Best missed spring ball with foot and elbow surgeries, but he should be ready to roll in August. A healthy Best could be the difference between the likes of the Emerald Bowl or something much, much bigger in ’09.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: A tricky defense led by former Coug Bob Gregory, Cal throws tons of different looks at you. Most likely you’ll see a lot of 3-man fronts, with zone blitzing, etc.

’08 DEFENSIVE RATINGS: #2 in the PAC-10 in scoring defense, 4th in total defense, 3rd in rushing defense, and 5th in passing yards per game allowed. They were #3 in sacks with 35, and led the conference with an impressive 24 interceptions. An aggressive, upper-division defense.

’09 RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: An impressive 8 starters return from last year’s defense.

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER: There is a lot of talent here, however there are some big shoes to fill. Top linebackers and leading tacklers Zack Follett, Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder have all moved on from Berkeley. Follett’s loss could be enormous, as he totaled 87 tackles, an amazing 23.5 for loss with 10.5 sacks last year. He won’t be easy to replace. But all that said, corner Syd’Quan Thompson is back, and one heck of a talent. Not just a reputation as one of the top two or three defensive backs in the PAC-10 returning this season, but he’s a pretty good special teams guy as well:

Thompson had a big year in ’08, with 70 tackles, 7.5 for loss, and a team-high four interceptions. But the best part is that Thompson will have plenty of help next season. The entire starting secondary is back, so you have to believe they’ll continue their ball-hawking ways in ’09.

1) Can the defense overcome the loss of the big-time linebackers in Follett, Williams and Felder? Normally this would be a big concern, but maybe not so much for Cal. Why? Well, for one, they are super-deep at defensive line. Literally everyone is back up front, and that will be a huge boost to keeping the linebackers free to flow to the ball and make plays. As many people know, the linebackers on any defense are often only as good as the talent in front of them. If you have push-over defensive linemen, then the opposing offensive linemen can get out and put their hats on the linebackers. But if you have strength up front, the linebackers can do what they do best – run and hit. And while they will have three new faces at linebacker, they might not be in a better situation to break in as starters than what they have up front coming into ’09.

2) Is Kevin Riley going to take a big step forward this year? Or is he the true “Achilles heel” for Cal’s ’09 season? Riley was, to be fair, inconsistent in ’08. He averaged just 123.6 yards passing per game last year, which is not exactly top-notch. He took care of the ball, throwing 14 TD’s with six int’s. But even with that strong running game and an outstanding offensive line, he still completed barely more than 50% of his passes. Needless to say, but that isn’t getting the job done.

Riley also shared the job with Nate Longshore, but Longshore has now graduated. Besides, it can be hard to get a strong feel on how a QB will do when he isn’t looking over his shoulder every time he throws an incomplete pass? But even with Longshore out of the way, there is some uncertainty surrounding the QB spot coming into the season. There wasn’t a ton of ringing endorsements for Riley coming out of spring. And there are some younger QB’s who will push him, with the huge sophomore Brock Mansion and talented redshirt frosh Beau Sweenety. So like it or not, it is sink-or-swim time for Riley.

3) What is with the schedule? They open with Maryland at home, which is a game they will probably be favored to win, revenge-style from last year’s thrashing in the Terps’ backyard. After hosting Eastern WA in a likely “stat game”, they face a tough stretch, where they’ll go to Minnesota and at Oregon, in a game that could go a long way towards the PAC-10 title. And that game at Minnesota might be tricky. You know, changing a few time zones and facing an opponent they might not take too seriously with Oregon looming the following week? You think about what happened to Cal at Maryland last year (35-27 loss) and you have to wonder a little bit. But after Oregon, they open up October with the biggie, a home showdown with USC. All told, Cal has five PAC-10 road games, so it could be a tough road to the top.

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: Earlier this spring I wasn’t so sure about Cal. Maybe it was the loss of the top linebackers, or the fact that Riley at QB wasn’t a sure thing. But after looking at them deeper, they look good. REALLY good.

While they lost some really good offensive linemen, and their top play-making linebackers, they still have a ton coming back on both sides of the ball. In fact, it could be said that of the likely top three in USC, Cal and Oregon, Cal has the most coming back for next year. That stretch of at Oregon and then hosting USC in back-to-back games is rough, but will be a huge two-week stretch in deciding who takes the PAC-10. After that October 3rd game with USC, if things go according to plan, Cal should be favored in every game the rest of the season (yes, I’m including the 10/24 game where they host WSU!).

I’m not exactly picking Cal to win this thing….at least not today. But if there IS going to be a year where USC fails to win the title for the first time since ’02, this could be the team that does it.

That’s it for today. ENJOY YOUR MONDAY, and GO COUGS!

Football Friday Week 2: Too much to Bear?

September 4, 2008

Greetings Cougar Nation and Brinkhater Army.

Hope you all are having a great week.

So, on we march into the Crap-10 opener against CAL.

As we saw last week against MSU, CAL has reloaded with speed on offense, appears to have (not long) shored up their quarterback position, and is surprisingly porous on defense.

In spite of their vulnerability on the defensive side of the ball, this is a game that CAL should win easily when you take our performance last week at face value, and within, without reading between the lines.

What is fun about this game, however, is that we will see what if any of those hidden subtexts from last week show up this week.

For example, did anyone else notice that we were a perfect two for two in the red zone last week?

Does that portend anything for this week if we’re able to move the ball consistently?

I sure think so, but we’ll have to see.

Moreover, what is CAL’s mind-set coming into this game? On one hand, you know that Tedford will try to fire up his troops about the importance of winning ANY road games in the Pac. On the other hand, can you expect any 19 or 20 year old to take us seriously after watching us piddle to 190 yards of total offense while giving up 250+ on special teams?

I think that I would be HIGHLY prone to overlook us if I were on the other side.

So, in view of all of these questions, I find myself falling onto the ole clichés in predicting our fortunes.

After all, this season is about “process” and “improvement” and so this game figures to fall along the natural progression of a young team.

In that way, I think you’re going to see more upside out of us this week, but as a part of seeing more upside, we’re going to have to open things up more—and I think that will lead to more mistakes—particularly from my main man, Gary Rogers. Although I think Gary will play better this week, I don’t think that he will make sufficient progress to avoid the “lock-on-itis” that we saw last week. And that will be our Achilles heel.

Of course, if Rogers accelerates his own progress and if Anderson plays and is healthy, we could jump on em early and ride on to a shocking upset as a result.

Won’t happen, though.

Brinkhater extends his more-than-hapless WSU Football prediction streak to 14:

Bears 37 Cougs 22


ASU 28 Stanford 27. Devils have just enough to beat Captain Comeback

Quack 51 Utah State 10 Yuck.

Penn State 38 Beavs 35. This one should be real entertaining, even though recent history suggests that the Beavs will lose this one 70-14 (and then finish 9-4).

AZ 41 Toledo 18 Normally, this would be an upset special—especially given that the Mac looks up this year, but last week showed me a lot about the Mildcats. Sure, it was the spuds, but 70-0 is still stinking 70-0.

BYU 38 Washington 17. Fit to be Tyed? Montlake has all appendages in a clutter.

And, the Bandit Bowl:

Gators 41 Canes 17. Another lesson in how long it takes teams to come back after a Coordinator takes over as Head Coach (West Virginia, you’re next).

Enjoy the game, and SCREAM YOUR GUTS out if you’re going to be in attendance.

Longball says:

Greetings Cougar Nation!

Longball here with this weeks fearless predictions. Why “fearless”? Because after pulling a rabbit from my hat with last week’s UCLA pick, I have clearly demonstrated my undeniable clairvoyance. Now, I hinted last week that I may be picking our beloved Cougs to pull the upset this weekend at a revitalized Martin Stadium. Apparently if I just type it here, it comes true. Right? Sadly Sedihawk informs me that ain’t how it works, folks. Even if I called it for the Cougs it wouldn’t be enough to help them overcome the Bears this week. Now this is not “da Bears” of Ditka, Sweetness, and the Fridge, but they do have something going for them… OUR special teams. There is just no way our special teams are going to let us win, or even compete in this football game. You can’t win college football games with Pop Warner special teams. I am thrilled that the few brave souls who actually suited up for us last weekend fought hard and all that, but we are a long way from being competitive within our conference. I do think with the new coaching staff at the helm we will continue to make strides, especially on offense, but please keep those expectations where they belong for now… low. But fear not, Brinkhater, I will be there screaming my guts out and losing my voice just like last week.

Cougs 21
Bears 45

From around the country:

ASU 35 Stanford 10. If the Beavs turn out to be good again, Harbough may have quietly already pulled off his big win for this year.

Quack 42 Utah State 3 The Quack are playing D this year.

Beavs 28 Penn State 24 Last week the tables were turned as some trees cut down the Beavers. Was it a wake up call? Oregon State travels across the country to play in Beaver Stadium. How could they lose? This is the kind of information my picks are based on.

AZ 35 Toledo 24 I have no analysis for you on this one. Does anyone else find it hard to root for Stoops in non-conference games?

BYU 42 Washington 28. Locker’s receivers actually hang on to some balls, but Husky D gets run over, thrown over and finally rolls over. I won’t apologize for saying this, I like watching Locker play.

Gators 35 Canes 10 Hurricane season is here, but this wont even be a category 1. I hope Tebow washed his hands after performing all those circumcisions in the Philippines this off season. That has to rival the USC jock itch outbreak for the ickiest off season story that the ESPN guys won’t stop talking about!

There it is. I hope I’m wrong and I see all of you at the page this Saturday night to drink some tubs and TURN THE HELMET!

Go Cougs!

Sedihawk says:

Greetings Coug Nation. Busy times these days, so we’ll go after it.

First of all, fellow blogger Brinkhater might be a tad bit confused. See, it’s not the Cal Ripken’s we’re playing, it’s the Berkeley Bears. But as you can see, sometimes things get lost in translation:


Anywho, the Cal Bears. Are they all that after week one? Where are their minds coming into this one? Given our lack of “sexiness” as an opponent, it’s probably on pole-vaulter extraordinaire, Cal’s own Allison Stokke. Can you blame them?

But anyway, I’m with the others here, and concerned about how we will handle their team speed. They looked exceptionally fast on TV Saturday night, and after coming back from the Okie State game and watching Cal run up and down the field, they looked a lot faster than the Pokes. I know it’s hard to tell sometimes, and that TV can make players look bigger/stronger/faster, but man, watching Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen carry the ball is going to be a breath-holding experience this Saturday.

But Cal has some young WR’s, and this will be their first shot at starting a game in a hopefully loud, hostile environment. Much like UW this year, Cal has lost their top five WR’s from last year, and this will be the first time on the road that they have to do some heavy lifting. TE Cameron Morrah and Jahvid Best are the leading receivers from last season at 13 catches apiece, but that’s it. So, while I like Kevin Riley at QB as a guy who won’t torpedo their own offense (compared to Nate Longshore), I have a feeling things will be tougher for him this week.

And speaking of Riley, did you know this will be just his third-ever start at Cal? And his first-ever start on the road? Yes, he’s been impressive, but he’s never had to get under center in a loud stadium as a starter and make things happen.

So, I think on defense we get after it. We will pack the box, try and slow down the running game, and make Riley and his young WR’s beat us over the top. But if Cal can run the ball, they can also eat game clock and best of all, when you are on the road? Nothing takes a crowd out of a game more than a visitor running the ball at will, chewing up yardage on the ground as well as keeping the ball away from your offense. And I think that’s exactly what Tedford and company are going to try to do.

One area that we have a shot here is the passing game. In my mind, it seemed as though Michigan State had a little bit too easy of a time throwing the ball. They had an experienced QB, and a potential breakout star at WR in Mark Dell who went bananas on their secondary. Now that the game one yips are out of our young WR’s collective systems, I don’t know, call me crazy but I think Rogers has a solid day. And given how Dell played in week one, and how disappointed Gibson was with his first game, don’t you think they’ll come out ready for a huge game? I do. But will it be enough?

Unfortunately, no, I don’t think we’ll be standing at the top of the hill at the end of the day. But I am going to say, here and now, that this will be a much, much closer game than some are predicting. Look, Cal is good, and they looked tough on Saturday, but these guys are NOT USC. And only USC has been such a big favorite at WSU in the last decade as Cal is this weekend. Plus, remember how everyone said last year ASU was going to kill us in Pullman? ASU was a nine point favorite coming in undefeated, but we were a missed field goal from going to OT in that game, and a controversial call from possibly winning it on Brandon Gibson’s TD catch that was reversed via replay.

I think people are over-reacting to week one, which is a very, very easy thing to do. You are never that bad, but you are also never THAT good either. Things will come around, and we will be pleasantly surprised by what we see. Paul Wulff already said that he’s expecting an extremely hard-hitting, physical game, and we will respond with some true toughness. I’m calling Cal 27, WSU 23.

Other games:

ASU 31, Stanford 16. ASU is really good and Stanford was a bit of a mirage in week one, outgained by almost 200 yards by the Beavs. Rudy Carpenter will not make the same mistakes made by Lyle Moevao. Reality arrives via Erickson and company.

Oregon 49, Utah State 7. What can you say? Stat game, all the way.

Oregon State 34, Penn State 28. I’m with Longball here. Oregon State moved the ball at will vs. Stanford, and they won’t make the same mistakes in week two. Sammie Stroughter makes them far, far better on offense than they’ve been in a long time.

AZ 35, Toledo 17. Tons of offense, again, out of the not-so-Mildcats. They can’t possibly keep up the pace they set last week vs. the Vandals…can they??

Washington 27, BYU 24 – Shocker of the weekend. Everyone has written off UW, and it seems as though the Willingham era is kaput. But somehow, someway, I see UW pulling this one off. Locker will be better, but not by a huge margin. The big difference here will be how effective UW is in running the football. I think the UW offensive line plays a much better game against a BYU defense returning only three starters from last year. And BYU might be good, but they don’t have the same athletes as the Pac-10. I see a very similar game like Boise State last year, a team everyone said was going to kill UW. But in watching that game, while Boise State had some talent, they clearly had trouble on the road against Pac-10 athletes. The gap between BCS and non-BCS conferences has closed, but there is still a difference. I know UW is down, but, I think they respond.

Thug Bowl – Florida 31, Miami, FL 20 – Brinkhater is right. Miami with Larry Coker is yet another example of what happens when you promote the old coordinator to head coach. The long-term damage can be too much. And Brinkhater is right, West Virginia, you’re next!

There you have it. Remember, it’s still early. We will likely see some wild swings in performance, by many teams in the country. Don’t fall into the trap of placing too much value into what you see the first week in the season, because it can all change on a dime. Did everyone write of Michigan last year after they lost to App State and Oregon, at the Big House? They ended up winning nine games, including a win over the Tim Tebow’s in their bowl game. Everyone thought Cal and Oregon were Rose Bowl contenders given their hot starts, but both teams faded badly down the stretch. So you just never know. There’s a TON of season left!

Enjoy your Thursday, and as always, GO COUGS!

Is There Really That Much Improvement in Week Two?

September 1, 2008

For WSU, it’s time to look forward. Saturday’s loss is gone, and hopefully lessons were learned. The coach-speak of week one to week two will be on full display this coming Saturday, so, let’s see what happens.

Speaking of week one to week two improvement….is it actually true?? Mmmm, sort of. I looked back at the last five years of our games, starting with 2003, and in some cases it IS true, some, not so much.

2003: Beat Idaho 25-0 in Seattle, then lost to Notre Dame 29-26 in OT.
Note – They were sluggish at times vs. Idaho in Kegel’s first start since 2000. Lots of field goals in this one as the team struggled in the red zone. This was Cody Boyd’s first appearance and he looked great, blocking a couple of Idaho field goal attempts to preserve the shutout. Things were better early vs. the Irish, in a game they sprinted out to a huge lead but couldn’t hold on…in Ty Willingham’s first game at ND, and, current Seahawk RB Julius Jones ran wild in the second half vs. a tired WSU defense. But overall improvement? Not really.

2004: Slogged through a comeback win at New Mexico 21-17, then lost to Colorado 20-12 in Seattle.
Note: Swogger rallied the Cougs in his first-ever start vs. New Mexico, throwing two fourth-quarter TD’s. But the next week it all fell apart, as the WR’s dropped an amazing amount of passes in the first half (reportedly 8 or 9 true “drops”) and Swogger lost his cool. Brink comes in, gives them a spark yet also fumbles twice and throws an INT returned for a TD. Improvement?? NO.

2005: Struggled a bit with Idaho, winning just 38-26, but then went to Nevada and destroyed the Wolfpack 55-21 in week two.
Note: This might be the biggest example of how much better a team can look from week one to week two. The Idaho game was a weird one, with two TD’s in the first three minutes of the game for a lightning quick 14-0 lead. But then Idaho snuck back into it and made it interesting before WSU pulled away. But the week two blowout on the road was huge. Brink went crazy, the defense made plays, basically everything went well. The other side to the coin? That was also Nevada’s first game of the season, and they looked off in every way. What people forget is Nevada would go on to a bowl-winning season in 2005, looking absolutely nothing like the team we played in their season opener. Just a classic example of how different things can look from week one to week two. Improvement?? YES!

2006: Hung tough but blown out late, 40-14 at Auburn. Stormed back to crush Idaho 56-10 in week two.
Note: The end-result was great, sure. Week one was one of the worst-ever performances by Brink at WSU, just 11-for-24 for 67 yards (sound familiar to Gary’s line on Saturday?). We looked overwhelmed by the SEC speed. Idaho’s defense must have looked like statues compared to Auburn, and the results showed. We had over 300 yards of offense at the HALF, and would go on for an amazing 56 points and 637 total yards, including 344 rushing yards. But there is no other way to say it, other than Idaho was a BAD football team. This was Erickson’s first season, and they had a lack of talent and depth across the board. And let’s face it, that 2006 WSU team was one of our best non-bowl teams in recent history. Improvement? Yes.

2007: Hung tough with Wisconsin before getting blown out late, 42-21. Bounced back with a runaway victory in Seattle over San Diego State, 45-17.
Note: Just 328 total yards vs. Wisc but a whopping 654 yards vs. SD State, another huge offensive improvement. Brink had one of his best stat-games, throwing for 469 and 5 TD’s, as well as a school record 38 completions. The WR’s were unreal this day, as Gibson, Bumpus and Charles Dillon all went over 100 yards receiving, and made several spectacular catches along the way. Obviously the quality of the opponent has to be taken into consideration. Wisconsin was an excellent football team last year, while SD State? Still rebuilding, to put it kindly. And oh yeah, SD State’s season opener was our second game, and they did not look good. Improvement? Yes.

Bottom line: Week one to week two, at least in recent times, does look promising. But the quality of the opponent and the timing of when you play them has to be taken into consideration. Cal is a quality, bowl-winning team from 2007, just like Okie State. This isn’t Idaho or some other weakling to improve or shore up some issues. It’s out of the frying pan, into the fire this week.

Plus, let’s not get too excited after only one game. Beano Cook said it best on Saturday night, in that it is very easy to overvalue or undervalue things after just one game. You have to give it a few weeks and see how things settle down. Some teams look like world-beaters early on, but will come back to the pack over the next week or two. Meanwhile some teams look like they can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, but things can change in a big way the next week. It happens every year, so why should 2008 be any different?

Speaking of this week, let’s take a quick look at Cal to start off Labor Day.

Last week: Beat Michigan State 38-31. Offensively Cal was impressive, racking up 467 yards, including 264 yards passing and 203 yards rushing. Balance has been a staple with Jeff Tedford’s offense, and this was no exception. Cal’s young skill position guys were impressive, as both Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen went over 100 yards rushing. Vereen broke MSU’s heart with an 81-yard TD run with just over 4 minutes left, right after State cut the lead to seven, and that was the ballgame.

Cal’s QB controversy appears over, as Kevin Riley was in complete control with an efficient 17-for-24 for 202 yards and a couple of scores. Nate Longshore was 3-for-5 with 62 yards and a couple of INT’s, including one in the end zone on a throw he tried to force into triple coverage. Expect Riley to go the whole way this week, other than maybe one or two series out of Longshore just to keep him fresh.

The Cal defense was less than impressive however. Cal has switched to a new 3-4 defense, and MSU looked pretty good, with 23 first downs and over 400 yards of total offense, including 321 yards passing. Sophomore WR Mark Dell lit up the Cal secondary, catching nine balls for 202 yards, averaging 22 yards per catch.

He almost had one of the best TD catches you will ever see, but upon replay, they took the catch away as he didn’t quite have control of the ball. But he was unstoppable for much of this game.

One word of warning – Cal’s special teams could be a huge problem. Jahvid Best had over 100 yards in kickoff returns, including a long of 35 yards. He’s a home run threat anyway, every time he touches the football, but he’s the last guy you want to see getting a kickoff and blockers in front of him. Plus, Cal got a TD on a blocked punt for the first TD of the 2008 season, something that really fired them up. Finally, the Cal punter, frosh Bryan Anger, was amazing, with a net of 48 yards on four punts, including three downed inside the 20 and a long of 59.

As we all know, special teams can be the tipping point in a tight ballgame. Let’s hope things are cleaned up, fast, or else we could be in some big trouble.

Finally, hopes and prayers are sent our way towards the New Orleans – Gulf of Mexico area. Let’s hope the levees hold up. Thank God they evacuated so many people in advance, and the lessons learned from Katrina appear to be saving tons of lives. Good luck to you all.

In Search of a Hero – Cal Spring Fishwrap Edition

May 18, 2008

You could call this “second in a series” as we look ahead to our ’08 opponents. Last Sunday was Okie State, and today, we examine the Berkeley Bears and their post-spring condition.

Spring Theme – “I NEED A HERO!”

What does that mean, actually? Well, a check of the current roster, and you understand. Cal’s heroes have left the building. Super-speedy Mr. wonderful, DeSean Jackson? Gone. Leading receiver (better numbers than Jackson, actually), Lavelle Hawkins? See ya. WR Robert Jordan and his 689 yards receiving? Adios. Strong all-around TE, Craig Stevens?? BUH-BYE. In fact, the top 5 receivers from Cal’s 2007 team are “pursuing other interests”.

Oh yeah, sprinkled into the conversation is that leading rusher Justin Forsett and leading tackler Thomas DeCoud have both moved on. Forsett is now with the Seattle Seahawks. Forsett had an outstanding 1546 yards rushing last year, and a team-high 15 rushing TD’s. DeCoud had 116 tackles. Both will be missed.

But there IS a hero in the Cal midst, and his name is Jahvid Best (pictured above). Best was highly touted as a true frosh last year, a top-10 back in the nation in many recruiting rankings. He was also one of the fastest recruits in the country last year. Best ran an amazing 10.39 in the 100 meters his senior year, which is quite frankly world-class speed, especially for a football player. But as the following videos will attest, this isn’t just a “track guy”. First, the speed is impressive, but you can see the cut-back ability vs. Tennessee:

Next, check out the ability to break some tackles when it appears there isn’t anything there:

That’s a true frosh folks. There’s a reason they call him “The Jet”. He’s a home run threat every time he touches the football. HOWEVER, he did only get 29 carries for the entire 2007 season, so he’s not real experienced. He’s cut, but only 5-10, 185. This isn’t an Adrian Peterson, 25-carry per game body type here. The load might be tough as the feature guy. And as far as health goes, there is already cause for concern. Best missed a good chunk of spring ball, out nursing a hip injury. As ESPN’s Ted Miller wrote, it’s the type of hip injury that makes coaches nervous. Best is sort of like that suped-up sports car, that can go from zero to 100 in the blink of an eye. He’s a tightly wound, explosive bundle of power, yet could blow a rod or a piston in an instant. You get the idea.

But Cal isn’t just about their running backs. Here’s a look at the rest of the story.

QB Controversy: Kind of weird to even think it from an outsider point of view, but there is a QB situation developing at Cal. A couple of years ago Nate Longshore was Mr. Everything, but now? Not so much. If you remember, Cal crashed and burned down the stretch last season, going from a near-#1 ranking to losing 6 of their last 7 games. They did rally to beat Air Force in the Armed Forces Helicopter bowl, 42-36. And that’s part of the controversy here. QB Kevin Riley (pictured) played outstanding football that day, finishing with a ridiculous 255+ QB rating. He only had 3 incomplete passes the entire game. Meanwhile Longshore’s struggles down the stretch matched the team-wide funk as Cal nearly missed out on a bowl game. Hard to believe this was the same team that beat Tennessee and Oregon earlier in the season, compared to the group that was steamrolled at UW and lost to Stanford to close the season.

Longshore only threw for 2500 yards and 16 TD’s. That’s down from over 3,000 yards and 24 TD passes in 2006. Much, much more was expected of him last year. To be fair, Longshore was playing hurt for much of the season, so he never was quite himself. But there is some momentum behind the idea of the fans believing that maybe Riley is the answer. Right now, Jeff Tedford hasn’t fully declared either guy the starter, so, the door is open for Riley.

Young Defense: 7 starters are set to return on defense next year, and it was a young defense at that. FS Thomas DeCoud and his 116 tackles are gone, but there is still hope. Zack Follett is back at strongside LB and should be on a lot of all-conference lists. He had 64 tackles last year, but a fantastic 12.5 tackles for loss, tops on the team. Corner Syd’Quan Thompson (pictured) looks like a real player, as he moved from WR to corner last year and tore it up as a sophomore. He had 78 tackles, including an impressive 6 for loss. He also had a team-high 10 pass-breakups.

Bottom Line: Cal is in the middle of a real change-over on offense. Tons of new faces at the skill positions, and a QB situation that can best be called unsettled right now. If Best is healthy, early on you may see them keep things conservative as they break in the new guys in the first few games. Defensively I think they are going to be pretty good, and with those 7 starters back, they should help keep things under control while the offense settles in.

That said, you have to wonder about their state of mind. Even with all their offensive firepower last year, they fell apart down the stretch in epic proportions. But who knows, maybe losing the star power from last year’s team is actually a good thing in their view. It might help heal the wounds from ’07, and they can more or less reboot and forget the collapse.

They open with Michigan State at home, and then it’s on to Pullman. We haven’t beaten Cal since the 2002 Rose Bowl season, and their pure talent will always outshine ours on paper. But Tedford’s offense is sort of a west-coast hybrid, and timing is key in an offense like that. Early in 2008 might be the best time to play them, especially since it will be their first road game of the season. Cal will most likely be favored, but there could be an “upset alert” feel to this one.