Hey everyone. Set up here in the press box at Memorial Stadium. There’s about 45 minutes until kickoff. Obviously one thing I’m looking for during warm-ups is if Rulon Davis, Matt Malele or Zack Follett are suited up. It doesn’t appear that they are playing, but so far only the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and defensive backs have taken the field.

The forecast calls for rain this afternoon, and the cloudy skies above sure seem to be confirming it. So far, there have been no drops, but it looks pretty imminnent. Rain could have an impact on the game, especially Arizona because it runs the spread offense. The Wildcats like to throw, but rain can be an equalizer to the passing game sometimes.

I was keeping an eye on the Florida score earlier because it obviously has implications for the rankings if the Bears win today. But Cal lost out on a chance to move past one team with a win because the Gators hung on to beat Mississippi.


No panic

Quarterback Nate Longshore admits he’s missed some receivers the past couple of games, but is confident it won’t become a trend.

“We’re winning. That’s the first and foremost thing,” he said. “Obviously, you always want to improve. I missed some opportunities the last couple of games. But at the same time, there’s always going to be the ones you miss. It’s just a matter of managing the game to the point where you can still be successful.
“I feel like it’s still early in the year so there’s nothing to be worried about. As the season goes on, there will be more opportunities to improve that part of my game.”

Longshore was asked specifically about a handful of deep balls that he wasn’t able to connect with open receivers.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” he said. “We hit it every day in practice. At the same time, when we missed those, it didnt’ stall our offense. There’s still the next down. I feel like we’re controlling the ball well and limiting turnovers. We’re getting it done. We’re 3-0.”


Early tests

As Cal prepared for Arizona this week, it struck me that the Bears’ defense has been really tested early on. So far, two of their three opponents have ran the no-huddle against them for the entire game. One of them, Louisiana Tech, threw just about everything an offense can at Cal. Now, with Arizona on Saturday and Oregon next week, the Bears will have to contend with the spread offense in each of the next two games.

I asked a couple of the defensive players about it and they admitted it’s been a grind. But they also say it will help them down the road.

“It shows that our defense is resillient and we know how to adjust on the fly,” free safety Thomas DeCoud said. “To get these kind of tests early in the season to see where we are and to see what we need to do to get better will help us later in the season. We’ll become a better defense because of it.”

Facing these offenses is even more challenging when you consider the Bears have had to plug some key holes on defense. Cal basically has a brand new defensive line and lost other key defensive players like Desmond Bishop, Mickey Pimentel and Daymeion Hughes.

“Especially coming in as a young group, you have teams running the no-huddle and it’s fast paced,” defensive lineman Tad Smith said. “It definitely accelerates the learning experience.”

Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory essentially admitted that more and more teams are getting away from “traditional” offenses and moving more in the direction of what the Bears have seen so far this season.


Thursday night update

Well, practice is over for the week and Rulon Davis, Matt Malele and Zack Follett don’t appear any closer to playing than they did at the start of the week. All three players didn’t practice at all this week. Davis is still on crutches and Malele is in a walking boot.

Coach Jeff Tedford still termed their status as day-to-day, but it’s pretty apparent none of the three are going to play Saturday against Arizona. When told that none of them look like they could possibly play, defensive coordinator Bob Gregory smiled and said “Miracles can happen.

Assuming they don’t play, expect Cody Jones to replace Malele at defensive tackle, Tad Smith to go for Davis at defensive end and Justin Moye to fill in for Follett at strongside linebacker.

Also, kicker Tom Schneider still is definitely out, and Tedford said it doesn’t look good for him returning next week at Oregon, either. Tedford said the quadriceps pull that Schneider suffered ended up being pretty severe.

While the loss of Malele hurts, the blow may be lessened a little because the Bears figure to use a lot of nickel coverage against Arizona’s spread offense. That means many times there will be just one defensive tackle on the field at one time. That duty should be spread between Jones, Mika Kane and Derrick Hill. Gregory also said that end Tyson Alualu may move inside at times, depending on the rotation.

The good news for the Bears is that DeSean Jackson appears to be healing fast from the sprained thumb that has been bothering him since the season-opener. Tedford said “DeSean had a great week of practice and is going great.”


A few laughs

A few offbeat tidbits:

–Redshirt freshman linebacker Michael Mohamed got his first extensive playing time against Louisiana Tech. The opportunity was exciting. Maybe too exciting.

“At first, I got out there, I was just so juiced up to be out there,” Mohamed said. “I came off the field and (linebackers coach Ken Thompson) was like, ‘What did you have on that play?’ I did the wrong assignment. I was just too excited about it.”

–Wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins keeps trying to convince the media that he’s actually shy. Of course, we know better. We know that he’s really possibly the most charismatic, engaging personality on the team.

Hawkins is a delight. He’s funny, smart, friendly and almost always upbeat. When he arrived at the Hall of Fame Room at Memorial Stadium on Tuesday for the weekly press luncheon, he first approached two of the curators who put together the display cases for the athletic department.

“Hi, I’m DeSean Jackson,” he said, introducing himself. I couldn’t hear the entire conversation. But they talked for a few minutes and Lavelle never broke character, acting as though he was DeSean. I ran into the curators later and they said Lavelle never spilled the beans. They didn’t know it was actually Lavelle until I told them.

Lavelle has said all year he enjoys having the spotlight on DeSean. Hawkins is tied for third in the Pac-10 in catches per game (6.3).

“I’m just the other guy,” Hawkins said. “Put the camera on DeSean and let me just sneak by you. I think I need to stay out of the papers because they’re going to start reading this stuff.”

Thankfully, Lavelle was joking. Because it’s good for us reporters to have him in the paper.

–Hawkins also joked that Cal’s student section should join with him when he does “the Hawk”, his celebration dance. He pointed out that fans were chanting for fellow wideout Robert Jordan last week.

“Please, students, please do it with me,” he said. “I’m feeling lonely out thee. I need the Hawk. I don’t need a chant. Just wave your hands with me.”


Justin Forsett

One of the most impressive things about Cal running back Justin Forsett is the way he carries himself. He’s the ultimate professional. Running backs coach Ron Gould says Forsett’s work ethic is “impeccable”, and it shows. But Forsett also is a quiet leader who commands respect from his teammates. And as a senior who has seen plenty of playing time over the past four years, he offers an intelligent sense of perspective. When he deals with the media, he almost always gives thoughtful answers and has something substantial to say.

Cal guard Brian De La Puente offered an example as the team’s press luncheon on Tuesday.

“Thursday practices are more of a mental day. During special teams when he’s not in, he comes down with the O-Line and works on blitz pick-ups,” De La Puente said..” He’s really motivated to learn the offense and not make any mistakes. To have somebody that gets the ball, gets the touchdowns, and be motivated to know blocking schemes, it’s nice to know.”

Forsett ran for 152 yards and three touchdowns last Saturday in the win over Louisiana Tech, but one of his most impressive plays was the block he threw to completely take out a defender and give Jahvid Best an open path to the end zone after a screen pass.

Of course, one of the funnier moments came when Forsett accidentally ran right into the back of De La Puente. Forsett joked “that was the hardest I was hit all game.” De La Puente’s take? “That was the talk after the game. I had a tackle for loss. It didn’t hurt me too bad. I just remember looking back and seeing him lying down. It didn’t look like a good play.”


Mid-week update

It’s funny with all the attention the Tennessee game received, it seems to me the Arizona game is even a bigger chance at redemption for Cal. Granted, the Tennessee game last season was a blowout and on national television, but the Bears recovered and still were in position to have a special year until they laid an egg in Tucson. I know it eats at the players, especially in light of USC’s loss to UCLA at the end of the season.

It’s too bad the Bears aren’t at full strength, but I still think they will be motivated and handle the Wildcats. Even though defensive linemen Rulon Davis and Matt Malele were termed day-to-day by coach Jeff Tedford, neither has practiced yet this week and it would be a surprise to me if they played Saturday. Linebacker Zack Follett also hasn’t practiced.

I mentioned this on an answer to a comment on another entry, but DeSean Jackson said today that his thumb is starting to feel better. He’s been practicing in a cast to protect it, and it’s really been giving him problems catching passes. Jackson hurt it against Tennessee. He really wants to do well in this game because of his relationship with Arizona All-American cornerback Antoine Cason. Both guys are from Long Beach and worked out together over the summer. Jackson said they’ve been talking some trash back and forth about this game.

Arizona has been a weird, and disappointing, team so far. The Wildcats are 1-2, including a home loss to New Mexico in their last game. Surprisingly, it’s been their defense that has hurt them more than their offense. The defense was excellent last season, and with 10 starters returning, was supposed to be one of the best in the Pac-10 this year. But they rank eighth in scoring defense in the Pac-10 (24.3 ppg allowed).

Arizona brought in Sonny Dykes from Texas Tech to implement the spread offense, and the Wildcats are leading the Pac-10 in passing at 321.3 yards per game. Dykes was at Texas Tech when his offense shredded Cal in the 2004 Holiday Bowl.


Sigh of relief

It looks like the injuries to defensive lineman Matt Malele and Rulon Davis aren’t as serious as originally feared. Malele has a strained muscle in his foot while Davis has a sprained foot. Coach Jeff Tedford said each is day-to-day, and was unsure if either could be ready by Saturday’s game against Arizona. But it doesn’t sound like it will be an extended period of time out of action for either. Tedford also reiterated that linebacker Zack Follett is day-to-day with a neck stinger.