It appears Robert Jordan is not playing. He is wearing just his jersey and sweats and sitting on the Cal sideline watching his teammates warm up. Coach Jeff Tedford had said Jordan would play today after practicing Thursday. Don’t know if something happened in between or the Bears just changed their mind about using him. If Jordan is indeed not playing, expect LaReylle Cunningham to get his reps.
Greetings from the Rose Bowl. We’re still about two hours before kickoff but a handful of Cal players are out on the field, including Nate Longshore. He’s playing catch with a team manager. It’s hard to get a gauge on how his ankle is doing because he’s not doing much running around, just practicing stepping and throwing. He doesn’t appear to be in any discomfort.
Yesterday at this time, I didn’t think Nate Longshore had much of a chance to start Saturday. I don’t know what happened overnight, but he looked a lot better today at practice and I’d place the odds at 50-50 of him starting against UCLA.
Coach Jeff Tedford acknowledged Longshore made a lot of progress since Wednesday, but still said it would be a gametime decision. Longshore and Kevin Riley split the first team reps evenly on Thursday.
Longshore was moving significantly better on Thursday and didn’t appear to be favoring his right leg as he has during the past couple of weeks. Given another day and a half to heal, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he is under center against UCLA.
But if Longshore still isn’t ready, Riley has looked good this week and should get off to a better start than last week with a game and another week of practice now under his belt.
More good news for the Bears: wide receiver Robert Jordan and backup tight end Cameron Morrah both returned to practice and Tedford said both should play in their normal capacity Saturday. Both players suffered shoulder injuries last week against Oregon State. Jordan can set the school record for consecutive games with at least one catch against the Bruins. He’s currently tied for the record with Brian Treggs with 35.
Rover Marcus Ezeff practiced some but still is limping with a quad injury, and defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said he’d only use Ezeff on Saturday if he has to. Starting cornerback Brandon Hampton, who started every game last season at rover, has been taking reps there this week and might play there if something happens to Bernard HIcks. In the event of that development, it likely would mean more playing time for true freshman Chris Conte, who is from Los Angeles and spurned UCLA at the last minute to come to Cal.
Another development on the defensive line: Fifth-year senior John Allen will start at defensive end. Tad Smith has started the past couple of games in place of the injured Rulon Davis, but Gregory said Allen has played his way into the starting lineup. Speaking Davis, he wore his jersey to practice Thursday and did some light running, but still is expected to be out a couple more weeks with a sprained foot.
Gregory also said Zack Follett should play more than he did last week when he returned from a neck stinger, but he still wants to be careful with his star linebacker. Justin Moye will start in his place.
One notable moment Thursday came at the end of practice during field goal work, when kicker Jordan Kay amazingly hit the right crossbar three times out of four kicks. Kay is the No. 1 kicker the rest of the season with the announcement that Tom Schneider is out for the year with a muscle tear in his leg.
If the Bears have any hangover from Saturday’s loss, it doesn’t show at practice. Cal had a spirited practice Wednesday and looks to have rid the effects of the heartbreaking setback against Oregon State.
Of course, the biggest question this week is the quarterback situation. Nate Longshore took limited reps Wednesday, some with the first team but more with the second team. He still doesn’t look totally right physically. One one play, he seemed to plant funny as he handed off to Justin Forsett and limped around for a few seconds. There’s no question the ankle injury is still affecting him to a degree. The question is whether he can play through it or not and be effective.
Kevin Riley looked sharp in practice. I have to imagine getting that first game out of the way, and playing well for the most part, has done wonders for his confidence. Not that he wasn’t confident before, but proving he can produce on a big stage like that can only help.
I kind of wondered if anything was going through Riley’s head as the Bears practiced the two-minute drill Wednesday. With crowd noise being piped into Memorial Stadium, Riley practiced leading the team down the field in a two-minute situation. And guess what? The Bears were going the same direction on the field as the final drive Saturday night. It was almost a little eerie. But as he did Saturday, Riley looked good doing it (discounting the final play, of course).
Wide receiver Robert Jordan and tight end Cameron Morrah haven’t practiced this week as each has a shoulder sprain, but coach Jeff Tedford said both players would give it a go on Thursday. If they are unavailable Saturday at UCLA, LaReylle Cunningham should start at receiver and Julian Arthur would become the backup tight end.
Rover Marcus Ezeff practiced in a limited fashion Wednesday and he’s still day to day. My hunch would be that Bernard Hicks would start again but Ezeff might be available.
First, let me apologize for any technical difficulties you may be experiencing with this blog. Apparently, some people are not getting the posts until a couple days after I post them, and some are having difficulty posting comments. I looked into it and the word from our technical staff is the problems actually stem from an overload of traffic on this blog. I guess the good news is there are a lot of people coming by here, so you know there is a lot of interest in Cal football. Ive been told they are working to alleviate the problem, and I will do what I can to fix it as well.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we had our weekly press luncheon today and it was one of the more entertaining ones of the season. Coach Jeff Tedford was as effusive as I’ve seen him. He seemed to enjoy engaging in the second guessing that has gone on since he decided to have Kevin Riley take a shot at the end zone before attempting a field goal Saturday against Oregon State.
I wrote a story about this for tomorrow’s paper, so I won’t include too much of what he said here because of the risk of being repetitive. But there were some entertaining moments.
–On fans questioning his decision to delay kicking a field goal: “People can always second-guess things. That’s the nature of sports. I’m sure that’s not the only play they second-guessed. I’m sure in the stands, on every play, somebody thinks you should run or throw. If you didn’t run, you should have done the other thing. ‘What are you thinking? Why are you running the ball up the middle? You shouldn’t run the ball up the middle. He got tackled. Why did you run the ball off the side? You should have threw it. That guy was open over there.’ That’s the way it goes. You have to understand that’s part of sports.”
On how much he pays attention to public opinion: “I don’t listen to any of that and I didn’t read any of the papers, so I don’t know what people’s opinions are. You get e-mails and you get phone calls, which you can’t get away from. They’re just there. You open them and they’re there. If it’s from somebody I don’t know, I try to delete it.”
–On recognizing the magnitude of the play: “I’m not being naive either about the weight that that last play carried. I know that’s not your average first down, up the middle. I understand that people can be skeptical about what went on there. But as I work here for 18 hours a day and watch tape and prepare, that has to be something that is an educated decision on our part. And I feel like it was the right decision at the time, given the play and given everything else I’ve explained.”
Those are just a few examples, and as I said, I’ll have a story with more on this tomorrow. But it was compelling to see Tedford engaging in the second-guessing. Usually, he’s pretty much all business with the media. Not in a impersonal kind of way, but he just answers questions straight-on and simplisticly. He seemed interested in expanding Tuesday, and it was enjoyable.
For the record, as I watched the game, the thought never even crossed my mind that the Bears should have tried the field goal with 14 seconds left. When you’re that close to the end zone, why not take a shot? I know Riley is inexperienced, but he sure wasn’t playing like an inexperienced quarterback down the stretch. The way he led Cal down the field on that final drive, who could blame Tedford for having confidence in him to possibly make a play? The bottom line is Riley simply had a brain cramp. He got caught up in the moment and was overcome with the intensity and made a huge mistake. But frankly, I would have been surprised if Tedford would have trotted the field goal unit on to the field at that time.
Speaking of field goals, Tedford also said today that kicker Tom Schneider will be out for the season with a muscle tear in his leg. Schneider hasn’t played yet this year after suffering the injry while warming up for the season-opener against Tennessee. Schneider has already used his redshirt year, and Tedford said Schneider is planning on petitioning the NCAA for another year of eligibility. As some of you know, Schneider is only 32 points shy of becoming Cal’s all-time leading scorer. He also was on the preseason watch list for the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation’s top kicker. Looks like Jordan Kay is Cal’s guy for the rest of the year.
In other injury news, Tedford said defensive end Rulon Davis will miss another couple of weeks with his sprained foot. But he did say that rover Marcus Ezeff is feeling better and is day to day. As I reported earlier this week, wide receiver Robert Jordan and tight end Cameron Morrah suffered shoulder injuries against Oregon State and their status is up in the air for this weekend against UCLA.
Left tackle Mike Gibson came by the luncheon. You could tell how frustrated he was that the Bears couldn’t punch it in after having first-and-goal from the OSU 2. “That should never happen,” he said.
Another guy we talked to today was cornerback Chris Conte. Saturday will be a big game for him because he is from Los Angeles and almost went to UCLA. In fact, Conte originally committed to Cal, then changed to UCLA, only to have a change of heart again right before signing day. He said he hasn’t talked to anyone from UCLA since signing with Cal and joked that nobody there probably wants to talk to them. But he said there isn’t any extra motivation because Cal is playing the Bruins on Saturday. He said he’s more excited to play in front of family and friends. His mom went to UCLA but “she’s a convert,” Conte said.
One thing coach Jeff Tedford was asked was if Kevin Riley should have thrown the ball away Saturday even after he crossed the line of scrimmage. Riley said after the game he feared there would be a clock run-off, but that wouldn’t have been the case. Tedford said there would have been a five-yard penalty but the clock would have stopped until it was placed back in play.
Another thing that may have got lost is the mobility that Riley exhibited on a few plays that allowed him to avoid a sack or buy some time to find a receiver. The highlight, of course, was his reality-defying pass completion to tight end Craig Stevens in the third quarter. With OSU defensive end Dorian Smith dragging him to the turf, Riley threw sideways into double coverage but still somehow completed it to Stevens for a 23-yard gain.
“I knew he had some mobility,” Tedford said. “The one to Craig, you’re not sure anybody has that ability. He had the guy hanging all over him, he’s falling down sideways and throws the ball. You don’t want to live on those type of plays. It worked out that time.”
Cornerback Brandon Hampton had a funny response when I asked him what effect losing the starting quarterback right before kickoff might have on the team’s psyche. He said he didn’t even know Riley was starting until the Bears took the field for the first play from scrimmage.
Hampton and Worrell Williams, the two defensive players I talked to Sunday night, both gushed about Riley’s performance.
“He’s here for a reason,” Hampton said. “I know in practice he shows signs of being good. He played pretty well. I was proud of him for his first game. I wasn’t disappointed at all. Whether you’re a veteran or it’s your first start, you’re going to make bad choices. (The final play) wasn’t necessarily a bad choice. It just wasn’t the right choice.”
Williams: “Kevin Riley did an awesome job. I can’t say enough about what he did. I think if he ever gets in another game, he’ll look like a much better Kevin Riley. And he looked awesome in that game. I got a whole bunch of calls from people saying that they loved him. They loved his reads, his gutsiness, and his mobility.
“We turned the ball over or something and I looked him in the face and said, ‘you’re not doing anything wrong. Just keep doing what you’re doing. We believe in you. The defense is going to rally behind you.’ I thought he went out there and did an awesome job.”
There is obviously so much to hash over about Saturday’s loss. But, in general, I buy the argument that the game wasn’t decided when Kevin Riley made his ill-advised decision to run with the ball on the final play.
There’s no question Riley simply got caught up in the moment and had a brain freeze. You could see it in his eyes during that final drive how much intensity he had. Unfortunately for him, I think it ultimately got the best of him.
So why was this the game that the Bears made some mistakes they hadn’t earlier in the season? Why did they make three turnovers after only having four all season? Why was this the game that Justin Forsett couldn’t produce at the goal line when he has all year? Or the game that he committed his first fumble of the season?
The loss can’t be pinned on Kevin Riley, but I do wonder if there is some kind of trickle-down effect when a team knows it is missing one of its most indispensable players. I thought Riley overcame a bad start and played pretty well, especially down the stretch, obviously. It’s hard to imagine much better play on the game’s final drive, especially from someone essentially playing in his first game.
But is it possible that a team is just kind of out of sorts when it is shaken up so much by the loss of a starting quarterback? This is just a theory, but I think one worth discussing. Maybe if Nate Longshore is in the game, that usual crispness and sharpness is there.
This may not be as plausible when talking about the defense. I asked two defensive players this question tonight after practice and they each said they didn’t think there was an effect. In fact, Worrell Williams said the defense kind of used Longshore’s absence as motivation, that they thought they had to play even better because there might be some uncertainty with the offense.
Speaking of practice, the guys seemed pretty loose and ready to move on Sunday night. Of course, they are all disappointed, but they acknowledge it doesn’t do anybody any good to harp on the loss. What I think makes it easier for the players to move on is the fact that there is so much parity this season in college football, and because of that there is still a chance to climb back up the national ladder.
Coach Jeff Tedford said the team will continute to evaluate Longshore. He couldn’t say at this point who will play Saturday at UCLA.
He also said that wide receiver Robert Jordan and tight end Cameron Morrah each suffered a second degree AC sprain in their shoulder. I’m pretty sure Jordan’s injury came on the long pass play during the game’s final drive. You could see Jordan land on his arms to make sure he held on to the ball. A gutsy catch. Tedford said the injuries aren’t serious and both players could maybe even play Saturday. They will be held out of practice Tuesday, though.
I talked to Riley tonight and he said he’s simply trying to move on as well. The guy was sore. You could tell it was the first time he had been knocked around in a college game because he was creaking across the field as he headed back to the locker room. As a reporter, I have to say I am very impressed how he handled things Saturday night. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he declined to be interviewed, but he came into the press room and answered every question bluntly with all of the mikes and notepads in his face. Overall, I thought he had a prettty good game, too. To make the plays he did at the end of the game as Cal came back was special stuff considering it was his first game.
Talked to Longshore, too. He said he felt like he could have played Saturday but had to go with the “boss’ decision,” as he put it. He also thought Riley played a great game.
Some quick notes:
Kevin Riley looks like somebody making his first career start. He’s had some nice moments and some bad ones. The good news is he should improve with each passing possession.
The defense has played terrific. The Beavers have scored all their points on turnovers and that questionable squib kick at the end of the first half. Zack Follett looks like he never mised a game.
Thomas DeCoud is Cal’s leading tackler with seven. Justin Forsett has rushed for 124 yards already.
Well, obviously this is nervous times for the Bears with Kevin Riley making his first career start. Cal hasn’t asked him to do too much yet, and when he has, he’s missed on a couple throws. Obviously, .Riley may need time to get comfortable in his first meaningful game.
The good news for the Bears is the defense looks good. OSU scored only because of Justin Forsett’s fumble deep in Cal territory. Zack Follett is playing and making an impact. Brandon Hampton had a good first quarter as well.
Robert Jordan’s catch gave him one in 36 straight games, tying Brian Treggs’ school record.
Even though Nate Longshore seemed to be OK testing out his ankle, Kevin Riley is currently taking pregame reps with the first team while Longshore is taking them with the second team.