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Early arrival

Greetings from Seattle. Got to the stadium a bit early today in an attempt to avoid traffic. As it turned out, there wasn’t any. So here I sit in an almost-empty Husky Stadium. Surprisingly, it wasn’t raining when I woke up this morning. And even getting to the stadium, it was just overcast. As luck would have it, a steady light rain started almost the moment I sat down.

Good news and bad news on the weather front. As of yesterday, the forecast called for a 60 percent chance of showers at kickoff. Well, now the likelihood of rain is up to 80 percent (yes, I know I just said it’s raining right now. I’m talking about kickoff!) but with just a light rain. Sounds like the conditions could be a lot like last Saturday against USC.

Cal coach Jeff Tedford said the team doesn’t do much differently to prepare for a game in the rain, aside from having the quarterbacks practice throwing wet balls. He said he was happy how the Bears performed in the rain last week.

I’ll check in a little later, especially if and when we get an update on the availability of Washington quarterback Jake Locker.

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Thursday

Well, the Bears are batting .500 on the injury front. Defensive back Marcus Ezeff will make the trip to Seattle. Ezeff has missed most of the past five games with a quad injury. He practiced Thursday and if fit enough to play. How much he plays is up in the air. The Bears thought they had him back a few weeks ago against UCLA, but after a few reps, he couldn’t go any longer and sat out the rest of the game. He’s been out ever since. Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said he will give Ezeff a look, see how he responds, and then determine how much he plays. Ezeff’s presence, if nothing else, gives Cal more depth in the secondary. Before he got injured, Ezeff and Bernard HIcks were having a pretty good competition at rover.

After practicing in limited fashion Wednesday, defensive end Rulon Davis did not practice Thursday and will not make the trip. It’s another disappointment for Davis, who has missed six games this year with foot and knee injuries. Davis earned a starting role with a strong training camp and the Bears were counting on him as a pass rusher, but he just hasn’t been able to stay healthy.

Coach Jeff Tedford said tailback Jahvid Best has undergone a few tests during the past few days, including an MRI on Thursday, to diagnose his injured hip. Best definitely is out for Saturday’s game. The question is how much more. All things being equal, it’s never a good sign when a player is subjected to multiple tests to determine the extent of an injury.

The Seattle papers are reporting that it’s unlikely Washington quarterback Jake Locker will play. Locker suffered a neck stinger last Saturday against Oregon State. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Locker wore a helmet and pads for the first time in practice this week. But coach Tyrone Willingham said it’s unlikely Locker would play. However, Willingham wouldn’t go so far as to rule him out completely. That being said, expect Carl Bonnell to start. Bonnell threw five interceptions against Cal last season.

Oregon’s loss to Arizona tonight could have some bowl implications for Cal. Had the Ducks won out and advanced to the BCS national title game, it would have moved every other team in the Pac-10 up a notch in terms of fielding teams in the arrangement the conference has with the bowls. Right now, the most realistic outcome for the Bears is a tie for fourth place with Oregon State. In that case, Cal almost assuredly would be headed to the Emerald Bowl. But had Oregon made it to the BCS title game, OSU and the Bears would have been tied for third as far as the bowl arrangements are concerned. That would have put one of the teams in the Sun Bowl, and it likely would be Cal since Oregon St. played there last year and the Bears probably are considered a more attractive participant.

That’s not to say Oregon’s loss completely rules out that possibility. There’s a good chance the Pac-10 now could end in a three-way tie for the title between Oregon, USC and Arizona State. No matter which of those three teams ends up in the Rose Bowl, there’s a chance one of the other two could get a bid to another BCS game. That would result in the same effect, and probably place Cal in the Sun Bowl.

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Wednesday

Things are kind of sleepy at practice these days. Maybe it’s because we’re back to standard time and it’s dark during practice now. There used to be a handful of “friends of the program” that would come and watch practice every night. Now there’s only a few. Lots of empty bleachers. Seems like some people have jumped off the bandwagon.

Actually, things got a little lively during the beginning of practice when several police officers were called in because apparently a man was sitting on the ledge just on the other side of the rim of the stadium. It took awhile, but the man eventually was escorted down through the bleachers in handcuffs. Don’t worry. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t anybody from Washington’s coaching staff.

Rulon Davis and Marcus Ezeff have returned to practice, but are still limited. Davis seemed to be working hard during one set of individual drills, then had to be stretched out by a trainer. Jeff Tedford said they are still day-to-day.

Tedford also said he was waiting further information on the hip injury to Jahvid Best. He underwent an MRI and the results aren’t available yet. I asked Tedford if he thought the injury was serious, and he simply said the tests were to make sure they aren’t.

Best’s presence will be missed most on special teams. He has become one of the most impressive gunners you will ever see on kick and punt coverage. At one point Wednesday, the Bears were using Zack Follett at gunner. Not sure if that was just an experiment, but that would be intriguing to see.

There was a brief scare during scout work when wide receiver Michael Calvin went down, clutching his leg. A couple of trainers rushed to him, and after a few minutes he got up on his own power and appeared to be fine. May have been a cramp. Calvin is the future at wide receiver for Cal.

I talked with Nate Longshore tonight for a story I will have in Friday’s paper. I won’t disclose too much of what he said here (don’t want to scoop my own story), but he was forthcoming and candid, as he always is. You can tell he wants to make things right, and admitted Saturday’s game is big for him to demonstrate he can lead the team to a win. He said his family has helped him get through some tough times during the past month, while Cal has been losing and his play has been uneven.

For the record, there are some out there who wonder why Tedford hasn’t addressed his reluctance to replace Longshore with Kevin Riley. There’s a very simple reason for that. I don’t think Tedford has seriouisly considered it. He doesn’t see Longshore’s shortcomings as dramatic as some of the harsh critics out there.

I tend to agree with him. Yes, Longshore has thrown some crucial interceptions, but he’s had his productive times as well. To suggest that he’s suddenly become a bad quarterback doesn’t make sense to me. I certainly don’t think his overall play warrants replacing him with a guy who has played in one college game and played well for about half of it.

Longshore also addressed some of his problems late in games and that will be in Friday’s story. Speaking of this Saturday’s game, it could be messy again like last week. Last weather report I saw calls for a 70 percent chance of showers. Not exactly breaking news in Seattle.

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Tuesday update

The thing that struck me the most about Tuesday’s weekly press luncheon is that players were talking about simply winning a game, not what bowl game they want to get to or how they can finish overall. It just illustrated how much the season has changed in the past month. Players don’t want to look ahead to the …Emerald Bowl. Before it was they didn’t want to look ahead to the BCS title game or Rose Bowl.

Much of the discourse Tuesday was about Nate Longshore, about his comments following Saturday’s game how he’s holding up generally. I will have a story about this in tomorrow’s paper, but in general coach Jeff Tedford and the assorted players on hand were staunch in their support for the quarterback.

Many of the players said it was unfair that Longshore has been the target of so much criticism, that everyone makes mistakes and that it is only magnified when you are the quarterback. Tedford reiterated that he thought Longshore did some good things against USC, especially considering the strength of the Trojans’ defense as well as the poor weather conditions, but admitted Longshore would “like to have back” the interception near the end of the game. Tedford said all of the top-notch quarterbacks he has coached have gone through “tough times” like Longshore is experiencing right now.

(For the record, Longshore has class during the press luncheon on Tuesdays; that is why he is unable to make it each week).

In other significant news, Tedford said backup tailback Jahvid Best is out this week. Best suffered a hip injury late in Saturday’s game. Tedford didn’t quite know the severity of injury and said Best will undergo further evaluation. This probably hurts Cal most on special teams, where Best has been the Bears’ best coverage guy on punts and kickoffs.

Tedford also said there’s a chance defensive end Rulon Davis and defensive back Marcus Ezeff could return this week. Tedford said it’s too late in the season to hold players out with a bye week looming. If they can play, they will play.

Offensive lineman Mike Tepper came by and was asked if Oregon will win the national championship. “Yes they will,” he said immediately. “They are going to rock whoever they play. They’re a great football team.” He said it would be a little sense of pride if the Ducks win it all because the Bears are the only team to beat them this season.

Tailback Justin Forsett is a regular on Tuesdays and always worthwhile to say. He talked about running well in the rain Saturday, and looks forward to the possibility of it raining again up in Seattle on this Saturday. Forsett said the USC game reminded him of his time playing youth football back in Florida, where it rained often. “I played in a lot of muddy games, sliding around. Saturday reminded me of being a kid, going back home with all the mud all over my jersey.”

This is a little bit bigger week for linebacker Anthony Felder, who is from Seattle. Felder played at Husky Stadium in 2005, but only for a few snaps near the end of the game. He said he grew up about 10 minutes from Husky Stadium and attended games there as a kid. He also said that USC’s Chauncey Washington has been one of the “few backs that have stuck out in my mind,” since he’s been at Cal.

Felder has quietly been one of the Bears’ best success stories this season. He ranks second in the Pac-10 in tackles with 95.

Backup cornerback Brandon Jones was a teammate of Felder’s at O’Dea High School in Seattle and said he is trying to track down about 30-40 tickets for friends and family on Saturday. Jones’ father, Lyndall, was an NFL defensive back for the Eagles and Falcons. One of the good offbeat stories from last summer was that Jones allegedly ran the 40 in 4.19 seconds. That’s according to Forsett, who was one of a handful of guys holding a stopwatch during conditioning workouts. Strength coach John Krasinski clocked Jones at 4.25, so that’s what goes down in the books. Jones said the fastest he had been clocked in the 40 before that was at the Nike Combine before his senior year of high school, when he ran a 4.43.

On the Washington front, coach Tyrone Willingham said Tuesday that quarterback Jake Locker was day-to-day. Locker had to be taken off the field in a stretcher against Oregon State on Saturday after a helmet-to-helmet hit left him on the field for 15 minutes. But it looked worse than it was. Locker was diagnosed with a neck stinger and strained trapezius. Of course, a neck stinger is what kept Cal linebacker Zack Follett out of a couple games and limited in a couple of others, but it’s hard to compare unless the severity of the injury is known to be similar as well. But Willingham said he was going to be cautious with Locker. A neck stinger is the kind of injury that can create more problems if a player returns prematurely and does more damage.

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Sunday update

As disappointing as Saturday’s loss was for the Bears, most people would have probably figured Cal may have had a hard time beating the Trojans before the season. Granted, USC clearly isn’t the team everybody thought it would be, but based on what we have seen this season, the Trojans still likely are the better team. The fact that they are still nationally ranked and were favored in Saturday’s game speaks to that.

Still, as the game moved into its final stages Saturday, you got the feeling Cal was right there on the same level as USC. Neither team dominated the other. Each team was able to run the ball well in the soggy conditions. Neither team could get much of a passing game going. Each team committed crucial turnovers.

That’s what made Saturday’s loss a little more hard to take for the Bears, especially for the seniors. The Bears had the game tied in the fourth quarter and appeared to have seized the momentum.

Obviously, there has been a lot of negative feedback about Nate Longshore and the passing game. It does seem a little disturbing that this late in the season that the quarterback and receivers aren’t on the same page. On three different throws, a receiver appeared to break in a different direction that Longshore expected. After each play, Longshore and coach Jeff Tedford appeared to have an animated discussion on the sideline. After the game, Longshore took full blame for those plays and the rest of the team’s performance on offense. He said the receivers were doing their job on those plays, which implies Longshore made the wrong reads. That’s something that obviously shouldn’t happen with an experienced quarterback.

Also, Tedford said Longshore’s second interception slipped out of his hands because of the wet weather. Longshore said he simply made a bad pass. I’m not sure if Longshore is just trying to face the music and avoid making an excuse, but obviously the wet weather does make it hard to throw the ball as effectively as usual.

That is one of the couple of things I will say in Longshore’s defense. It’s not like John David Booty tore it up either. The Trojans didn’t have much of a passing game themselves. I think both teams’ aerial attack struggled in the wet weather. I will also say that we shouldn’t forget that USC entered the game ranked third in the nation on defense.

That being said, Longshore certainly made some poor passes, and again, the miscommunication with the receivers is a bit disturbing. Longshore did make a good read on the touchdown pass to Lavelle Hawkins that tied the game. Yes, Hawkins had to stretch to make the catch, but Longshore did put it in a place where it couldn’t be intercepted.

Despite Chauncey Washington’s career night in rushing, I thought Cal’s defense actually played pretty well. A lot of Washington’s yardage came on big plays sprinkled in throughout the game, and then he just wore the Bears down with 62 yards on the game-deciding scoring drive. The rain may have had something to do with it, but Cal obviously held Booty and the passing game in check.

I think the last two regular season games will say a lot about the legacy the 2007 team leaves behind. Saturday was the Bears’ last real chance to show the world it is an elite team. Wins over Washington and Stanford won’t do that. But what they will do is demonstrate that Cal still wants to have the best season possible.

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Halftime

It was big for the Bears that they stopped the Trojans on their last possession of the first half. After USC had put together that long drive to take a 14-10 lead, the Bears went three-and-out. The Trojans took over on their own 13 with 3:16 left in the half but could register just one first down before having to punt.

Some halftime stats:

Justin Forsett has 67 yards rushing.
Nate Longshore is 8-for-14 for 123 yards.
Chauncey Washington has 104 yards rushing.
Cal has outgained USC, 213-160

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First quarter recap

Like last week, Cal is dominating the time of possession. In the first quarter, the Bears held the ball for 9:43 to just 5:17 for USC. Cal racked up 136 yards of offense, against a defense that is allowing just 253.3 yards per game, third in the country.

Justin Forsett rushed for 57 yards in the first quarter and Cal had 91 yards as a team.

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Early on

Obviously, footing is a concern so far. The Bears have had two players slip and USC has had one on each team’s first possession. The umpire is doing his part, toweling off the ball after every play and not placing it on the wet field until the offense gets up to the line of scrimmage.