BearTalk

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Archive for November, 2007

Greetings

Hello from Memorial Stadium. Pretty dreary here, but at least it’s a light rain. Obviously, the weather could have an effect on the game. Coach Jeff Tedford said after Thursday’s practice that the quarterbacks practiced throwing wet balls all week, to get ready for today. That could help Nate Longshore’s efficiency.

I see a lot of red in the stands. USC always has a pretty good contingent on the road, especially at a place close in proximity like Cal. Even though the stakes of this game aren’t what some thought it would be earlier this season, the atmosphere here should still be electric. This game was sold out before the season and Cal definitely is motivated to beat the team that has dominated the Pac-10 in recent years. And let’s not forget that it’s the final home game for 20 seniors. What a way it would be for them to close their home careers with a win over USC.

Some of the Bears just took the field for warm-ups and they are donning 1975 throwback jerseys to honor Joe Roth, the only Cal player ever to have his number retired. It definitely will catch your eye when you turn on your TV.

Kind of a funny moment down on the field right now. Tedford and USC coach Pete Carroll are chatting at midfield and Carroll is playing catch with a team manager. One of his throws was a bit off the mark and Tedford reached up and “intercepted” it from Carroll.

I’ll check back in closer to kickoff.

Posted on Saturday, November 10th, 2007
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Thursday

There wasn’t a whole lot to report from Thursday’s practice, and maybe that’s the biggest news. It was hard to tell that it was USC week this week. That’s not to say the Bears didn’t have a good and spirited week of practice, it just didn’t seem that different than another week. And it certainly didn’t seem to have the buzz as Tennessee week or Oregon week. That being said, I know the players all regard this as a big game, despite the fact that the stakes aren’t as high as some may have anticipated before the season.

Nate Longshore looked good again Thursday. He’s throwing confidently and moving well. Although coach Jeff Tedford said Longshore’s ankle injury likely will linger for the rest of the seaosn, he said the quarterback is learning to manage it better and acknowledged that he seems to be getting healthier.

We usually talk to defensive coordinator Bob Gregory on Thursday nights. He talked about the size of USC’s receivers and the problems that tight end Fred Davis presents. Like Tedford said, Gregory also acknowledged that it’s a boost for USC to have quarterback John David Booty back in the lineup. Gregory said he thought backup Mark Sanchez did some good things in the three weeks that Booty sat out with a broken finger, but admitted that you can’t replace Booty’s experience.

Gregory said he hadn’t decided if true freshman Chris Conte would start again. Conte got his first career start last week against Washington State. It would seem Conte would be a good fit for this game because he is the Bears’ biggest cornerback and the Trojans have size at wide receiver.

Here a few links to stories that have appeared in Southern California this week:

–The Orange County Register discusses DeSean Jackson’s reluctance to get into a war of words with the Trojans.

–The OCR also had a notebook that among other things, reported that All-American left tackle Sam Baker, who is expected to be an NFL first-round draft pick, won’t play against the Bears.

–From the L.A. Daily News: Pete Carroll yelled at DeSean Jackson during last year’s game.

Posted on Thursday, November 8th, 2007
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Wednesday

The Bears had a pretty good practice Wednesday. They had a couple of periods of “crossover,” meaning the first team offense went against the first team defense. Cal usually does this early in the week then eases up later. Freshman cornerback Chris Conte continues to run with the first team, meaning it looks like he’ll get another start on Saturday.

Quarterback Nate Longshore has had a couple of good days at practice. He seems to be getting a little stronger on the ankle. I haven’t had a chance to talk to him this week but I’m guessing he’s eager to produce on Saturday in a big game against USC. I”m sure he’s heard some of the criticism that’s been directed toward him lately. Longshore seemed to go out of his way to after last Saturday’s win to emphasize that his ankle feels fine and he is no different than the quarterback before the injury. The USC game could be a defining moment of his season.

A lot of the talk this week is about the final home game for the 20 seniors on the Cal roster. I had a chance to talk to a few of the key seniors on the team this week and will have coverage in the paper about it, including a short item on Justin Forsett tomorrow. As a reporter, it’s my job to be an impartial observer, but it’s hard not to like a guy like Forsett, who is all class. He’s also intelligent and insightful, which makes him a great guy to deal with from a media perspective.

I’ll have a feature on Thomas DeCoud coming up on Friday. I talked to him at length tonight and he said it really hasn’t hit him that he’ll be coming out of that Memorial Stadium tunnel only one more time. His mother, Angellique, who drops by for the end of almost every practice, beamed with pride as I talked with her in the bleachers Wednesday night. DeCoud is an only child, and you can see what he means to his mom. I think she might be more emotional than Thomas on Saturday.

DeCoud is an interesting study. He’s not your typical football player. He’s a quirky guy, but a very intelligent and introspective one. One minute, he can tell you all about the many DVDs of cartoons he owns. The next, he’ll cast some insight on the morale or the attitude of the team. Another guy who’s easy to like.

I talked to linebacker Zack Follett at Tuesday’s press luncheon about the frustration of his neck stinger that kept him out of two games and has slowed him from getting back to full strength. He had his best game of the season against Washington State.

“It’s been real frustrating because in the back of my head, I have been kind of hesitant,” he said. “I finally just kind of let go. My play has never been one to hesitate. That’s how it’s kind of been.”

Follett said he thought one of the problems is the coaching staff was having him think too much rather than just rely on his instincts. He said the defensive game plan against Washington St. was more basic, and that’s what allowed him to get into his element and make the slew of plays he did to contribute to the team’s best defensive performance of the season.

Posted on Wednesday, November 7th, 2007
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Funny how things work out

Before the season started, I thought this would be the craziest week of the year. I pictured the weekly press luncheon as standing room only, with media members from all over the Bay Area as well as Southern California flocking to Memorial Stadium.

Instead, it was pretty ho-hum today. That’s what happens when the most anticipated game of the Pac-10 season doesn’t work out to what was expected. It should still be a good game Saturday when the Bears host USC, and the atmosphere of a sold-out stadium should still make it a lot of fun, but there’s no denying there’s now something missing from this showdown that was supposed to put together the two top teams in the Pac-10.

The Cal-USC game sold out before the season started. ABC picked it up in May. It was going to be a chance for the Bears to take that next step into the national spotlight, playing against a Trojans team that many felt may be their best yet.

As you all know, it hasn’t panned out as people planned. The Trojans aren’t as dominant as expected. They’ve already lost twice and are an afterthought in the national title race for the first time since 2001. Cal is tied for fifth place in the Pac-10 and is barely in the national rankings.

All that being said, it doesn’t seem as though Cal’s players care that the stakes aren’t as high as predicted in the preseason. This is still a big game to them because the Trojans have been the class of the conference for several years and no current Cal player has tasted victory against them yet. Plus, even though USC is a little down from the past couple years, they are still a ranked team with a chance to win the Pac-10, so a win for the Bears would help ease the pain of their recent three-game losing streak.

And there’s another factor here: Saturday marks the last home game for Cal’s seniors. Guys like tailback Justin Forsett, wide receiver Robert Jordan, tackle Mike Gibson, defensive lineman Matt Malele and free safety Thomas DeCoud will take the Memorial Stadium field for the last time. Forsett came to Tuesday’s luncheon and talked about how special Saturday will be for him, coming out of that tunnel for the last game and being honored with his parents.

Some notes from coach Jeff Tedford’s interview session:

–He said although Nate Longshore came out of Saturday’s game feeling pretty good, he expects Longshore to deal with his ankle injury all season. But he said as long as Longshore feels as good as he did heading into Saturday’s game, he will remain the undisputed starting quarterback.

–Defensive end Rulon Davis is definitely out again this week with his sprained MCL.

–Even though USC is tied for third place and has losses to Stanford and Oregon, Tedford called the Trojans the best team Cal has faced all year.

Linebacker Zack Follett, coming off his best game of the season, came by the luncheon on his way to class and told a good story (as he usually does). He said before Saturday he had been wearing a suit to all home games. At the last minute Saturday, he decided to wear his blue collar Cal shirt. He said that is going to be his approach now the rest of the season — a blue collar worker.

I asked Forsett to reflect on what it’s been like to be the workhorse in the backfield this season. A lot of the talk before the season was whether Forsett could handle being an every-down back. Forsett has had more nagging injuries than he ever has, but he said otherwise he hasn’t noticed much of a difference. Forsett is second in the Pac-10 in rushing (111.7 ypg).

–Chris Conte came to the luncheon and talked about his first career start on Saturday. Conte didn’t seem overwhelmed by it, but acknowledged he has a lot of room for improvement. Conte is pretty confident for a true freshman playing cornerback in a major conferene. He’s been that way ever since he showed up for training camp. He’s not cocky, just has a cool confidence about him that seems unusual for a true freshman. No word yet if Conte will start against against USC. But as a UCLA fan growing up, he’d relish it.

Posted on Tuesday, November 6th, 2007
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WSU slideshow

Here is the link to the slideshow from Saturday’s game, done aptly as always by our staff photographer, Jose Carlos Fajardo.

Posted on Sunday, November 4th, 2007
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Saturday reflections

Saturday’s game had to have observers wondering what has happened to Cal’s offense. It’s hard to believe this is the same team that just over a month ago had to win by outscoring its opponents. Against Washington State, the Bears looked like a team that had to rely on their defense to win, a laughable thought earlier in the season.

But Cal’s offense played that way. The Bears simply chipped away for yardage and controlled the ball and the clock. The big play, which used to be what the offense was predicated on, was nonexistent until Justin Forsett’s pivotal 44-yard run late in the fourth quarter that gave Cal a 20-9 lead.

There were no long pass plays to DeSean Jackson or Lavelle Hawkins. There were no explosive runs by Jahvid Best. There was just a team methodically picking up yardage, enough to allow its defense to go to work and win the game.

But the good news about the offense’s workmanlike performance is that is actually helped the defense. One of the problems with the defense that the coaching staff has been lamenting all season is that it’s on the field too much. Well, with the Bears controlling the ball for almost two-thirds of the game, Cal’s defense was well-rested throughout. That may be one of the reasons the defense played by far its best game of the season.

Another reason: Zack Follett. There were such high expectations for Follett heading into the season, but it’s been hard for him to get into the swing of things since suffering a neck stinger in the third game against Louisiana Tech. He played his best game of the season Saturday, recording six tackles and a sack with three pass break-ups. He was all over the field ruining Washington State’s best-laid plans. Follett adds a dynamic to Cal’s defense that makes a significant difference.

It’s hard to know what will happen this Saturday against USC. Before the season, this was supposed to be the game of the year in the Pac-10. As we all know, it hasn’t worked out that way. On one hand, the Bears barely beat the ninth place team in the conference on Saturday, and they were at home. On the other hand, we’ve seen Cal beat Tennessee and Oregon, so we know what the potential is. It seems one thing is for sure — the offense will have to produce more than it did against the Cougars to give the Bears a chance against the Trojans.

If Cal is able to beat USC, it could make for an interesting look at the Pac-10 standings. If Arizona State beats UCLA and Oregon State beats Washington, there will be a four-way tie for third place in the conference. Suddenly, the Bears would be in better position to go to one of the Pac-10′s better bowl games. It seems as though third place would still be the most realistic goal for Cal, which would put the Bears in the Sun Bowl. But if Oregon somehow makes it into the BCS title game, the other teams would up a notch and it would be Holiday Bowl again for Cal.

But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves. Even if the Bears are able to beat USC, it would still depend on what other teams do, and Cal itself would have to take care of business against Washington and Stanford.

Posted on Sunday, November 4th, 2007
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Night games

Well, unfortunately this will mark the end of my posts for the rest of the game. Night games mean tight deadlines, so time to focus on my story for tomorrow’s paper. Enjoy the rest of the game.

Posted on Saturday, November 3rd, 2007
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Topping themselves

Cal’s longest scoring drive of the season didn’t take long. The Bears’ last drive that ended in a field goal by Jordan Kay was a whopping 20 plays and consumed a staggering 10:23 off the clock. After getting hurt by a few red zone failures last week, we’l'l see if this one comes back to sting Cal.

Posted on Saturday, November 3rd, 2007
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A couple of tidbits

The Bears are wearing their gold jerseys. They’ve only worn them four other times, and won each time. The last time was in the season-opener against Tennessee. Perhaps that illustrates the significance this game holds for Cal, snapping the losing streak.

The Cougars drew the ire of Cal fans before the game when, after taking the field, their entire roster ran over to where their fans are sitting and whooped it up for a bit.

Cal’s first possession went for 17 plays and exhausted 7:56 off the clock, both season-highs. Nate Longshore completed his first eight passes and was 8 of 9 for 56 yards on the drive.

Posted on Saturday, November 3rd, 2007
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Up and running

I don’t know if it was mentioned on the telecast, but a power problem shut down one of the play clocks. Well, that same power problem also shut down the wireless access here…until now. So I’m back. You’ve noticed Nate Longshore has started at quarterback. Other good news for Cal: Robert Jordan also started at wide receiver. Jordan’s status was up in the air because of his lingering shoulder injury. He practiced only once last week, on Thursday, but apparently is good to go.

Also, freshman Chris Conte started at cornerback in place of Brandon Hampton, but both have been playing extensively, as usual.

Captains today were tight end Craig Stevens, guard Brian De La Puente, free safety Thomas DeCoud and linebacker Greg Van Hoesen.

Posted on Saturday, November 3rd, 2007
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