Reflecting on the season is much different than I thought it would be after what transpired in the Armed Forces Bowl. Obviously, there are still a bunch of issues to be resolved following a disappointing season, but the incredible play of Kevin Riley as well as the adjustments made by defensive coordinator Bob Gregory suddenly put a new perspective on where the program stands.
There’s no question much went wrong during the year and Jeff Tedford has some major evaluating to do. But he also now knows, if nothing else, he will have some major competition at quarterback in the spring. To do what Riley did against Air Force _ to pick apart an opponent after not taking a snap in a game for almost three months _ was downright surreal. I was hesitant most of the season to jump on the Riley bandwagon because he was an unproven commodity, but it’s hard to imagine anyone could doubt he is at least ready to compete for the starting job in 2008.
Riley entered a game that was the climax of Cal’s season, on national television, and pivotal for setting the tone for the offseason. His team also was down 21-0 when he took the field. He proceeded to throw just three incomplete passes, one of which was a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. Not counting the possession that ended with the Hail Mary, the Bears scored on each of the first six drives Riley led.
You can tell Cal’s players really like Riley, also. They were hooting and hollering while he accepted the MVP trophy on the field after the game, and while he did a live ESPN interview.
For the record, Nate Longshore didn’t do anything wrong yesterday. He only was on the field for two possessions and completed 5 of his 8 passes, and one incompletion on 4th-and-16 should have been caught by Sam DeSa. Speaking of DeSa, don’t forget that Longshore didn’t have the services of DeSean Jackson and Robert Jordan. They were replaced by DeSa and LaReylle Cunningham for the first quarter.
Tedford was going to get Riley into the game no matter what, to get him some experience. When Riley immediately sparked the offense, it was apparent he was going to stay in the game.
Turning to the defense, Gregory deserves some kudos for solving Air Force’s option by switching to a 3-4 defense after falling behind. The Falcons were picking the Bears apart against their base defense, but the minute Gregory switched to three fast defensive linemen along four linebackers, the option slowed to a crawl. Not only did the alignment of Rulon Davis and Cameron Jordan on the ends with Derrick Hill in the middle give Cal some speed up front, the scheme also allowed Gregory to utilize the speed of his linebackers. The 3-4 basically gave the Bears their fastest defense possible, and Air Force couldn’t get away from them.
Even though Gregory wanted to go to the 3-4 to specifically defend the option, it may serve as a model for more. Looking at what Cal has coming back, the strength of the defense definitely is in the linebacking corps. Why not get as many of them on the field as you can? Gregory said he’s going to consider using the 3-4 more next season. It would give the Bears a chance to maximze the talents of Zack Follett, Anthony Felder, Worrell Williams, Michael Mohamed, Eddie Young and D.J. Holt.
Those are just some initial thoughts after a day of traveling back to the Bay Area. I will provide much more season-ending material in the days to come.
Just a quick thank you for all of your interest and feedback this season. It was a learning experience for me in my first year covering the team, and I’ve enjoyed it.