Michigan State: A look back

Before kickoff last night, it was really hard to determine just how good or what kind of team the Bears will be this season. Obviously, there are still a lot of questions to be answered, but I thought we started to get a gauge on some key issues against the Spartans, and it resulted in good news for Cal.

–Probably the most positive development was how the Bears defended the run. That was the biggest concern about the switch to the 3-4 defense. Michigan State is believed to have one of the most potent running attacks in the Big Ten with NFL draft prospect Javon Ringer in its backfield. The Bears held the Spartans to just 81 yards on the ground on a 2.6 average.

Obviously, the Bears allowed some yards in the passing game, and that will have to improve. Michigan State came up with some big plays through the air, especially late in the game. Spartans receiver Mark Dell had nine catches for 202 yards, the first opposing receiver to have over 200 yards against Cal since 2005.

–Tailback Jahvid Best looked exhausted at the end of the game and took a long time to come into the interview room afterward as he received treatment from the training staff. Best said he was slightly cramping late in the game.

It certainly looks as though Best is going to be able to handle the heavy workload the Bears have planned for him. He had 24 carries, five catches and four kick returns and amassed 277 total yards. His explosiveness was on display, especially on his 2-yard touchdown run in the second quarter in which he made a quick cut to the outside and easily outran the Spartans defense to the corner of the end zone.

“They kind of blocked up the middle,” Best said. “I just saw the pylon and ran for it.”

–The game also confirmed what we knew already. The Bears’ receiving corps is a work in progress. Sean Young played well, but other than that no receiver made an impact. Young had four catches for 81 yards but there was only one other reception by a wide receiver (LaReylle Cunningham for six yards).

Nyan Boateng had a couple of drops and Marvin Jones wasn’t a factor. Michael Calvin played sparingly because of a sprained toe. The Bears are going to need their receivers to do a better job of getting open because they won’t be able to always depend on tight end Cameron Morrah or their running backs catching passes out of the backfield.

–You got to hand it to Kevin Riley for answering Michigan State scores by leading Cal on scoring drives. AFter Otis Wiley’s 31-yard interception return for a touchdown cut the Bears lead to 10-7 in the second quarter, Riley immediately threw a 42-yard screen pass to Best followed by a 24-yard completion to Young. Best ended up scoring on a 2-yard run on a drive that took just 48 seconds.

After the Spartans cut it to 17-14 on Ringer’s 1-yard run, Riley again forged a drive, leading the Bears 76 yards on eight plays and ending on a 4-yard TD pass to Morrah. Then after Ringer’s 10-yard run made it 24-21, Riley and the Bears answered immediately again, going 59 yards on nine plays and ending on fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou’s first career touchdown catch, a 5-yarder to push it back to 31-21

–Speaking of that drive, it probably included the play of the game when Riley found Morrah on 3rd-and-13 for a 26-yard gain. Riley was being pulled down by MSU nose tackle Ryan Wheat but still managed to get the ball downfield to Morrah despite having safety Dan Fortener draped all over him.

–I guess cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson’s shoulder is OK. Thompson, who didn’t practice in a full capacity at practice last week until Thursday after missing a lot of time with a sprained shoulder, had a terrific game. It wasn’t only his interception near the end of the first half, but MSU receivers simply struggled to get open against him. He broke up three passes and also had five tackles. That may have been a better game than any Thompson played all of last season.

More later…

Jonathan Okanes

Jonathan Okanes is in his fourth year covering Cal's football team. Previously, he covered Cal's men's basketball team for four years. He can also be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/OkanesonCal.

  • Wearecb4life

    Hey JO, I think it might be time to take Longshore and Hughes off of the banner at the top of your page. Just saying.

  • Richard Williams

    JO, what’s the deal with that new kick-off guy? Unless kicking it high and to the 25-yard line was INTENTIONAL, that guy didn’t get the ball NEAR the opposing end-zone! Surely Seawright or Kay can kick it deeper than that guy!

  • George

    Excellent post JO!

    Before the game I thought no way were we holding Ringer to under 100. Our D-line and LBs were awesome! I thought the secondary was good, considering Dell will be one of the best WRs we face all year. Hagan and Brett Johnson played admirably for their first extended action. What a colossal day for Syd! The guy continues to deflect passes and tackle like crazy!!! Can’t wait to see him healthy enough for punt returns.

    Sean Young was one of the heroes. I was ecstatic to see him make big plays and bouncing up and down. He and Morrah carried the receiving corps. Like you said, I was impressed with Riley’s ability to respond to MSU’s TDs with TD drives of his own. He had 3 drives ended with drops. Once Boateng gets acclimated to Riley’s style of throwing he’ll start catching those and slowly become a playmaker.

    Best played like a warrior. Vareen demonstrated his speed. Great blocking by the O-line and Ta’ufo’ou.

    2 questions for you Jonathan:
    1) Is Anger’s leg okay? He took a beating on that play where he botched the punt, and I saw his leg wrapped up in subsequent series.
    2) Will Slocum see action in short-yardage situations?

  • George

    Yeah CB. Longshore and Hughes out. Riley and Syd in.

  • Jan K Oski

    Hey JO – With only 2 QB knockdowns, do you think Cal’s pass rush needs vast improvement? Hopefully, Jordan returns to contribute, because this group needs to put the QB on the ground with the ball, or we Cal fans will be sweating through another season. Go Bears!

  • Robert

    Great stuff as always, J.O. Do you know how the team came out healthwise? It will be interesting to see what happens when Tepper is ready to go. Any thoughts?

  • Steve in Concord

    I thought the announcers did a very good job calling the game and for once the sideline reports (with Trent Dilfer and Riley’s Dad) were very interesting. Did Dilfer really hook Tedford up with Cignetti? I hadn’t heard that up to now.

    I liked the high-five shot between Dilfer and Riley. Getting high-fived by a Super Bowl winning quarterback has to feel pretty good.

    Too bad the game was only broadcast live to the PAC-10 states and parts of the northeast. The game was great P.R. for Cal:beautiful venue, great weather, large and enthusiastic crowd, news about the new athletic facility. Instead, most of the country saw a blowout stinker between Alabama and Clemson. The good news is that the Cal game is being re-broadcast right now on ESPNU.

  • Steve in Concord

    Some interesting news on ex-Cal players:

    Kyle Reed came off the bench to throw two TD passes and lead San Jose State to a come from behind win against U.C. Davis and has been named the starter for their next game against Nebraska.

    Tom Shneider played his first game for North Alabama and was a perfect 3-3 on field goals of 23, 27, and 35 yards and 5 extra points.

    Justin Forsett made the Seattle Seahawks roster but unfortunately ex-Bears LB Mickey Pimentel, lineman Erik Robertson, and FB Chris Manderino got cut by the NFL teams they were with.

    J.O.–Can you find out anything regarding Robert Jordan, who left the 49ers training camp after the death of his grandfather? Wondering what his future plans are.

  • Macdaddytms

    Steve – get off your butt and come out the games!!! You are obviously a huge fan – you ‘out-post’ the rest of us (sans Jan) 2 to 1. Why are you watching sideline reports on TV when you could be at Memorial???

  • Jonathan Okanes

    George, Anger has a sprained knee but he said he plans on playing Saturday. I don’t think Slocum would necessarily be the short yardage guy. It’s not like he’s a big, bruising back. I just think he’s the third-string running back right now.
    Jan, obviously Cal’s pass rush need improvement from last year. But I thought they got pretty good pressure on Hoyer on Saturday, and against a pretty good offensive line.
    Robert, Bryan Anger is really the only injury of significance to report. He sprained his knee on the blocked punt but says he will play Saturday. I think Tepper is still a little away from playing.
    Steve, as far as I know, Jordan did not re-sign with the 49ers or anyone else. He’s not listed as an active player on NFL.com