Football: Season review — quarterback

We begin our position-by-position season review today, starting with quarterback:

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Kevin Riley had an inconsistent season. By definition, that means there were some good things. It started out well enough against Maryland. In fact, his touchdown pass to tight end Skylar Curran, when he ducked out of the rush and threw a strike into the end zone, was one of the more memorable plays of the season. Riley’s last-minute drive at Arizona State, that ended with Giorgio Tavecchio’s game-winning field goal, was probably the defining moment of his career so far. And Riley certainly played very well in the Big Game win at Stanford.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Riley had his share of struggles as well. Most troubling is two of his poorest efforts of the season were in the final two games, against Washington and then in the Poinsettia Bowl against Utah. Those two games, along with the USC loss, were probably the games that he truly played poorly. There were other games where he didn’t look so hot, like at Oregon, but I chalk that more up to factors out of his control, such as poor pass protection or lack of playmaking by the receivers. Riley was criticized heavily for the Oregon performance in particular but I didn’t believe there was much he could do with the amount of pressure he faced in that game.

IN SUMMATION: Like most things about Cal’s season, it was up and down at quarterback. At times, poor quarterback play was the fault of Riley. At other times, it was the fault of those around him.

MOVING FORWARD: Riley certainly will need to improve or he may get challenged by Beau Sweeney during spring practice. Jeff Tedford hasn’t said yet whether he will open the quarterback position back up, but I would say it’s a safe bet based on what he’s done in recent years. But whoever is at quarterback still will need help from improved pass protection and better play from the receivers.


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.

  • covinared

    I hope someone is able to beat him out. If not, it doesn’t reflect well on recruiting and/or coaching that we haven’t had consistently above average qb play for years. Riley has the tools. His shortcomings are mental, and he’s had enough time to develop. He’s more likely to be the same next year as this, and that’s not good enough.

  • Brian A

    I agree with you Covinared. I hope Sweeney, Mansion, Bridgford (and maybe Hinder?) can all step up and unseat Riley.

  • BlueNGold

    It is pretty discouraging that, after all these years of Tedford recruiting, there is not any potential star QB waiting in the wings. That is not to say Sweeney, Mansion or any of the others will never be a top QB. No one really knows at this point. But it does not speak well of the recruiting program that there is not at least one highly touted candidate being developed by the team.

  • noduck

    before the season started i questioned you, JO, about the strength of the OL. you said the OL was strong and there’d be no problem. i think that the OL was one of the main problems for riley, and i don’t think sweeney or any one else in line would have done much better.

    i am hoping for improved OL play more than a new qb. (though i wouldn’t mind both–not because i lack faith in riley, but because the others need more playing time to be ready for when riley is gone.)

    also, JO, please in the off-season figure out how to eliminate basketball posts from the football feed. thanks.

  • Calduke

    Brian A – you named the obvious QBs hanin around

    Maybe Ryan W. from the scout team show needs to et a chance.

  • Brian A

    blue n gold: Tedford has brought in good QB recruits. Riley, Mansion, Hinder, and Bridgford were all 4 star recruits. Shoot Ayoob was a 5 star recruit and Longshore was a 4 star recruit!

    I don’t know if the lack of QB production is due to coaching, a crappy rating system, or a little bit of both (after all I believe Rodgers was a 2 or 3 star recruit and we all know how that ended up).

  • Lady Bear

    It seems part of the problem is that the coaching staff is unwilling to rotate QBs during the season, unless someone is injured. Usually the most senior QB gets the nod, even if he is not performing well, based on “experience.” Last year’s Riley/Longshore rotation was the exception, and that was only after consistently spotty QB play forced the issue. Riley should not have been a shoe-in for this entire year merely because of his experience; during some of his particularly bad moments, I wondered why the coaches didn’t just sit him down for a series or two and let Sweeney or Mansion give it a try.

    The way the coaches rotate the running backs is a good model – I don’t understand why they refuse to do the same thing with QBs. We have a “featured back” who gets the majority of the carries, and a “backup” who then gets about 25%-30% of the carries; then, when the featured back graduates, moves on to NFL or gets injured, the “backup” is ready to step up. Examples in recent memory include Arrington/Lynch; Lynch/Forsett; Forsett/Best and now Best/Vereen. I also remember one game where Tedford benched Marshawn Lynch after he fumbled the ball — how come JT won’t do that to Riley?

    Remember Tavita Pritchard, the Stanford QB who led Stanford to victory over U$C last year? Guess where he was this year — on the bench while Andrew Luck was starting. I feel like in our program, the coaches would default to starting the more experienced QB, even if a newer player had more potential. Experience is valuable, but if the experienced guy is not getting it done, why not give someone else a shot from time to time?

  • milo

    I have to agree that the o-line played a big factor in Riley’s play…not all of it but you have to acknowledge it.

    The o-line started 2 frosh, 2 sophs and a 6-yr senior after losing Alex Mack and that line was shaky. When Riley had time (like against Stanfurd) where the o-line stood back the rush, Riley did just fine. That said, I have to agree that Riley is a bit of a head case.

    I was really hoping Riley could string out a nice 2nd half of the season after UA and Stanfurd and head into his senior year blazing…but he didn’t. I think you have to open up the competition as much as I hated the Riley/Longshore deal.

  • Dan

    JO- Can you please give some insights into Brock Mansion- I mean it can’t be good for him or to him that he has been passed on the depth chart by Sweeney, who is a year behind him. Will Mansion stay, will he transfer (I know he has already red-shirted), does he think he can still elevate himself on the depth chart? Is this a case of Sweeney being so good, of Mansion struggling, or some of both? What do you hear? I know they Teford shut all you guys out of practice (which I think is weak).

    Thanks JO.

  • still remember

    to Lady Bear:

    You make a good point, but I’m not sure that the QB carousel can be exactly compared to the RB model.

    While I really like what the school has done with the running backs, I think that the two-back system has to do with the fact that RBs get hit so often (as opposed to quarterbacks), as well as having a change of pace (for example, a thunder/lightning system) to throw off the defense.

    I’m not saying the opening the competition isn’t an worth exploring, I just think it’s different from changing up the RBs.

  • Dan

    Lady Bear- I agree with you 100%- really solid points. Actually, you make too much sense. You show some creativity and thought. That is NOT what we have seen from Tedford and the Cal offense for a few years or so now.

    Taking it a step further, in the case of Brock Mansion, why not have had some plays/sets going that are designed to take advantage of his running abilities- he has unbelievable wheels. This would add dimension and additional dynamics to Cal’s offense, give opponent’s something else to gameplan against, and could really open things up. This is done all overt college football. Flortida did it with Tim Tebow when he was a freshman, Ohio State did it when Troy Smith was young. This would all be in addition to all the experience and transition to the next QB points you make.

    I think just file this all under much head scratching, confounding, myopic approach to football the Tedford staff operates under.

  • Dan

    Still remember-

    I don’t think it has to be a true 2 qb system like Steve Spurrier used to do at Florida. I don’t like jerking around your starter until he is the reason you are losing games. In my mind, you have your starter, then you have Mansion that can bring a different element to the game. You could really get creative with this. But that stated, it will never happen.

  • still remember

    dan –

    good point; now that you mentioned florida and tebow, having mansion in there could actually be quite effective, seeing as any sort of wildcat formation needs a passing component to work (unless the coaches aren’t aware).

  • Dan

    Still Remember-

    It could Wildcat, it could be Wildcat in disguise, it could be options, draws, straight passing- you could wildcat occasionally with Riley and Mansion both in there. I amgine how creative you could be and how hard it would be for the opposing defenses. And imagine how much the Cal players would love it. I mean for heaven’s sake, use some imagination.

    When I watch Boise State, they always blow my mind as to how well coached they are, how well prepared they, how they never call plays on either side of the ball from a place of fear or worry about “what if it backfires”.

    Last night, both TCU and BSU were passing on 1st down within their own 10 year lines on first down. No fear. Tedford would never do that anymore. It is such a HUGE contrast watching those teams play compared to watching Cal. When I watch Boise Stae, I am inspired. I laugh as I watch how they play with such confidence and creativity. They are also so fundamerntally sound. And I guarantee you they are doing it with less talent than Cal. GREAT, inspried coaching. THAT’S what I want to see from Tedford. What does he have to lose? But I don’t think he gets it, even now as he transparently shares with the public how he needs to figure out what has gone wrong and vows to fix it.

  • C.J. Roses

    To summarize the good posts above:

    Riley isn’t very good and neither is Tedford.

  • Lady Bear

    I kind of wonder why Tedford football has gotten so “blah” over the years. I seem to remember in the very beginning, when he was just starting out at Cal, Tedford did occasionally take some risks — halfback passes, reverses, flea-flickers, trickery, misdirection, going for it on 4th down, etc. etc. However, it seems that as time has passed, he’s given that up. It’s almost as if he thinks that we don’t need trickery and imagination anymore because we supposedly have more talent.

  • ToparchiBear

    Well, I think part of the problem are the receivers. Running OK routs, but need to sake off defender quick enough for Riley to release the ball, and, for heaven sake, hold on to the ball. And, we don’t have any more marquee WR. Riley has the potential to be successful, if the OLs and the WRs help him.

    Even Utah WRs did better job than Cal.

    If you all remembered the Armforce bowl that Riley came back to throw over 300 yds and win the game in the second half, after Cal was 3 TDs behind.

  • Easy Ed

    Remember, no Wide Outs, poor Qb

  • MoreNCsarecoming

    Rotating QBs is not the answer but pulling a QB when they aren’t doing well is. As an outsider the problem I see is that Tedford messes too much on the mechanics. This in turn messes with the mental framework of the QB. You can see it in Riley. He is unsure back there. He plays timid. He is over thinking. Who cares how high the QB holds the ball. Look at Marino. Riley’s mechanics are actually extremely poor and I think after all of this time and all of his effort he is a lost cause. Let him start and then keep him on a very short leash. Unfortunately he is another Ayoob.

  • Dan

    Lady Bear –

    As I have posted many times here, even back a couple of years ago, Tedford has gotten more and more conservative and predictable as the years have passed. As the program has gotten better, he has changed how he plays. He now plays not to lose instead of playing with no fear and playing aggressively to win- like Boise State does, like Oregon does.

    When Tedford got here, there were no expectations, so he had nothing to lose by playing aggessively. He did just that, and that’s what we all fell in love with. The opposition was constantly off guard and played exciting, winning football. As the program has performed better, the expectations have risen. It seems as though Tedford is now always so afraid to make mistakes and as such, he plays conservatively and predictably- he plays not to lose. I have been seeing the predictability and conservatism for 5 years now… and it just get’s worse and worse. Cal is now an annual under-achiever. A team with the best talent in the west other than SC that always plays below it’s abilities and expectations. Opponents with good coaching staffs now have the easiest time game-planning for us, and as witnessed by 5 blowout losses this season, they lick their chops when they play us. To make it worse, we got killed this season by 3 teams with lesser talent- UW, Utah and OSU- though I think OSU’s talent is close. And Tedford was at a complete loss as to why. That is not promising.

    Tedford has admitted (in the JO interview) that he is extremely disappointed and admits that things need to be fixed. But he would already know what a lot of the issues are if he had a clue. He is going to really need to eat some crow and accept a lot of things that he clearly hasn’t been willing to prior to now.

    I wish Tedford could fix things and be successful, but I am extremely pessimistic he will be able to do so. With the improved coaching/recruiting at UW, Stanford, UCLA & Arizona, things are getting alot more competitive in the Pac 10 and a lot tougher for Cal and Tedford. Oregon, Oregon State and SC already have Tedford’s number, so do the math.

    Barring some earth shattering changes at Cal, things do not look good for Cal. The sad part, as I posted earlier, is I wonder how good Cal could/would be with Chris Peterson- I think we would be better than Boise State- we already have had more talent than the Broncos, but we are clearly not close to being in their league. The Broncos are aggressive, disciplined, fast, and unpredictably. When you watch them, they play with NO FEAR. I haven’t seen that out of Tedford in 5 years.

  • Will

    MoreNCS_are_ignored – troll post blocked

    Silence is golden.

  • Dan

    Actually, a solid, objective-seeming post by MoreNCS- amkes some good points. Is able to make valid points when the “out to bash Cal” and “SC walks on water” demeanor is absent.

  • MoreNCsarecoming

    Easy Ed Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 8:49 pm
    Remember, no Wide Outs, poor Qb

    Or is it “Remember, poor QB poorer Wide Outs. YOur team had better wide outs than Stanford and yet Stanford had a better passing game than you. Why? A. Luck played QB.

    YOur team had better wide outs than pucla (and a better running game) and yet they had a better passing game than you. Why? Prince played QB.

    YOur team had better wide outs than Washington (and a better running game) and yet they had a better passing game than you. Why? Locker played QB.

    Your team had better wide outs than WSU (and a better running game) and yet they had a better passing game than you. Why? Tuel played QB.

    I would also argue your team had the same or better wide outs than Arizona (and a better running game)and yet they had a better passing game than you. Why? Foles played QB.

  • covinared

    I agree. Even the best wide open receiver cannot catch a pass 10 feet over his head, behind him, or on a bounce.

  • robert

    The other quarterbacks had better passing numbers than Riley because they played against Gregory’s pathetic schemes!!!!!! No pass rush and soft coverage usually equals quarterback success. Duh!

  • Will

    Wow Dan, you’re right. I checked out her post because of what you said…I actually agree. Hell has frozen over!

  • MoreNCsarecoming

    Wow Will can’t keep from commenting. Addiction?

  • BlueNGold

    Hey Will- Don’t give the troll any encouragement.

  • Steve W


    I would advise a word of caution about getting too hyped up about coaches like Chris Petersen at Boise State. His predecessor, Dan Hawkins, put Boise State on the map and devised the offensive schemes that took them to their first BCS bowl. Hawkins has been nothing but a flop at Colorado and should help Cal collect an early victory when them play the Buffs at home next season.

    I contend that teams like Boise State and Utah in the Mountain West would be three or four loss teams if they played year in and year out in the Pac 10. Those teams benefit from playing mostly patsies in league and are far less banged up when they play in big games. We played poorly this year when Mark Summers-Gavin was injured on the O-line. It seems like every year the Bears have one or more offensive linemen go down to injuries during key stretches of the season because of the brutality of the schedule in the Pac 10.

    Cal needs a defensive guy – maybe not a head coach defensive guy – but a brilliant defensive guy with attitude that inspire the players to give the Bears the short side of the field more often. Give me Nick Holt, and vastly improved special teams play, and I’m willing to take my chances with Tedford’s offensive schemes.

  • MoreNCsarecoming

    I contend that teams like Boise State and Utah in the Mountain West would be three or four loss teams if they played year in and year out in the Pac 10.


    Care you put this on the Utah board and identify yourself what team you are a fan of?

  • MoreNCsarecoming

    Don’t look now but the reports from the Army AA practices is that Hinder will soon be renamed “Cinder”. His performances are going up in smoke.

  • Calduke

    I doubt Steve W will post on the Utah board..

    He is mature and intellient enough to know not to post on a site where he is not wanted

  • ToparchiBear


    Agreed! Defense did not put up any pressure on the QBs and the Dbs could not cover. What else is there to play.

  • Rich

    New coach.

  • noduck

    if 2010 MoreNCs could keep with the substantive posts as he has been and ignore others as they ignored him, that would be an ironic twist.

  • drrover

    Noduck, I think the problem with Cal’s O-line wasn’t with the players. It was the coaching. When Michalzik left for the Raiders, my heart skipped a beat. He was probably more responsible than even Coach Gould for the amazing streak of 1,000-yard Bear rushers, a streak that ended this season (though having two backs with 950 and 860 yards isn’t too bad). Previous Bear RBs were good backs who benefitted from excellent blocking. This year, Best and Vereen were excellent backs who compensated for less-than-great blocking.

    Don’t even get me started on pass protection.

    If Tedford were to ask me for my recommendation for one coaching change, I’d get Michalzik back.