Cal held its final weekly press luncheon of the season today (sniff, sniff). A lot of the talk, especially among the defensive players there, was about exacting revenge on last year’s stinker in which the Bears yielded 360 rushing yards in an uninspired 37-23 loss. It was pretty much the low point of a season full of lows.
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Coach Mike Montgomery used 11 players in the first half Saturday night against Florida State, determined to give his starters some rest in Game 2 of a back-to-back at the Global Sports Classic.
He wants to develop depth on this team, but the result of trying to do that against the Seminoles put the Bears in a hole.
“Unfortunately, at the end of the first half when we went from close to not close, it was when we had to substitute,” he said. “We didn’t play the last 3 minutes very well.”
With three starters off the floor at the end of the half — each saddled with two fouls — FSU scored the final eight points of the half, extending a 24-23 lead to 32-23. Cal fouled four times during that span — with the Seminoles hitting 5-for-7 from the line — and was 0-for-5 with three turnovers on its final eight possessions of the period.
Cal wound up suffering its first defeat of the season, falling 80-77 after a ferocious rally in the final 2 minutes.
Big Game week got going in earnest this morning with the annual luncheon featuring both coaches and players from each school. Coach Jeff Tedford was there at Perry’s in San Francisco, along with linebacker Worrell Williams and right guard Noris Malele (Linebacker Zack Follett also was supposed to appear but had to beg out because of treatment).
Obviously, one of the major storylines for the Bears is they are in the position of trying to get the axe back, something that hasn’t happened since Tedford’s first year. Tedford and the players said you don’t really realize the magnitude of the rivalry until you’re on the losing side of it.
“Now that we lost the game, now it’s big,” Williams said. “(Stanford) is not just some team that we beat up on all the time. They beat up on us. Now it’s really a big game, especially for me. That was my first time losing to them. Now it’s really back as a rivalry.
“The axe has to come back home now. It doesn’t even look right over there. It belongs over here with the Bears.”
Tedford agreed that the rivalry is more special when you lose.
“I think it becomes more special when you lose the axe,” he said. “When you lose it, you really know what it feels like not to have it and the pain that goes along with not having it, and the pride that goes along with having it. I think it’s something that especially our seniors want, to leave here with the axe.”
Williams said he didn’t really realize the magnitude of the rivalry until he got to Cal.
“It really shocked me how important it was,” he said. “Now I understand it. Now I’m part of it and I’ll always be a part of it. I’m ready to get after it one more time.”
–Williams said the Bears held a players-only meeting Monday morning, a meeting called by seniors Rulon Davis and Will Ta’ufo’ou. He said it wasn’t like the team meeting the Bears had at the end of last year, when the season had unraveled and players had to clear the air. Rather, he said it just served as a reminder to put the past two losses behind them and make sure to finish the season strong.
“Guys were just talking that we need to pick it up and finish the season out strong,” Williams said. “Let’s do this thing right. Let’s not make it like last year, because if we lose these two games, it will look like last year. If you’re not careful, you could end up the same way. It would be tragic.”
A couple of other topics touched on by Tedford:
–He said special teams would be a focus of practice this week after the Bears allowed a kick return for a touchdown and a punt return to the Cal 2, which set up another TD.
–As usual, Tedford spent some time talking about the quarterback situation, and how it has worked out all season. He gets these questions even more on a day like this when there is more media than usual, and a handful of reporters that don’t regularly attend Cal’s media luncheons. One interesting, albeit not surprising, is he said that Brock Mansion will compete with Kevin Riley going into next year. That can’t come as a shock. Clearly, Riley hasn’t made the case that he’s earned that position going into the ’09 season. Tedford also said that “Beau Sweeney has great potential to play.”
–Even though Matt Summers-Gavin has seen his share of first team reps during the past few weeks, Tedford said Mitchell Schwartz and Donovan Edwards are still the starting tackles. Edwards had his share of struggles against Oregon State.
The only real newsworthy development that came from today’s weekly press luncheon is that coach Jeff Tedford said Kevin Riley will start at quarterback. This is the first time since Riley was removed from the starting lineup following the Colorado State game that Tedford has definitively named the starter at the beginning of the week. He came close against Oregon when he said that Riley was the starter “as of right now.” Then, of course, Riley suffered a concussion against the Ducks so it was up in the air last week.
When asked why he was able to name the starter at the beginning of the week, Tedford said the reason he couldn’t do it last week was because Riley had a concussion. That implies that Riley would likely have been the man again had he stayed healthy. So when you think about it, Riley really has been the team’s starting quarterbackthe past three weeks.
Coach Jeff Tedford already announced Kevin Riley as this week’s starting quarterback. He also said Riley would probably receive about two-thirds of the first team snaps during practice this week, rather than have Riley and Nate Longshore split reps like they have the past several weeks.
The most newsworthy development to come out of today’s weekly press luncheon is that it looks as though Kevin Riley will start Saturday’s game against Oregon.
This is not newsworthy because it is surprising; rather because coach Jeff Tedford spent the past three games keeping the starting position open until the end of the week.
But after digesting Saturday’s 41-20 win over UCLA, Tedford was happy with Riley’s performance. That appears to be enough to give him the inside track to be the starter against the Ducks.
At Cal’s weekly press luncheon today, coach Jeff Tedford said Kevin Riley will start Saturday’s game against Oregon, “as of right now.” He also went on to praise Riley’s play against UCLA, and said Riley’s mobility will be important against the Ducks’ fierce pass rush. It looks like, barring some dramatic change, Riley will start on Saturday.
Since Cal holds its weekly press luncheon on Tuesdays, Jeff Tedford usually doesn’t address the media after practice that night.
Tonight was different, and for all the wrong reasons.
Tedford was forced to talk about the disturbing arrest of backup fullback R.J. Garrett, who along with former Cal defensive back Gary Doxy, were charged with robbery stemming from an incident in a dorm room on Sept. 30. Garrett has been kicked off the team and Tedford was left to answer questions about an incident that can always be harmful to the image of a program.
Cal’s weekly press luncheon usually doesn’t have as many storylines the week after a bye week. The previous game at this point seems like a distant memory.
Still, there was much to discuss Tuesday, from the Arizona Wildcats to the Pac-10 race to other aspects of the team.
Much of the discourse was about the 2006 game in Tucson, which derailed Cal’s national championship hopes. The Bears laid an egg in the game and didn’t appreciate the way the Wildcats celebrated afterward. Several older players have already said they are using that memory as motivation this week, and even coach Jeff Tedford admitted it’s on the team’s mind.
“This is a new team, but I think the experience last time we were there was a pretty devastating experience,” Tedford said. “It’s very hard to get that type of thing out of your mind.”
There were several younger players at Tuesday’s luncheon, but one player who showed up that remembers the 2006 game well is center Alex Mack.
“The memory of losing to these guys two years ago really spoiled the national championship for us,” Mack said. “That brings up some bad memories. There’s more reason to work hard. That really stung two years ago. It’s something that we need to make sure doesn’t happen again.”
Tedford usually shows the team a motivational video before each game. You can bet there will be some clips of the Wildcats celebrating that 2006 win this Saturday.
As for this year’s edition of the Wildcats, Tedford called their offense the best they have faced yet. Arizona runs the spread offense with experienced and talented quarterback Willie Tuitama leading the way. Receivers Mike Thomas and Terrell Turner comprise one of the most explosive duos in the Pac-10.
“Their whole offensive group is probably the best that we’ve played,” Tedford said. “This is a very explosive offense; I would say the most dangerous that we’ve played so far.”
Tedford has spent the past couple of weeks raving about the performance of punter Bryan Anger, who ranks ninth nationally at 45.1 yards per punt. This despite playing a couple of weeks feeling the lingering effects of a sprained knee. I’ll have more on Anger later in the week, but suffice to say Tedford is excited about having Anger as a weapon.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that he’ll be an All-American punter,” Tedford said. “The only thing is consistency. He’s just a redshirt freshman. He’s played five games, and I’m sure he’s just going to get more comfortable as we go. He’s extremely talented.
“He’s got it all going. He can kick them deep and he can kick them hight. He caxn spot kick it. There’s no question in my mind he’s as good a punter as I’ve ever been around.”
Not only do Anger’s punts draw oohs and ahhs from the crowd, even his teammates marvel at his work.
“You see him kick balls and all you can do is look up and say, ‘Is that coming down anytime soon?’,” defensive end Cameron Jordan said. “I don’t know how you get to be that good at kicking. I just watch sometimes. We’ll be in the middle of a drill and we’ll all just turn our heads and look and we’re just watching for a second.”
Tight end Cameron Morrah attended the luncheon and talked about Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is getting a lot of attention lately as one of the tougher matchups in the conference. You can tell Morrah is looking forward to using the presence of Gronkowski as motivation.
“I kind of like flying under the radar,” Morrah said. “Hopefully, with all the attention on him, it will just be a great game for me to come out and show people what I can do.”
Cornerback Darian Hagan also came by. Hagan has really emerged as a dependable corner the past couple of games and is giving the Bears one of the best outside tandems in the Pac-10. He said he is looking forward to facing Arizona’s highly regarded receivers.
“I love challenges,” Hagan said. “I’m always ready for anybody at anytime. I’ll be ready for this one. I can’t wait.”
Hagan talked about the influence of fellow corner Syd’Quan Thompson, who has emerged as an all-conference caliber player this season. Hagan said Thompson’s story is inspirational because he started his career with such a tough game at Tennessee in 2006 and has come so far.
“Syd is a big influence because of how far he came along, from having a terrible game that everybody saw on national TV to being one of the top corners in the nation,” Hagan said. “That’s just motivation for me to keep pushing and keep working, watching him and try to learn techniques from him to try to be on that level, too.”
Hagan also had the quote of the day when talking about his increased production in stopping the run: “I actually like tackling now since I’ve been doing it so often.”
Redshirt freshman Sean Cattouse made his first appearance at a press luncheon after a fine performance against Arizona State, one that included his first career interception. Cattouse talked about that first pick, a terrific play that combined both instinct and athleticism when he came off his man and backpedaled to get in front of a Sun Devils receiver after some scrambling by ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter.
“I just saw Rudy scrambling,” Cattouse said. “I kind of came out and saw a few guys open. I kind of drifted back and saw the ball go up and turned my head and went up and got it. It was amazing. I thought a thousand things before I touched the ground. I can’t really explain it. It was definitely big for me.”
Although Jordan had a breakout game against Arizona State, one in which earned him Pac-10 Player of the Week honors, he said he now has to build off that performance and get better.
“I just had a lot of fun in that game,” Jordan said. “Hopefully I can continue to get better. Hopefully, I didn’t just plateau in that game. That’ll suck.
“It was just one game that I did well in. Hopefully I can do it against U of A. This past game showed that I can play just as good as anybody. Now it’s about improving and becoming an even better D-lineman.”
Jordan gave an interesting perspective about Cal’s loss at Arizona in ’06. He was actually on a recruiting trip to Arizona that weekend and was in the Wildcats locker room after the game as they celebrated. “Everyone was going crazy,” he said.
The Bears hit the practice field again tonight. Tailback Jahvid Best (dislocated left elbow) practiced in full capacity. Tedford said at the press luncheon that his availability for Saturday’s game will be decided in a day or two. Darian Hagan (knee tendinitis) also practiced fully.
Quarterbacks Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley continued to split first team reps evenly. Tedford reiterated that he hasn’t decided yet on a starter for Saturday.
–As expected, quarterbacks Kevin Riley and Nate Longshore took equal reps tonight at practice. Both worked equally with the first and second teams. Coach Jeff Tedford had said earlier in the day that he would evaluate both players during the week before naming a starter for Saturday’s game against Arizona State.
Neither guy separated himself Tuesday. Both made some nice throws and both missed a couple open receivers.
As his primary reason for opening the competition back up, Tedford said that he felt the offense was getting off to slow starts in games and needed a spark.
“I feel like we need to start a little faster,” Tedford said at Tuesday’s weekly press luncheon. “I think offensively we’re starting kind of slow in our games. We need a little boost there. We can not afford to wait and wait and wait for things to happen. We need to find out who the guy is that puts us in the best situation to start a little faster.”
Tedford said he talked with Riley about his decision and his redshirt sophomore understood. Tedford said he isn’t worried about Riley’s confidence. He shouldn’t. Riley is a very confident young player who will most likely use this development as motivation.
“I told him not to get down about it,” Tedford said. “You compete and continue to do what you’re doing. He could be the starter, or not. It may take both of them to get where we need to go. We’ll evaluate it through the week of practice.”
–Tedford also reiterated the team is hopeful Jahvid Best can return by the Oct. 18 game at Arizona, meaning he would miss just one game. But Tedford only said it was a “possibility,” and that there were “no guarantees.” Either way, it’s apparent his dislocated elbow isn’t as bad as it could have been and he won’t miss any extended time.
That means, for one game at the very least, Shane Vereen becomes the featured tailback. Best’s explosiveness may make some people forget just how talented Vereen is. Let’s not forget that, along with Best, Vereen was one of the most sought-after running backs in the nation out of high school. In fact, rivals.com ranked Vereen ahead of Best – Vereen as the No. 5 running back in the country and Best at No. 9. Scout.com’s rankings had Best at No. 18 and Vereen at No. 23.
Both guys have done nothing to discredit those lofty expectations. Best is already an accomplished running back/kick returner/special teams player through just over one full season, and Vereen was terrific on the scout team last year and has shown flashes as Best’s backup this year. Vereen may be a tad less explosive than Best, but the Bears still have a very talented running back lining up in the backfield Saturday.
“He really has it all,” Tedford said. “He can run between the tackles, he has some speed when he gets into the open area, he catches the ball as well as receivers catch the ball, he competes in pass protection – he’s a great all-around back.”
–Running back Covaughn DeBoskie and defensive end Trevor Guyton were taken off the scout team Tuesday to work with the offense and defense. Both are moves as protection with Best and defensive end Rulon Davis injured. Tedford said they would only burn a redshirt year if it was absolutely needed. If nothing else, the move helps provide depth during practice.
Davis’ absence means Cameron Jordan will move into the starting lineup and Keith Browner may start seeing more reps as a backup. Tedford said redshirt freshman Ernest Owusu also should start seeing more playing time. The Bears have been substituting freely along the defensive line so far this season so the backups can count on seeing meaningful reps.
–Tedford reiterated his concern about kickoffs, with three going out of bounds against Colorado State on Saturday. He said walk-on Giorgio Tavecchio will get another closer look. The Bears had been happy with how David Seawright and Jordan Kay had been performing in practice the last couple games, so Tavecchio had become the odd man out. But after Saturday’s performance, Tavecchio is in the mix again.
“You can watch practice all day long and you don’t see balls kicked out of bounds like that,” Tedford said. “Then in a game, it happens. We felt like those two guys were improving, then we got in a game and had that happen. We’re going to work on it. It’s something that obviously needs a lot of work. We have to make some adjustments and really evaluate it.”
–There were two offensive players at Tuesday’s luncheon and each stressed that they are comfortable with either quarterback.
“I’ve played with both of them a lot now, so I’m really comfortable with both Nate and Kevin,” center Alex Mack said. “I know Nate knows how to run the offense and Kevin has done a really good job. He’s out there making plays, he’s upbeat, he has a good and fun time in the huddle. Both of their personalities fit really well with us. We support both guys. They’re both very confident quarterbacks.”
Wide receiver Jeremy Ross, who caught his first career touchdown pass Saturday, from Longshore, also said he feels good about either signal-caller.
“I’m confident in both of them,” Ross said. “Nate is a little more experienced, but they can both make plays. We got a lot of love for our guys – a lot of love for Riley and a lot of love for Longshore. They’re both good guys and we know they can both get the job done. There’s no choosing sides. I know they’re bouth talented and I’m comfortable with either one of them being in the huddle.”
–Ross rehashed his first score, a 14-yard pass that came as a result of a Longshore audible. Ross said the moment the audible was called, he thought he might be in for a big play.
“When he called it, I knew I had a good chance of getting the ball,” Ross said. “I felt like I was wide open. That was one of the best moments of my life. It was really exciting. Being in the end zone, I just blacked out. All I heard was screaming. I couldn’t believe I was in there. I was really excited. It was a special moment.”
–Jordan has one of the more engaging personalities on the team. He touched on a variety of subjects Tuesday, including the challenge of stopping Best and Vereen at practice every day.
“I hate them,” Jordan said. “Usually you have a fast back and a strong back. Jahvid will play with you a little bit. He runs just fast enough so you think you can catch him, then he’ll just leave. He’ll give you that false sense of hope.
“Shane is so shifty. He moves so well. He’s elusive. Don’t get me wrong, he’ll juke you, but then he’ll turn around and be like, ‘You know what? I can run, too.’ I’m not saying he’s as fast as Jahvid, but he’s close.”