CougCenter has hooked up with our SB Nation friends at California Golden Blogs to exchange some info on each other's teams in a Q&A format. What follows are the thoughts of TwistNHook, blogger extraordinaire all the boys over at CGB. You can find Grady's answers to their questions here.
CougCenter: Are the Bears legit Pac-10 title contenders?
California Golden Blogs: Firstly, it seems HIGHLY unlikely anybody is challenging USC for the conference title. Let's be honest here. Especially a team with such turnover on offense. Although we do face them fairly late into the season, so who knows by then?
But this year, they could definitely challenge for the #2 spot there. And if USC goes to the Title game, who knows? Cal fans are feeling confident after the better than it seemed victory over MSU. It is true that we have a lot of young and inexperienced talent all across the offense. But many portions of it looked really good on Saturday. Jahvid Best was a stud. Shane Vereen had a sick 81 yard run. Kevin Riley started to grow as a QB. Cameron Morrah was the leading pass-catcher. There are still some problems with the WRs. Inexcusable drops at terrible, terrible times. So, that is definitely a point of concern there. But there is a lot of talent on offense, even if there are few "big names." If it develops well, this offense might not be half bad.
As for the Defense, this is Cal's bread and butter. They have many returning starters, especially at the linebacker position. Felder, Follett, Williams, and Young aren't just the world's worst improv crew. They are also an amazing crew of linebackers. They shut down MSU's Ringer, a stud RB. In the defensive backfield, there is SydQuan (SydGOD) Thompson. He is one of the finest corners in the Pac10. He had the game of his life against MSU and looks to be getting better each game. MSU picked on the other corner, Darian Hagan, a lot. He had some rough times, but also some good times. He had 5 opportunities for interceptions, failing on all 5. Were he to get 1 or 2 of those, we'd be talking about an amazing Defense.
There are some problems with DLine. Not as much of a rush as we would have liked. But hopefully with increased production out of the latter 8 players, the front 3 will be helped out. We'll see who can develop. A healthy Rulon Davis is a beast. But he's had trouble staying healthy.
So, with a favorable schedule and a lot of talent across the board, we feel that Cal can contend for the #2 spot. And hey, if they catch USC on an off night? Who knows?
CC: Do the Cougs have a prayer of stopping Jahvid Best?
CGB: Man, have you guys seen this guy?
Let's put it this way - the man tore his hip last year and played like that last year. Bo Jackson couldn't come back from a torn hip. No. The Cougs don't have a prayer.
CC: What went into the decision to bench Longshore and go with Riley?
CGB: Logic. Pure unquestionable logic. Here were Riley's stats in the Cal/MSU game last week before Longshore came into the game in the 2nd quarter: 5 completions; 7 attempts; 26 yards; 0 TDs; 0 INTs; on 3 drives. Here were Longshore's stats: 3 completions; 5 attempts; 0 TDs; 2 INTs; on 2 drives. Neither QB was spectacular, but one was worse than the other. Unquestionably, Longshore's performance was worse. Longshore's 1st INT was moderately bad. The MSU safety made a great play on a pass which probably shouldn't have been thrown although I can see what Longshore thought he saw. Longshore's 2nd INT was really really bad though. It was a "thread the needle" type of pass at the TE between two linebackers in zones standing merely 10 feet apart, and underneath two other MSU defenders. On the other hand, none of Riley's incompletions were due to bad decisions.
In an offense which emphasizes ball control, and not making mistakes, Riley performed better. Had Longshore only thrown away those two passes which resulted in INTs, Cal's QB controversy could still possibly be alive. As much as Longshore has done for Cal in the past, it doesn't earn you a free pass to be starting QB - not when Riley proved in fall camp that he was ready to compete for the starting position. When it came down to the competition, both QBs had their chance against MSU to show Tedford why they should be the starter and Riley's performance was better.
CC: Is the Cal defense as susceptible to the pass as the stats from the MSU game make it look?
CGB: I don't think so. Sure, 321 passing yards looks bad, but let's look at the stats a little deeper. First of all, I'm pretty sure Cal's defensive game plan centered around stopping the run, and more specifically, Sparty's highly regarded back, Javon Ringer. If so, mission accomplished. Michigan State ran for just 81 yards on Saturday, a putrid 2.6 yards per carry. By shutting down the run, Cal dared MSU QB Brian Hoyer to beat them with his arm, and for most of the game, Hoyer didn't get it done.
Through 3 quarters on Saturday, Hoyer's stat line looked like this: 11/25 passing for 137 yards and an interception, good for just a 44% completion percentage and just 5.7 yards per pass. Do those kind of numbers scare you? Me neither. Hoyer picked it up in the 4th quarter, as Michigan State found itself down by a couple scores and running out of time. The completion percentage didn't get better, but the stats piled up as the Spartans threw 23 passes and only ran 7 times. His 4th quarter line : 9/23 passing for 185 yards and two TDs. A good portion of those yards came on a 52-yard bomb that was almost intercepted, and was actually ruled a simultaneous catch (with the offense, unfortunately, retaining possession), but that's still a lot of yards. You can discount some of those yards as desperation throws, but this stat should worry Cal fans: though Michigan State only completed 20 of its 48 passes, 15 of those complete passes went for more than 10 yards, accounting for 14 of MSU's 16 non-penalty 1st downs; even on third and long, Cal may have some trouble shutting the door.
Cal has one lockdown cornerback in Syd'Quan Thompson, and I don't expect to see many balls thrown his direction for quite some time; he's simply awesome out there. Instead, teams will do what the Spartans did in picking on the other side of the field, which features a cornerback rotation of Darian Hagan and Chris Conte. Hagan was seeing his first start last Saturday, and it showed some. He's talented and athletic, but he got beat badly a few times (as did Conte), and though he got his hands on a number of balls (including the aforementioned simultaneous catch), he didn't come away with a single interception. Teams will continue to pick on his side of the field until he demonstrates that that's a bad idea.
Cal can be beat through the air, especially if you've got an experienced quarterback throwing to quality route-runners -- do the Cougs have some of those? However, I don't think Cal's secondary is as porous as the base stats would indicate, and I would advise the Cougs to run the ball some if they hope to have any chance at winning Saturday's game.
CC: What one thing would you tell Coug fans about the Bears that will be completely missed by the mainstream media?
CGB: Cal is out for revenge. They were embarrassed and humiliated by last year's finish. There is no stronger motivating factor than pride and revenge. We saw in 2006 how Cal rebounded from the Tennessee drubbing, putting in their best year in perhaps 50 years. Last year, Cal had no such chip on their shoulder and many players on the team seemed to give up. So, yes, Cal gave up 300+ yards of offense to MSU.
Yes, Cal had some rough times on offense. But this is an angry team on the warpath. A team that wants to prove 2007 was an exception, not a rule. And they have set their sights on WSU.