NCF Nation: Anthony Felder
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
A reporter who covers California and I were chatting during the late moments of USC's 30-3 whipping of the Bears, and I was blathering about various reasons why the home team was laying an egg for the second consecutive game.
"You know," he said patiently. "They just might not be any good."
At this point -- consecutive defeats by a combined 72-6 count -- that's probably the best explanation. And shortest.
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|Are coach Jeff Tedford's Cal Bears just plain bad?|
Here's what I wrote in August when ranking the Bears No. 2 in the preseason Pac-10 power rankings.
2. California: The Bears have 17 starters back from a team that went 9-4 in 2009, including a Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Jahvid Best. The secondary will be one of the nation's best and the defensive line is as good as any in the Pac-10. Replacing three of four linebackers doesn't seem to be causing much stress in Berkeley. The only issue is how much the passing game improves. If it improves significantly, this is a potential BCS bowl team.
"Potential BCS bowl team."
Still, it doesn't make sense.
That 9-4 team, if you recall, beat Miami in the Emerald Bowl.
The Hurricanes welcomed back 16 starters from the 2008 team that went 7-6. After beating Oklahoma on Saturday, they are presently 3-1 and ranked 11th.
That suggests Cal's foundation for 2009 was strong. But somewhere, sometime, that foundation cracked.
So what's wrong? Here' are some possibilities.
The big preseason question -- the passing game -- hasn't been answered: It was not unreasonable to believe that quarterback Kevin Riley would be a better player this year. He's flashed ability the previous two seasons. He looked good this past spring. He looked good in the first three games, ranking as high as sixth in the nation in passing efficiency. Meanwhile, the receivers -- banged up and inconsistent in 2008 -- also looked poised to break through, led by talented sophomore Marvin Jones and a supporting cast that had plenty of experience. But the past two weekends, the passing game has been horrendous, with Riley completing just 27 of 71 passes (38 percent). The receivers haven't been helping the cause much, either. They are not getting open. They are dropping balls. They look sorta slow.
The rotating door at offensive coordinator hasn't helped: Andy Ludwig is the Bears fifth offensive coordinator in five seasons. Hmm. That can't help continuity. At this point, it would be fair to say fans at Oregon and Utah, where Ludwig suffered heavy criticism during previous stops, are giggling and pointing a mocking finger at Berkeley.
Replacing three starting linebackers in the 3-4 scheme was more difficult than originally thought: The big personnel loss from the 2008 team was almost entirely at linebacker, where Zach Follett, Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder needed to be replaced. Still, that was not a huge concern entering fall camp. Those guys were good college players but not exactly future NFL starters. The youngsters who were next in line were generally more athletic, while Mike Mohamed was expected to grow into an All-Conference player. This article does a good job of breaking down how things haven't gone well. Mostly, there's been a lack of continuity as coordinator Bob Gregory has tried to find who belongs where.
The offensive line misses Alex Mack and line coach Jim Michalczik: Mack is starting at center for the Cleveland Browns (so he's not much better off than his former teammates). Michalczik, widely regarded as one of the nation's best offensive line coaches, is now with the Oakland Raiders (so he's miserable, too). Entering the season, the general feeling was the line was talented and deep, considering injuries last fall forced many young players into starting roles. The line hasn't been terrible. It hasn't been as good as expected, either. And it certainly hasn't been good enough to beat defenses that are stacking the box to stop Jahvid Best.
The secondary has underachieved: The Bears secondary was the one area no one doubted. All four starters were back from a unit that ranked sixth in the nation in pass efficiency defense and grabbed 24 interceptions, which ranked third in the nation. The Bears presently rank 87th in the nation and have just four interceptions. Not to call one player out or anything, but did you see All-American cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson whiff on Joe McKnight's 38-yard TD run to open the scoring Saturday? That sort of play -- and pursuit angle -- won't help him get drafted.
Into the leadership void steps... who? What you keep hearing from players and coaches is that the Bears are close to making plays but it seems like at least one guy doesn't do his job on every play and therefore things go sour. A missed block. An inaccurate pass. An olé tackle. A dropped pass. A stupid penalty. A poor kick. Etc. The first blame for that goes to coaching because that's where the buck always stops in college football. But the players also are responsible for their lack of focus. Seems to me the Bears need a player -- or players -- who can rally the locker room, a guy who can stand in the middle of an 85-man huddle and deliver a passionate speech that will connect the important wires within his teammates. That is a cliché scene, of course. But it's a cliche because it often works. I remember one time see a video of Ed Reed doing that when he played for Miami. Made me want to suit up.
Or maybe it's something else. Or maybe the Bears are just stink.
Or maybe they don't.
The season isn't over. In fact, the Bears schedule is much easier going forward.
If a couple of things click into place, and the Bears approach their potential -- even if it isn't what many thought it could be in the preseason -- it is not ridiculous to see this team finishing with eight or nine wins.
Of course, things also could completely split apart -- see 2007.
Nothing can erase the two pitiful performances. The season is at its crisis point.
What comes next will be interesting to watch.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Helmet stickers for those who stood out during the weekend's games.
USC's defensive stars: Linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing and safety Taylor Mays led the Trojans with 10, 9 and five tackles, respectively, but they also led by setting a tone. A very physical one. All three posted multiple hits that drew gasps from the crowd in the Trojans' 17-3 victory, another gem for the nation's best defense.
Sean Canfield: It's one thing to come off the bench and lead a team to victory, which is what Canfield, Lyle Moevao's backup, did for Oregon State two weeks ago against Arizona State. It's another to start a game and lead a team to victory, which Canfield did Saturday in a 34-6 win over UCLA. He completed 16 of 22 passes for 222 yards with two touchdowns, and led the Beavers to a 31-3 advantage in the second half.
Keegan Herring and Michael Jones: This was supposed to be a big year for Herring and Jones -- both in their final years of eligibility -- but injuries and the general struggles of the Arizona State offense have mostly left them out of the picture. But both busted out against Washington. Jones hauled in 11 receptions for 146 yards with two touchdowns, while Herring rushed 144 yards on 22 carries.
California's defense: USC gained 411 yards and notched 22 first downs, but the Bears stiffened when the Trojans pushed into their territory. Nine such trips yielded just 17 points. The Bears were particularly tough on third down, holding the Trojans to a 4-for-11 conversion rate. Anthony Felder (team-high 10 tackles), defensive end Cameron Jordan (six tackles, a sack) and Zack Follett (five tackles, forced fumble) turned in noteworthy performances.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona's sophomore tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't play in the 2006 game when the Wildcats upset then-eighth-ranked California and knocked the Bears out of the Rose Bowl.
And he wasn't trying to be uncharitable toward the 25th-ranked Bears after Arizona again upset them Saturday, 42-27. It's just that he'd heard the talk this week coming from Berkeley of revenge and he couldn't help but let a smirk flicker across his face.
"That's what I heard," he said. "But we took it to them. Just because someone wants revenge on us doesn't mean we're going to let them have revenge."
Cal led 24-14 at halftime. In 2006, they led 17-3 in the third quarter. In 2006, the Bears lost because of untimely penalties, turnovers and a variety of odd plays. In 2008, they lost because they got whupped, a 28-3 Arizona advantage in the third quarter making the difference.
"When they hit on the touchdowns and we didn't answer, they gained all the momentum," Bears coach Jeff Tedford said.
In the first half, quarterback Nate Longshore completed 16-of-25 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. In the second half, he was 2-of-12 for 46 yards with an interception that was returned 21 yards for a touchdown by Devin Ross before being yanked for Kevin Riley, who Longshore only displaced as the starter two weeks ago.
"I was surprised to go in," Riley said.
It certainly wasn't all Longshore's fault. The Cal defense forced the Wildcats to go three-and-out four consecutive times in the second quarter, but the Bears couldn't stop them in the third quarter.
Arizona gained 213 yards in the third. Cal had just 64.
"No, I didn't think we panicked," Tedford said.
Falling behind, it was hard for the Bears to use their best offensive weapon: Running back Jahvid Best. Best had 95 yards rushing on 12 carries at halftime, including a 67-yard touchdown run. He had just four carries for 12 yards in the second half.
"Arizona put together a really good game plan," linebacker Anthony Felder said. "We had some hard times adjusting."
So instead of getting revenge, Cal was left feeling blue with deja vu.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller\
TUCSON, Ariz. -- There was Jacquizz. And now there is Keola.
Rodgers, at 5-foot-6, 180 pounds, sliced and diced top-ranked USC in the Beavers 27-21 upset victory on Sept. 25.
And Antolin did the same to No. 25 California in a shocking 42-27 domination of the Bears on Saturday.
Antolin, listed at 5-8 -- right! -- 180 pounds, gashed Cal for 149 yards on 21 carries -- 7.1 yards per pop -- and scored three touchdowns, including a 59-yard scamper that gave the Wildcats the lead for good at 28-27.
Antolin, who's been bothered by a toe injury much of the season, entered the game with just 66 yards on 25 carries.
"We didn't see anything of Keola on tape," Cal linebacker Anthony Felder said. "He's smaller and hard to defend."
Which is sort of what the Trojans said about Rodgers.
"I hide behind the linemen all day -- just like [NFL players] Darren Sproles and Maurice Jones-Drew," Antolin said. "It's the exact same. I stay low and hide and explode through the hole."
Guess who's coming to dinner next Saturday in Tucson?
Yup. The Trojans.
Antolin's eyes lit up when asked about Rodgers.
"He gave me hope right there," he said.
Antolin entered the game after starter Nic Grigsby fumbled in the first quarter. Grigsby ranks third in the Pac-10 with 102 yards rushing per game, but his tendency to lose hold of the football understandably rankles his coaches.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
One week and it begins...
- Topping the list: the status of Oregon QB Nate Costa. While the particulars don't look good -- the vagueness and "no comment" statements two days after the incident raise eyebrows -- there's still no official word on Costa's injured knee. It's probably a good thing that the running game looked good at Friday's scrimmage.
- It's meet the team at Arizona, and you might want to bring your new depth chart. Is coach Mike Stoops making his last stand -- or is he on the cusp of breaking through? The Tucson Citizen's Anthony Gimino seems to favor the latter.
- Arizona State might have the Pac-10's best cornerback. While he doesn't have talent like Omar Bolden, DT David Smith is the sort of hard-hat plugger most teams would love to have.
- Is Anthony Felder California's forgotten LB? Getting philosophical with the decision to start Kevin Riley over Nate Longshore.
- What about Oregon State's special teams?
- From the Stanford student paper: the Cardinal defense.
- UCLA's QBs just can't get out of the news. Now there's questions about who Kevin Craft's backup might be. And what about this line from Brian Dohn's story: "At one point, Craft threw interceptions on three straight passes, but Chow said he wasn't concerned." Not concerned? Also, this on the OL lineup: "Nick Ekbatani (right tackle), Darius Savage (right guard), Micah Reed (center), Scott Glicksberg (left guard) and Micah Kia (left tackle). However, if Kia cannot play against [Tennessee], Brandon Bennett would start at left tackle." A look at UCLA's "other" CB, Michael Norris. And David Carter gives the Bruins some depth on the DL.
- After all the injury tumult, USC breaks camp feeling pretty darn good. It appears QB Mark Sanchez is a go. USC names team captains: Sanchez, Brian Cushing, Kevin Ellison and Jeff Byers. The 2008 season at a glance. Injury update. And the face of the Trojans defense has two noses.
- Washington center Juan Garcia's foot holds up during a scrimmage, so he should play against Oregon. Just amazing -- kudos to Garcia and the UW trainers. It appears three freshmen will get carries in the Huskies backfield. More from OC Tim Lappano on the skill positions. Afternoon practice notes. And more notes. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Molly Yanity made her own depth chart, so this link is to help Tyrone Willingham get it right.
- Washington State is still a work in progress. That's a polite way of saying Friday's practice was ugly. And what are the remaining questions?