Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Cal and UCLA are both wounded but hopeful
By ESPN.com staff
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Storms have drenched in the Bay Area this week, but there have been no reports of California coach Jeff Tedford going all King Lear, dashing outside and ranting insanely -- "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!" -- amid the tempests swirling around his team's fallen state.
Where there was once a No. 6 ranking, there is now a new number: 72-6.
That's the combined count of the Bears losses to Oregon and USC.
Tedford is well-aware that high expectations and Rose Bowl dreams have given way to frustration and recrimination among the fan base, who have pointed fingers at many things, but most particularly at Tedford.
"I know there's a lot opinions, and there's going to be naysayers and there's going to be critics, but it doesn't help anything," Tedford said. "Everybody's entitled to their opinion. I don't read it and I hope our players don't read it."
Tedford said after his team was overwhelmed at home by USC that he would not yell and scream at his players. He expressed confidence that the Bears wouldn't fracture like the 2007 crew that went from second-ranked to losing six of their final seven regular-season games.
He said it was no time to panic and that there was a lot of football left.
"There was a lot of disappointment, but the main thing was not to be discouraged," Tedford said.
Nor is he's going to call the visit to UCLA a proverbial "must-win" because that would create even more pressure for a team trying to rebuild its confidence.
Down in Los Angeles, coach Rick Neuheisel's Bruins also are in a wounded state. Just like Cal, they've also lost two in a row after a 3-0 start, and, just like Cal, they have issues on offense.
The Bruins were befuddled, much like the Bears, were by Oregon's resurgent defense, which ruined the return of quarterback Kevin Prince, who'd been out since Sept. 12 with a broken jaw.
It's probably not a surprise, though, that Neuheisel shares Tedford's belief that panicking would be a bad thing.
Might the Bruins scale back some game-plan complexity to help Prince this week? Yes. But there's no need for radical schematic or personnel changes because of defeats to a pair of good teams.
"I think sometimes there's an overreaction to disappointment -- you think you need to throw the baby out with the bath water," Neuhiesel said. "I don't believe that. We're not far away."
Prince and quarterback Kevin Riley should text each other for support. Riley's game has gone south during the two defeats. He's complete just 27 of 71 passes (38 percent) and led an offense that didn't find the endzone.
This week at practice, he said threw a ball into the turf and "I got a clap from [offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig]."
That's because Riley had been pressing against a strong pass rush and had reverted back to some of the mechanical problems that often caused his ball to sail high in 2008. Tedford had worked extensively with Riley during the offseason on his delivery, but he decided Riley needed a refresher course during the bye week.
"We worked a little bit last week on doing some things just to make sure he's confident and accurate with what he's doing," Tedford said. "I don't want him thinking about it too much, but we went back last week and talked about a few things and worked on a few things in his mechanics just to try to help him. I think it's gone fairly well for him."
Couple of other problems for Cal. First, the Bears haven't won in the Rose Bowl since 1999, and even that game was later forfeited for the use of ineligible players, so the last official win in Pasadena came in 1993, when Keith Gilbertson was the coach.
Second, UCLA, just like Oregon and USC, has a defense ranked among the nation's top-25. The Bruins almost certainly will stack the box with defenders to stop running back Jahvid Best and thereby dare Riley to beat them downfield.
Riley knows the only way to stop defenses from doing that is by making plays in the passing game, which he hasn't done since a 35-21 win at Minnesota on Sept. 19.
Riley and Tedford both know there's only one way to turn the frowns upside down in Berkeley.
"When you win, people love you," Riley said. "When you lose, people hate you. It's just part of football."