Not all 42-7 victories feel the same.
If you’re a Cal football fan, you know what I mean. You had to feel as if you had eaten some bad nachos Saturday during the Bears’ 35-point win over Colorado State at Memorial Stadium.
You had to feel sick watching running back Jahvid Best land hard on the artificial turf early in the third quarter, dislocating his left elbow. You had to feel nauseous seeing Best writhe on the ground in pain and grimace as team trainers popped his elbow back into place.
Then there was Cal’s stomach-turning passing attack, which was so bad that coach Jeff Tedford yanked starting quarterback Kevin Riley with 7:15 left in the third quarter and replaced him with Nate Longshore. After the game, Tedford said a quarterback switch is possible next week when the Bears face Arizona State.
Good times. Good times.
First things first, which means Best, the Bears’ best hope for a great season, thunder and lightning wrapped into one explosive package.
The bad news for Cal is that he dislocated his elbow. The good news, Tedford said, is that X-rays revealed no fracture. Cal won’t know how long they’ll be without Best until after he has an MRI today. But you get the sense that he’ll miss at least a week and maybe longer. At least that’s what the Bears and backup running back Shane Vereen seem to be bracing for.
Now for the potential quarterback shuffle. Tedford was asked whether he pulled Riley because the game was safely in hand at 28-0. Let’s just say he shot down that theory in a hurry.
“Nate played because Kevin was missing too many open receivers,” Tedford said.
Riley was 6 of 13 for 59 yards and one touchdown, a 17-yard strike to Nyan Boateng. Longshore was 9 of 13 for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
When asked about Riley’s job security, Tedford made it clear that nothing’s set in stone.
“We’re always evaluating that,” Tedford said. “We’ll see what happens. We’ll talk about it, see the tape and things like that.”
Tedford said that if “if a guy’s not playing well” at any position, “you have to look at making adjustments. I’m not saying that’s going to happen, but it’s always being evaluated.”
Tedford gave Longshore a good review, especially compared to the two thumbs down he gave Riley.
“Nate did fine,” Tedford said. “Nate, he wasn’t asked to do a lot because of the game situation. At that time we ran the ball quite a bit. But I thought he was pretty smart with the ball. He didn’t force the ball. He threw a couple nice balls. … For the most part, I thought Nate did fine. He ran the show and he ran the huddle.”
After the game, a despondent Riley took responsibility for missing those open receivers.
“Those are easy throws,” Riley said. “I’ve got to hit them. I just rushed it.”
Riley said he understood why Tedford yanked him from the game.
“I wasn’t performing,” Riley said. “Nate went in and did the job. I just need to play better, plain and simple. I need to hit open guys. … I was over-thinking a little too much.”
Cal definitely needs to get its passing game on track for Arizona State and the rest of its Pac-10 schedule. The Bears can’t rely so heavily on its defense, special teams and running game, the way they did against Colorado State.
Cal was never in danger of losing this game. You could tell early in the first quarter by the way Cal’s defense was having its way with Colorado State’s overmatched offense. The Bears were just too quick, too fast and too strong for the Rams.
Rams quarterback Billy Farris was under siege, particularly from Cal’s strong push up the middle. Farris didn’t help his cause with a slow release and little zip. Cal had no trouble with the Rams’ one-two running punch of Gartrell Johnson and Kyle Bell. They were big and strong but slow.
Cal’s Bryant Nnabuife returned a blocked punt for their the Bears' first touchdown. Brett Johnson returned an interception 43 yards for Cal’s second score.
But Cal’s offense lost two first-half fumbles -- one by Best and one by Vereen – and didn’t produce a touchdown until late in the second quarter when Riley hit Boateng.
“The offense didn’t play very well,” Tedford said. “I thought we ran the ball pretty well. We were having pretty good success on first down most of the time, but we weren’t sharp in the passing game. We fumbled the ball twice. … I didn’t think we threw the ball very well. I thought we had some open guys and missed them.”
After Cal’s loss to Maryland, Tedford pinned some of the blame on his inexperienced wide receivers. Not this time.
“I didn’t see any issues today with inexperience at receiver or them running the wrong routes or the wrong depth or anything like that,” Tedford said.
If Tedford wanted to send a message to Riley, consider it sent. And if he wanted to lay the groundwork for a quarterback switch, consider it done.
Cal fans can only hope that if Tedford makes that switch, Longshore plays the same type of calm, cool, turnover-free football against ASU as he did coming off the bench with a 28-0 lead Saturday.
The alternative is enough to make an Old Blue sick.