This one was over early. Just before kickoff, I called a TD on the return. Jeremy Ross only returned it to the WSU 29. Stupid me. Two plays later, with less than a minute gone from the game, Best ran a basic "Go" route and Riley hit him with a nice throw on the outside shoulder for Cal's first touchdown.
Best beat former Cal corner Brandon Jones on the play. Here's what Jones had to say earlier this week: "Jahvid is good and he’s fast," Jones said. "I do want to see him one-on-one. Somebody’s got to win. If I lose, then I’ll come on top the next time." Whoops. No word on whether Jones came on top next time, but Best finished with 186 yards and three touchdowns on only 14 touches, so we'll put a couple tallies in Jahvid's column.
Cal would score three more touchdowns in the quarter and another early in the second to take a 35-3 lead. Riley finished the first quarter with some pretty solid numbers: 3-3, 85 yards, 3 touchdowns. Yes, that is one touchdown per pass attempt.
The fast start was impressive, to put it mildly. Cal flat out dominated and nearly had the 35 point line covered after only twenty minutes. I was regretting not placing more faith in (and a bet on) the Bears. Then Jeff Tuel (pronounced "Tool") started his Graham Harrell impersonation. Cal's penchance for making mediocre and/or inexperienced QBs look like Aaron Rodgers is such a predictable treat; perhaps it was Bob Gregory's plan to give a QB who was sacked TWELVE TIMES last week enough time to throw for 354 yards, in order to teach our young Cal fans (it was kid's day, after all) how to be courteous and gracious hosts. Seriously, Masoli goes 4-16 the week before playing us and then magically turns into Pat White, Barkley barely breaks a sweat in a 27 point victory, KEVIN PRINCE!! throws for 300+, and then true freshman Jeff Tuel, in his third ever start, goes for 350. And I don't want to hear the "oh, they were way behind so they had to throw." You know who else was way behind? Cal, at Oregon, this year. Riley finished with 123 yards on 31 attempts. 4 yards per attempt. Riley has much better talent than Tuel at every surrounding position, not to mention three years more experience, AND we knocked out Oregon's star corner on the first play of the game. Oregon figured out how to shut down a passing attack; maybe someday we won't be one horrible Kevin Price pass away from blowing a game to a pretty terrible ucla team. End rant.
If only we had the talent to containt the Karstetter's of the world.
If my reveling seems a bit more muted than last week, it's because Cal has given up almost 700 yards passing the last two weeks to teams who are a combined 0-9 in Pac-10 play. That's my dilema right now, and I suspect the dilema for most Cal fans: I'm THRILLED that we FINALLY won in LA, and I'll take a 30 point victory over anyone, any time. But does anyone think we're going to run the table from here on out, given what we saw today? Oregon State just put up 36 on USC at the Coliseum. Our kick coverage is still, how we say, not great (there was a gaping hole on WSU's first return of the game). The purpose of this column is to celebrate our victories, not to fret about what's ahead, but my natural inclination to worry and Cal's seemingly natural inclination to allow 400+ yards of offense is ruining my reveling apetite. On to the good stuff.
Jeremy Ross: he had a pretty nice day, no? The opening kick return was great but paled in comparison to his spectactular punt return. What a sweet move to semi hurdle, semi sidestep a tackler from about 40 yards out. He did drop a couple of passes, including at least one that would have converted a third down, but he also hauled in a 60 yard bomb from Riley.
With such a big day from Ross, it seems inappropriate that the hurdle highlight of the day went to Covaughn DebOSKIe-Johnson. Not only was it a clean, great looking leap, but it sprung Oski for an extra twenty yards. Hurdling (and the set up and landing) is slower than flat out sprinting, so players often only get a few yards after they land; Covaughn made his count. The PA announcer even included it in his summary ("30 yards and one hurdle for a California first down!") Someone post the video.
Best and Vereen were great, as usual. Vereen in particular had some nifty runs, juking and somehow avoiding Cougar defenders for an inside eight yard run, and getting to the outside with a wicked stiff arm on a big gainer. Best will probably be a first round pick this April, but just as we were fine when we lost Arrington, and Marshawn, and Forsett...we'll be fine when we lose Best.
Tough to nitpick Riley's performance. His start was absolutely ludicrous and he finished with a spectacular 12.7 yards per attempt. The pass to Best in the flat at the goal line was ugly, and if he had led Ross to the outside on the 60 yard completion, instead of drawing him back slightly to the middle, it would have been a touchdown. I also think Riley gets pretty antsy on third down - it seems like he left the pocket a little early on a few occassions, continuing a trend we saw last week. If someone wants a project, look at third down passing attempts from the Cal offense over the last two games. Is Riley not seeing open receivers and taking off too early, or are Cal players being covered up down field? Still, great numbers, and they would have been better except for a few drops.
I even think the Cal defense can be excused slightly, so I'll disagree a bit with myself from 4 paragraphs ago. The defensive line mounted a generally robust pass rush (certainly better than last week), and Cameron Jordan had perhaps his best game of the year with at least a couple of sacks. I loved a third down play near the south endzone when Cal brought at least 5 in pass rush - one of the linebackers had a free shot at Tuel up the middle and the hurried pass was almost intercepted.
Jordan was extremely disruptive today, hopefully a sign of things to come.
The Cougars, as promised by Nuss, are significantly improved from last year. I like the Cougs, mostly due to my love for my younger brother and for cheese, so this makes me happy. Jeff Tuel looks very good for a true freshman in his third game. Gino Simone, another true freshman, looks good at wideout. This is a very, very young team and a very injured team; I except they will continue to improve and Tuel could be a major pain over the next few years. And most of all, I really, really hope they beat ucla.
If you're still up reveling, what do you think? A thirty-two point victory should make us happy, and there were a lot of fun and entertaining moments today: Ross, Best, Riley, Vereen, Oski, Jones (just list the entire offense, really); Beau Sweeney looked good converting a third down with a pass to Michael Calvin. Cam Jordan busted out, Derrick Hill was a force, and Cal allowed zero points in the second half. Is that enough, for now, to compensate for the problems that may cost us a couple games down the stretch?
Go Aloe, Go Bears.