Saturday morning Carl Steward had a CCTimes article which explained his skepticism about Cal's aspirations for the Pac-10 crown. He believes Cal has a lot of questions for a #12 team.
Is it politically correct to be skeptical of all the preseason hype surrounding Cal? Everybody seems to buy into the No. 12 ranking and the excellent Rose Bowl prospects, but sorry, I just can't swallow it ... yet. There are just too many unknowns, not just about the Golden Bears but the entire weak Pac-10.
Things everyone should see before becoming believers in the Bears: A couple of strong go-to receivers. Inside running capability beyond Jahvid Best. A defense without linebacker Zack Follett that is as good as its early press clippings. Consistency from Kevin Riley. Efficiency in Jeff Tedford's latest play-calling arrangement with new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.
Have I mentioned the freshman field-goal kicker?
As for Best, forget the Heisman blather. Just keep the guy upright and healthy for 12 games. To do that, there'd better be a productive passing game.
After the jump we'll have a collection of articles that explain just how decisively Cal answered those questions.
For the Monday Golden Nuggets, I'll have recaps of all the Cal sports events from the weekend.
- Don't ask Ray Ratto of the SFChronicle about Cal answering questions, as he said it was "pedestrian," "not great," and "good enough for public university work."
- Throughout this post I'll reference post-game quotes from the press conference.
Did we see a couple of go-to receivers? How about consistency from Riley?
- Monte Poole of the Oakland Tribune says we "need to see a bit more of Riley and his receivers" but also says the more we saw last night, the better it looked. With just under 300 yards from the passing game and seven receivers with 20+ yards, I'm not sure how much more of Riley and the receivers we could have seen yesterday. Four different receivers caught passes for touchdowns. Best was convinced, suggesting that "If [Riley] keeps up production like that, we're going to be unstoppable." Riley's slow start, followed by an explosion of offense earned one of Ted Miller's Pac-10 helmet stickers.
How was the running game outside of Best?
- First off, Best's stellar performance was anchored by great blocking from his O-line, fullbacks, and even receivers. Without them, Best or no Best, this team won't have much of a running game. The O-line withstood Don Brown's unorthodox, blitz-heavy defense. Shane Vereen and Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson did an admirable job as backups, running for a combined 102 yards and a touchdown.
Is the defense as good despite losses of three senior linebackers?
- Linebackers D.J. Holt and Mychal Kendricks made their first starts on defense and were impressive, with Kendricks leading the team with 12 tackles. Ernie Owusu made a huge impact on the defensive line, registering two sacks (for a loss of 15) and one more tackle for loss (3 yards). Except for one drive in the third quarter, Defensive Coordinator Bob Gregory was impressed. With eleven tackles-for-loss (42 yards) the defense was getting great penetration. Maryland QB Chris Turner called it "one of the best defensive fronts we'll see all year." Holding Maryland to under 25% conversion on third-down, 5.6ypa on passing, and 3.2 yards per rush, the defense decisively answered any lingering questions. Let's see if they can keep it up all season, especially on the road.
Was the playcalling efficient?
- 542 yards of offense, 8-14 on third down, and 52 well distributed points seem to suggest that the playcalling was efficient. It seems like everyone (even Sofele!) touched the ball and was productive doing so.
And what about that freshman kicker?
- D'Amato quietly scored ten points (three on a 31 yd FG) and seven on extra points. A fair start, but he didn't have much of a chance to prove much. His freshman longsnapper Matt Rios has been effective, according to Bryan Anger. Bryan also expects improvements due to slight changes in his technique. But with the offense as effective as it was last night, Anger might not see the field as much as he did last year.
- Mark Schlabach seems impressed by Cal and picks them to play Oklahoma St in the Fiesta Bowl. Bruce Feldman picks Cal to play Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. Both pick a USC-Penn St rematch in the Rose Bowl (pleeeease don't let that happen).
- TE Spencer Ladner has a yet-to-be diagnosed knee injury and Sean Cattouse suffered a concussion.
- Calbears.com has pregame photos and in-game photos. AP has a photo gallery of its own.
- Best is trending upward in ESPN's Heisman watch.