State Of The Cal Football Program, Part I: Jeff Tedford & Kevin Riley

We interrupt your regularly scheduled for a special roundtable discussion on the state of Cal football. Leading the way is CGB's Minister of Truth, Avinash.

Avinash: Greetings, I'm your host on this beautiful Monday morning. I'd like to assure everyone we have beaten USC in every way possible, and we are ready to pave our pathway to becoming a national--no, better yet, a GLOBAL--power. The glorious victories of our football (pig, not round) cannot be understated, they must be overstated! 

In fact, the carnage is still continuing just to show USC who runs this empire. I believe Kevin Riley has thrown his sixth touchdown, and Keenan Allen is actually pulling off Shareece Wright's limbs and beating them on his torso. The Trojans shall know the stench of defeat without needing a horse to infiltrate their marches. We have stamped out the virus, and we shall now have very clean software.

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Some people seem to disagree with the assessment. I shall call them infidels. Here are what the infidels think about our glorious victory in LA Coliseum this past Saturday, and what should be done with our impervious head coach and our fearless quarterback.

1. Should Beau Sweeney have played the second half down 42-0? Jeff Tedford wasn't serious in thinking that Riley was going to give us the best opportunity to win in the second half was he?

HydroTech:  Cal chances of winning the game in the second half were about 0.01%.  Starting Kevin Riley at the beginning of the game is completely logical because the score is 0-0 and he does give us the best chance to win.  However, continuing to play Riley deep into the third quarter, and the fourth quarter, when Cal has no chance of winning the game seems like a waste of an opportunity to give Sweeney real playing time against a non-Cal defense.

Berkelium97: I expected Beau to play through much of the second half.  It was obvious Riley wasn't going to lead a 6-touchdown comeback, so it would have been nice to see the backups play against a real defense.

atomsareenough: The only thing I can think of is that 1) He wanted Riley and the first team to get the extra live snaps because he's committed to starting Riley the rest of the season, so he wanted to use the second half to work out as many kinks as possible. 2) He was for some reason concerned about appearances, and felt that getting a couple of scores and closing the deficit a little would put some lipstick on this pig of a game, even though any fan watching the game knew it was over midway through the second quarter, and it was a total fiasco regardless whether we punched in a couple of TDs against USC's scrubs.

Kodiak: I don't think that Tedford meant that Riley gave them the best chance to win vs. 'sc.  I think he was talking about the rest of THIS year and he's right.  For us to have any shot at a decent year, Riley has to play well.  So, if it means keeping Riley and the 1st team offense in so that they can work through their issues, I'm okay with that.  I think Tedford already knows that Sweeney or Mansion aren't the answer for this year...and probably hopes that Bridgford, Hinder, or Maynard are the answer next year.  So giving them time doesn't help us at all in the short or long run.

LeonPowe: 100% yes. Riley clearly didn't have it today - whether it was the lack of confidence after Ladner, Jones and that third just horrible dropped pass went awry or the o-line was getting destroyed by USC's front 4, in any case, down 42-0 with no chance to come back and win, get Sweeney some live snaps against an opposing defense. God forbid Riley gets hurt or something - I already don't feel comfortable with Sweeney as the back-up now. I don't see how it would hurt to get him additional live snaps - what, we lose even worse than we already were? You gotta see how Beau performs on the field. That was the perfect opportunity to get him 2-3 series. I would've said, start with the 2nd or 3rd series of the 2nd half.

Ohio Bear: As I opined on the game threads, I believe Beau Sweeney should have played most, if not all, of the second half.  With the game out of hand at that point, it was a  good opportunity for him to get some in-game experience.  That said, I understand the reasons that Tedford kept Riley in the game.  HIs post game quote referring to Riley as "giving us the best chance to win" did not refer to the USC game; he was referring to the rest of the season.  And if that's the case (and I have no basis of knowledge to doubt that it is), there is something to be said for giving Riley that chance to play his way out of the funk and try and do SOMETHING positive to gain confidence.  And as ferocious as USC was defensively on Saturday, I wonder if there was a school of thought that it was unfair to throw Sweeney into a buzzsaw like that.  (Though, recall that he did bring Sweeney in for the last series of the Oregon drubbing last year.)  These potential reasons for keeping Riley in the game are reasonable -- I just don't agree with them.

norcalnick: Is it bad that I wouldn't have cared?  We all agree the game was over.  I guess there's some value in Sweeney getting some experience, but playing a USC defense fielding second stringers playing at half effort isn't the difference between 'Sweeney, inexperienced backup' and 'Sweeney, world conquering starter.'


2. Is Riley just a mediocre quarterback, or have Ludwig and Tedford really played too many head games with him? Although he's improved a lot mechanically, his deep ball has gotten worse each season, and his decision-making skills are all over the place.

HydroTech: I think 2010 Riley is better than 2009 Riley, and 2008 Riley.  But what about the 2007 Riley?  I think the 2010 Riley, compared to the 2007 Riley, is much more poised, knowledgeable of the game, and careful with the football.  However, I think the 2007 Riley was looser, more confident which he demonstrated with his gutsy balls-to-the-wall playing style.  It was that same confident, loose, and balls-to-the-wall style which gave so many Cal fans hope that he was the next Aaron Rodgers.  But it turns out Cal fans knew nothing about Riley at the time and it wasn't until this year when we finally learned more about him.  In one of the most revealing stories about Kevin Riley, his own father called him "immature" and "brash" in his younger years at Cal, to the point where he was perceived as cocky.  In that same article, Riley admits how he didn't realize (back in 2007) how hard the game was because the 2007 team was so good.  One might say that 2007 Riley was naive, and just living in the moment as a kid living out his dream of playing some college ball.  Now, the 2010 Riley is wiser, more mature, controlled, and struggling to live up to those high 2007 expectations he earned from his 2007 Oregon State and 2007 Armed Forces Bowl performances.  If only the 2010 Riley could return to his old 2007 self as the confident, loose, kid from Oregon just living his dream of playing college football, then I think he'd be a little bit better.  Nowadays though, Riley seems to be trying so hard "place" balls rather than just throwing and slinging balls where they need to be.  The worries of missing easy throws are taking him out of the moment when Riley just needs to be in the moment.

Berkelium97: I have accepted that Riley is simply a mediocre QB.  He has shown no indication that he will live up to the high expectations after 2007.  Sure, his mechanics have greatly improved and his overall game has improved, but he still misses open receivers, he still makes poor decisions, he still tries to force plays (leading to interceptions or sacks).  If he had an O-line that offered enough protection for routes to develop or if his receivers didn't drop so many balls, he would seem like a better QB.  But Riley alone cannot make up for any deficiencies in execution and experience around him.

atomsareenough: I think that the porous O-line and the receiver drops were a huge part of yesterday's story. However, Riley also made some pretty egregious errors himself. Maybe it's partly because his hamstring still isn't right, but he's not using his legs with nearly the kind confidence he was earlier in his career. I think earlier he would tuck and run a lot more quickly than he should, like Sweeney is apt to at this point, but still, he was a capable scrambler, and that part of his game seems to have evaporated. However, I also sometimes wonder if the tragic 2007 OSU game might have fundamentally broken him, psychologically. Yes, he's had some very good games since, even some good performances in tight games, and while I hate to psychoanalyze someone I don't know, just watching him play, he's lost a lot of the swagger that he had as a younger QB. I'm generally not one for psychobabble and non-quantitative sports analysis, but man, the Bears could desperately use some swagger right now, and I do believe that the QB position is one that does require confidence, even overconfidence, to be successful. I don't blame Ludwig and Tedford for "head games"... But, maybe they do deserve blame for not coaching the Bears up or managing the team right emotionally.

Kodiak: I think it all starts with confidence.  Riley played great as a frosh because he had a solid O-line, pro-level receivers, and could come in with a gun-slinging "nothing to lose" mentality.  The competition w/ Longshore really messed with his head.  He's so afraid of making mistakes that he's actually making more mistakes.  (Alex Smith syndrome)  So, he's trying too hard.  Pressing.  He has moments where he looks sharp...and we all know about the other times.  I think that better pass protection would allow him to look more like the steady senior we're hoping to see instead of the rattled and inconsistent trauma survivor that we're afraid of seeing.

LeonPowe: I don't get it - last year he was MUCH safer with the ball. I think the Longshore/Riley year killed him. HIs very first two games - OSU and Air Force, he looked very much the future of the program - slinging the long ball, running for first downs. From an armchair QB, very much amateur sideline viewpoint (mine) - Riley looks much better just drawing plays in the sand and running around making plays happen, instead of sitting in the pocket, going through progressions and being a pro-style Tedford QB. I think he had/has the talent to be a - well, not excellent QB, but a better than serviceable one, but there's a mental block in there somewhere.

Ohio Bear: As much as I like Kevin Riley and appreciate his effort for our program, I think the answer is that he's just a mediocre QB.  What we see is what we're getting.  He's inconsistent (at best) in accuracy and his decisionmaking, while mostly good, seems to lapse in sometimes inexplicable fashion.  I think we've seen improvement in him from 2008.  But the best we can hope for is to get "good Riley" on a given Saturday.

norcalnick: I don't like doing the psychoanalysis stuff. It's possible that a complicated playbook, multiple coaching changes and Tedford/Ludwid has resulted in Riley's lack of progress.  But without any insider knowledge it's all just painful speculation.

CBKWit:  In my opinion, definitely.  I'd say it's debatable whether or not he has improved mechanically - see the issues with his feet during the ucla game.  I do think that he's improved a bit on short routes, but he's still pretty poor at them.  And I actually think he was better in this game than he was during the ucla game, at least until the wheels came off with those two interceptions.  His early throws were decent, especially the two that Marv dropped.  His first pass of the game, to Vereen, was a decent throw, but an awful decision to throw it - it almost got Vereen killed between two sc defenders.  Unfortunately, when the wheels fell off, they fell off in a big way.  Just like on last week's deep pass to Vereen, his deep pass to Ladner was short and inside.  Last week it turned a sure touchdown into a close call and a decent gain - this week, it was an interception.  And the second pick to the defensive lineman?  Ick.

As a freshman, Riley had much better receivers - let's not kid ourselves - but he also had much more confidence, threw a much better deep ball, and was much more decisive.  It's not just one game  - Riley played better against MSU in 08 and Maryland in 09 than in any game this year - and you can't just blame it on the receivers, since we have currently have our best receiving corp in the last 3 years.  Nate Longshore also was more confident, decisive, and threw a better deep ball earlier in his career.  Ayoob was awful in his first game but actually played very well in his second game, a (gasp!) ROAD win at UW...before regressing and eventually falling apart.  The trend is pretty clear, and it should be plenty worrisome for Cal fans.  It is to me.


3. The Bears are clearly not playing for anything other than a low-level bowl bid at this point. How much time should backups get from here on out to prepare for the post-Riley era? Should we throw out one of the young guys (Bridgford?) and see how he performs until he gets comfortable running the offense?

HydroTech:  Starters should continue to play during games where Cal still has a chance to win regardless of the team's record.  In other words, even if Cal was 1-10 entering its last game of the season, so long as Cal has a chance to win the game then the players who give Cal the best chance to win the game should be playing.  Once games get out of hand and Cal has no chance of winning, then backups should at least see 4th Quarter action to gain experience.

Berkelium97: I stand by the idea that the backups shouldn't see the field unless the game is well in hand.  There's a reason Riley is starting--he's the best (shockingly) QB we have.  I would like to see Bridgford play (I wouldn't be surprised if Bridgford, Hinder, or Maynard takes the QB position next year), but he may not have sufficient command of the offense to get out there this year.  Even if he did, it would be disrespectful to skip over Beau and play a guy who is below him on the depth chart--it violates the whole purpose of a depth chart.

atomsareenough: I'm in favor of Sweeney and Bridgford getting as many snaps and chances as possible in games that are already decided. Riley shouldn't have been on the field in the second half.

Kodiak: Seriously?  There's way too much football to be played to toss in the towel this early.  Tanking this season by putting in inexperienced backups that clearly don't give you the best chance to win would be an insult to the players, staff, alumni, and everyone who has anything invested in this program.  It would be a ridiculous knee-jerk move that would do an incredible amount of harm to the program.  What type of message are you trying to send?  "Well, things aren't going the way we want...So we're just going to give up."  I'm going to stop myself now before I say something really rude that I may or may not regret.  I think it's understood that I really don't like this idea.

LeonPowe: I'd love to see Sweeney get 2 series a game. Maybe in the 2nd quarter.

Ohio Bear: I'll channel Herman Edwards:  You play.  To win.  The game.  You play.  To win.  The game.
The guys that give us the best chance to win as many games as we can win this year.  That includes the quarterback position.

norcalnick: My opinion on this issue will always be the same for every position:  If players are exactly the same, you may as well play the younger guy.  But you have an obligation to your seniors and your fans to do what you think gives the team the best chance of winning.  So basically the question now boils down to "Do we still trust the coaches to correctly evaluate who gives Cal the best chance of winning?"

***

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Avinash: Wait, I've just been informed that Lane Kiffin commited seven to ten more secondary violations as he drunk-dialed several recruits in the midnight, wailing and mourning the ruins of his shattered Trojan fortress. We shall drink his tears and let it fuel us to future victories on both home and road soil. These are glorious times for the Golden Bear Empire, whose sovereign territories we can claim from Davis to Boulder to Palo Alto to Westwood.

We shall have more on the state of the Cal football tomorrow. This is the Ministry of Truth reporting. Hail Tedford!

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