Sunday, August 03, 2008

California Preview

Coach Jeff Tedford’s reputation as a coaching genius took a hit last season. The 2007 team entered the year with hopes of passing USC, but sputtered at the end losing six of its final seven games.

One of those losses was to Washington in Husky Stadium with Jake Locker on the sidelines nursing an injury. Washington shut down the Bears on defense and went to a power running game which broke the Bears down. Tedford could be heard blowing his top at his team after the game stating that they had no business losing to a team like Washington.

Rebounding won’t be easy. The quarterback position remains unresolved. Incumbent starter, Nate Longshore, has never been able to elevate from good to great. Sophomore Kevin Riley, who tossed for three scores in last season’s Armed Service Bowl win, could get the nod. Though his decision making is inconsistent, his ability to run with the ball gives Tedford’s offense an added dimension.

The Bears have to replace wide receivers Lavelle Hawkins, DeSean Jackson and Robert Jordan and tight end Craig Stevens. Whoever starts at quarterback will almost certainly be less productive this year.

No receiver who caught over five passes during the 2007 season is back and that inexperience will hurt early in the campaign. It is not just the skilled receivers who are gone, but running back Justin Forsett has wrapped up his collegiate career after rushing for 1,546 yards and 15 touchdowns his senior season. Jahvid Best is the most experienced back, but after a hip injury it remains to be seen how productive he can be. Sophomore Tracy Slocum and redshirt freshman Shane Vereen are next in line.

The offensive line needs to be replaced on the left side with the graduations of tackle Mike Gibson and guard Brian De La Puente, but the other side of the line is solid and center Alex Mack is one of the best in the nation.

The defense will be shifting to a 3-4 scheme, a more suitable alignment in the pass-happy Pac-10. With linebackers Worrell Williams, Zack Follett and Anthony Felder returning, it makes sense to focus on the linebackers and try and squeeze in one more starter. Nobody on the line did a great job of getting to the quarterback, but another year of experience should make things better.

The secondary has the most to replace with the departure of safety Thomas DeCoud and corner Brandon Hampton. At corner the situation is not that bad. Chris Conte will join returning starter Syd’Quan Thompson after being the top corner reserve last year.

How do you beat California?

Washington showed how to do that last year. You run the ball all day, control the clock, and wear the Bears out. It doesn't help if you are playing at home either. It also doesn't hurt if the Bears show up not ready to play. It was obvious that Tedford was having a problem getting through to a team that was very talented in 2007.

What do I think?

I think California and Washington are very similar teams who will be slugging it out in the middle of the conference this year. I give UW the edge at QB with Jake Locker, but the teams are pretty even at RB, WR, TE, and on the OL. Defensively the Bears have one of the best linebacking trio's in the country, and while Washington is close I have to give the nod to the Bears here. Both teams are evenly matched in the defensive backfield. Cal get's a slight edge on the defensive line line the Huskies only have one player with significant experience coming back.

On paper this game is a toss-up, and because it is in Berkeley you have to make the Bear's a slight favorite. This is going to be an interesting game because Ty Willingham may be looking at it as a must win to keep his job. If Willingham is not retained one of the first phone calls Mark Emmert makes will be to Jeff Tedford who may be getting impatient working with the worst facilities in the league.


Anonymous said...

I see the PI took down links to Nathan's DawgBlawg. Is he officially off the air?

John Berkowitz said...

Nathan is on Summer sabatical, he should start publishing once practice starts next week. the link is still around, and it will be back up once he starts publishing.