Sunday, May 18, 2008

In Search of a Hero - Cal Spring Fishwrap Edition

You could call this "second in a series" as we look ahead to our '08 opponents. Last Sunday was Okie State, and today, we examine the Berkeley Bears and their post-spring condition.

Spring Theme - "I NEED A HERO!"

What does that mean, actually? Well, a check of the current roster, and you understand. Cal's heroes have left the building. Super-speedy Mr. wonderful, DeSean Jackson? Gone. Leading receiver (better numbers than Jackson, actually), Lavelle Hawkins? See ya. WR Robert Jordan and his 689 yards receiving? Adios. Strong all-around TE, Craig Stevens?? BUH-BYE. In fact, the top 5 receivers from Cal's 2007 team are "pursuing other interests".

Oh yeah, sprinkled into the conversation is that leading rusher Justin Forsett and leading tackler Thomas DeCoud have both moved on. Forsett is now with the Seattle Seahawks. Forsett had an outstanding 1546 yards rushing last year, and a team-high 15 rushing TD's. DeCoud had 116 tackles. Both will be missed.

But there IS a hero in the Cal midst, and his name is Jahvid Best (pictured above). Best was highly touted as a true frosh last year, a top-10 back in the nation in many recruiting rankings. He was also one of the fastest recruits in the country last year. Best ran an amazing 10.39 in the 100 meters his senior year, which is quite frankly world-class speed, especially for a football player. But as the following videos will attest, this isn't just a "track guy". First, the speed is impressive, but you can see the cut-back ability vs. Tennessee:

Next, check out the ability to break some tackles when it appears there isn't anything there:

That's a true frosh folks. There's a reason they call him "The Jet". He's a home run threat every time he touches the football. HOWEVER, he did only get 29 carries for the entire 2007 season, so he's not real experienced. He's cut, but only 5-10, 185. This isn't an Adrian Peterson, 25-carry per game body type here. The load might be tough as the feature guy. And as far as health goes, there is already cause for concern. Best missed a good chunk of spring ball, out nursing a hip injury. As ESPN's Ted Miller wrote, it's the type of hip injury that makes coaches nervous. Best is sort of like that suped-up sports car, that can go from zero to 100 in the blink of an eye. He's a tightly wound, explosive bundle of power, yet could blow a rod or a piston in an instant. You get the idea.

But Cal isn't just about their running backs. Here's a look at the rest of the story.

QB Controversy: Kind of weird to even think it from an outsider point of view, but there is a QB situation developing at Cal. A couple of years ago Nate Longshore was Mr. Everything, but now? Not so much. If you remember, Cal crashed and burned down the stretch last season, going from a near-#1 ranking to losing 6 of their last 7 games. They did rally to beat Air Force in the Armed Forces Helicopter bowl, 42-36. And that's part of the controversy here. QB Kevin Riley (pictured) played outstanding football that day, finishing with a ridiculous 255+ QB rating. He only had 3 incomplete passes the entire game. Meanwhile Longshore's struggles down the stretch matched the team-wide funk as Cal nearly missed out on a bowl game. Hard to believe this was the same team that beat Tennessee and Oregon earlier in the season, compared to the group that was steamrolled at UW and lost to Stanford to close the season.

Longshore only threw for 2500 yards and 16 TD's. That's down from over 3,000 yards and 24 TD passes in 2006. Much, much more was expected of him last year. To be fair, Longshore was playing hurt for much of the season, so he never was quite himself. But there is some momentum behind the idea of the fans believing that maybe Riley is the answer. Right now, Jeff Tedford hasn't fully declared either guy the starter, so, the door is open for Riley.

Young Defense: 7 starters are set to return on defense next year, and it was a young defense at that. FS Thomas DeCoud and his 116 tackles are gone, but there is still hope. Zack Follett is back at strongside LB and should be on a lot of all-conference lists. He had 64 tackles last year, but a fantastic 12.5 tackles for loss, tops on the team. Corner Syd'Quan Thompson (pictured) looks like a real player, as he moved from WR to corner last year and tore it up as a sophomore. He had 78 tackles, including an impressive 6 for loss. He also had a team-high 10 pass-breakups.

Bottom Line: Cal is in the middle of a real change-over on offense. Tons of new faces at the skill positions, and a QB situation that can best be called unsettled right now. If Best is healthy, early on you may see them keep things conservative as they break in the new guys in the first few games. Defensively I think they are going to be pretty good, and with those 7 starters back, they should help keep things under control while the offense settles in.

That said, you have to wonder about their state of mind. Even with all their offensive firepower last year, they fell apart down the stretch in epic proportions. But who knows, maybe losing the star power from last year's team is actually a good thing in their view. It might help heal the wounds from '07, and they can more or less reboot and forget the collapse.

They open with Michigan State at home, and then it's on to Pullman. We haven't beaten Cal since the 2002 Rose Bowl season, and their pure talent will always outshine ours on paper. But Tedford's offense is sort of a west-coast hybrid, and timing is key in an offense like that. Early in 2008 might be the best time to play them, especially since it will be their first road game of the season. Cal will most likely be favored, but there could be an "upset alert" feel to this one.


Anonymous said...

Jahvid can FLY man. Stay at home on defense and do not get out of your lanes or he will make you pay with the cutback. I would be happy playing them in the opener but not in game 2. Coach speak says teams improve most from game 1 to game 2.

Sedihawk said...

Anony, Doba used to say that all the time after we would lose to, say, Auburn or Wisconsin in week 1. I guess it helps to have Idaho on the schedule for week 2 :)

From a distance Cal looks like a powerhouse, but then when you peel away the layers you see that they are as vulnerable as anyone coming into the year. They have holes just like anyone else. But Tedford has recruited extremely well these last few years, and we'll see first-hand the fruits of that labor. But again, getting them early as possible, in Pullman, might be the best chance at an upset. They might be one of those teams that gets off to a slow start, but by the later part of the year is playing as well as anyone.

We'll see! Our first two games look intriguing as hell.

ptowncoug said...

Let's not forget that we should have beat CAL in the great "fake punt" game.
One of the many times I questioned who was making the decisions for the Cougs.

Sedihawk said...

Ah, yes, ptown. Who can ever forget Scott Davis taking that snap and the collective "WTF?!!" thoughts that ran through Cougar Nation that evening. What a weird game,too. Brink only had 4 completions at the half, but had nearly 180 yards passing. Hill was just huge in that game too. That '05 team was sure frustrating, all those close losses. 4-7 could have easily been 7-4. Too bad they couldn't have built upon that season in '06 and finished the deal.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick correction, Thompson never played WR. He started as a CB as a true Frosh.

Great review, I look forward to more.

Sedihawk said...

Anonymous, didn't Thompson RS as a true frosh? I thought I read that he came in as a WR but switched to corner, then started and made all-frosh as a redshirt. I could be wrong but I thought he was a touted WR prospect who crossed over to the other side.

Anonymous said...

No, started at CB as a true freshman. Was victimized for 2 TDs in the opener debacle at Tenn, and then recovered to be Pac-10 all-freshman team.

CougarJen said...

Thompson redshirted after all. The author was right.

2005: Redshirt.

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