It's All About Ayoob. . . Or Is It?
As soon as Ayoob’s pass sailed over the head of a wide-open David Gray in overtime of Saturday’s loss to Oregon, I got a torrent of e-mails from angry fans, but Jeff Tedford’s view of the loss is much more balanced. “It seems we were out of sync all day,” he told me after yesterday’s media lunch. “Sometimes, Joe’s passes were on the money and receivers dropped them. Other times, they were open and he overthrew them. Other times, the (pass) protection wasn’t there.”
A reader, Daniel Wolfe, who once lived in the East Bay and now lives in Eugene, accurately predicted last week that the weather would sabotage the Bears. In fact, Cal often struggles in the rain and cold weather of games in the northwest; the Bears haven’t won in Eugene since 1987. It was obvious Saturday that they were uncomfortable playing in a cold drizzle, though the hard rain that had been predicted didn't materialize until late in the game.
The unfortunate result of the focus on Ayoob is the abuse he takes during and after games. A friend of the family told me that his mother won’t even come to the games because she’s so upset at what she hears. I sincerely hope none of you are among those keeping her away. It’s one thing to berate NFL players because they’re paid very well, but Cal players have only their scholarships. Most of them will never even play professionally. They shouldn’t have to put up with abuse. Save it for Raider games.
And, let’s also be realistic about what’s happened this year. It isn’t all about Ayoob.
I’m among those who are seriously disappointed about this season. I thought a 9-2 season was well within reach. Now, even to get to 7-4 means winning one of the last two games, against USC Saturday or Stanford in the Big Game. (Not incidentally, the Sacramento State win does count toward a bowl bid, so the Bears are already bowl-eligible.)
My expectations were based on the young Bears getting experience in the early part of the schedule, which was very soft, and being ready for the tough games later. That seemed to be the way it was working when they won their first five, including a 28-0 win over Arizona in which they dominated on both sides of the ball.
Then, it all fell apart. The offense played well against UCLA, but a collapse on special teams and defense allowed the Bruins to come from a 40-28 deficit to win, 47-40.
The Oregon State game which followed was an absolute disaster. Perhaps it was a letdown from the UCLA loss, but whatever, it was the worst game I’ve seen a Tedford team play. In all phases of the game, the Bears stunk.
The Washington State game wasn’t much better, though Ayoob saved it with late-game heroics against a team which has yet to win a conference game. For all the problems in Eugene, that game was probably the best the Bears have played since the third quarter of the UCLA game.
WHEN I TALKED to Tedford in the spring, he foresaw the problems Ayoob would have in adjusting to a conventional offense, after playing the spread formation at CCSF for two years. Tedford had said there would be open competition for the starting job between Ayoob and Nate Longshore, who had been a Parade All-American as a prep. At the end of summer camp, Tedford made Longshore the starter, but Longshore broke his leg in the opener and Ayoob was thrust into the starting role.
Some people think Ayoob will not be able to adjust to a conventional offense in time to do anything at Cal, but Tedford is not one of them. “I think he’s made great progress in learning the system,” he said, “though he hasn’t always had the consistency we’d like.”
One of Ayoob’s problems in the Oregon game was that he simply hadn’t had much practice time with his main receivers, Robert Jordan and DeSean Jackson, both of whom had been injured. It’s vital that a quarterback has extensive practice time with his receivers, so he knows how to judge their speed in getting to the ball. That was obviously a problem for Ayoob last Saturday.
Ayoob’s problems have led some readers to suggest that redshirt freshman Kyle Reed be played, but Tedford has said Reed isn’t ready and Troy Taylor, who went through that experience in 1986, says that would be a bad idea.
Taylor had redshirted the first four games in 1986, Joe Kapp’s last season, but after a 1-3 start for the Bears, Kapp told Taylor he might be activated.
“I told him, if I were going to play, I wanted to start the game,” Taylor remembered. “I didn’t want to come in during the game because that would have meant the team was losing and I’d be in trouble right away.
“Frankly, I thought after that conversation, I wouldn’t play, but we had a quarterbacks meeting and Joe said I’d be the starter. It was a challenge, for sure. I had just three days to take reps with the first team, and then I was thrown in there.”
Taylor went on to have a record-setting career at Cal, but that first season was rocky. With him at quarterback, the Bears lost their next six games before winning a very emotional Big Game after Kapp had announced before the game that he’d be leaving.
“I saw Kyle in camp and was impressed with him physically,” said Taylor, who is now the analyst on Cal radio games. “But, he’s in the same situation I was in, just running the ‘Scout’ team offense (the opposing team). He hasn’t had any time running the regular offense. It would be too much to expect him to just jump in there. He really needs the chance to go through spring practice, when the offense is put in.”
NEXT SPRING, I would anticipate a spirited competition for the starting job between Ayoob, Longshore and Reed.
For now, though, it has to be Ayoob. Though there’s been a big buildup for Saturday’s game, it’s unrealistic to expect the Bears to upset the Trojans, who have steamrolled everybody but Notre Dame. But if the Bears win the Big Game, they’ll finish 7-4 and, hopefully, go to a decent bowl game, which is important. The game gives the coaches additional time with their players and the national TV exposure helps recruiting.
Though a 7-4 season is a comedown from 9-2 expectations, it will still give Tedford’s teams at least seven wins in each of the last four seasons, the first time that has been done since the Pappy Waldorf teams did it six straight years, 1947-52. So, maybe we can cut the Bears and Joe Ayoob some slack.
RE CRUISE: Some e-mails regarding the Sept. 28 cruise group I'm organizing were inadvertently deleted, due to my technological ignorance. If you e-mailed me for information re the cruise and have not received any, please e-mail me again, and I promise this time I'll make sure it's forwarded to Janice Hough, the travel agent who is working with me on this project.
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