Why Kevin Riley Should Start for Cal
Eluding a hard pass rush, Riley slipped off to his left and kept his eyes downfield. He spotted DeSean Jackson and, though off balance, threw an excellent pass, to the outside, where only Jackson could catch it. Jackson made a nice adjustment, and the Bears were on the board for the first time.
Later, Riley would also run for a first down on a play when his receivers were covered, and, finally, for a one-yard touchdown. His passing stats were also out of this world, 16 of 19 for 269 yards and three touchdowns, but it is his mobility that sets him apart from Nate Longshore. If Longshore had been the quarterback on the play mentioned above, there were three possible outcomes: (1) He would have been sacked; (2) He would have thrown an incomplete, off-balance pass; or (3) He would have been intercepted.
Since Longshore came back from what was called a high ankle sprain, though it apparently was a fracture of a small bone in his foot, Cal head coach Jeff Tedford had stuck with him because he felt Longshore had a more complete understanding of the offense than Riley.
But Riley demolished that argument with his play against the Air Force. As Tedford noted after the game, Riley managed the game very well, showing great composure and confidence as he directed six touchdown drives.
There was another significant factor: His teammates came alive when Riley came into the game. In fairness to Longshore, he did not have either Jackson or Robert Jordan, who had been benched in the first quarter, apparently for missing a team meeting, and they were both huge factors in the Bears’ comeback. Still, it was impossible not to notice how much better the team played with Riley at quarterback.
For some time, I had heard that Cal players were unhappy that Tedford was sticking with Longshore, as I wrote in an Examiner column just before I went on vacation, and their spirited play once Riley came into the game tends to support that. Jackson even suggested after the game that he might stay for his senior year if Riley were the quarterback. I don’t expect that to happen. Jackson is projected as a mid- to late-round first pick in the NFL draft, but when he goes to the combine, he’ll be off the charts in everything and he’ll shoot up to a top 10 pick without playing another down. Guaranteed.
Except for the play when he had brain-lock at the end of the Oregon State game, Riley has played very well in his two extended stints. He is probably a more accurate passers than Longshore, and he is a strong leader.
But the biggest factor is his mobility. In both the NFL and at the top level of collegiate play, a quarterback must be able to elude a hard rush, to give himself more time to throw. There are quarterbacks who are not good runners who can do that, by taking a slide step in the pocket; Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are probably the best examples. It’s even better, though, if you have a quarterback like Riley who can run when receivers aren’t open.
Longshore was certainly playing better before he was hurt, but his lack of mobility even when healthy is a serious detriment. During the telecast of the bowl game, producers put up a graphic showing how much poorer Longshore’s career statistics were in the fourth quarter of games, compared to what he did in the first three quarters. Against top opponents, that’s critical, because the fourth quarter is the time when a quarterback faces maximum pressure, with the game on the line.
Longshore is a bright and personable young man, and I admire him for his courage in playing through an injury. But Riley is the better quarterback. There is no compelling reason he shouldn’t start next fall.
CRUISING, CRUISING: My wife, Nancy, and I have just returned from our second cruise in three months, but they were quite different cruises. The first one, to the Eastern Mediterranean in late September, was a voyage of discovery, a fantastic educational experience as we tramped through historical sites in Greece, Turkey, Ukraine and Egypt. This one was more a voyage of recovery as we spent Christmas week with our son and daughter-in-law, Scott and Sarah, on a week-long cruise aboard the Dawn Princess down the “Mexican Riviera”, from San Diego to Puerto Vallarta and back.
The Mexican ports aren’t much, though we were pleasantly surprised by Puerto Vallarta, but we had a great time. Princess did a great job of decorating the ship for Christmas and with special Christmas-related activities. There were many families aboard and we greatly enjoyed watching the children, though the number of children aboard is probably why I’m suffering from a cold today. Kids are the most efficient way of transporting germs.
The four of us had decided this was a better way to celebrate Christmas than the orgy of gift-giving we’d fallen into, and we enjoyed it so much, we’re already planning a cruise to the Caribbean next Christmas.
BOWL GAME NOTES:
Probably nothing is more indicative of the flaws within the BCS system than the fact that seven teams from the Big Ten, the weakest of the top conferences, made it into bowl games. USC demolished Illinois, 49-17, in the Rose Bowl, the eight-largest blowout in the game’s history. Was anybody surprised?
Nobody should have been surprised, either, by Georgia’s smashing of previously undefeated Hawaii. The Warriors were everybody’s feel-good story this season, but they played a very soft schedule and often struggled even against those teams.
STEROIDS HYSTERIA: I’m still getting those e-mails from readers who think that steroids are the end of the world as we know it. The latest came from a reader who told me that, if my grandchildren took steroids to become better athletes, it would be my fault because I’ve approved of steroids use. Wow! Pretty heavy stuff there.
Of course, I’ve never advocated steroid use. What I have written is that, if athletes think a drug will help them to better performances, there is no way of stopping them. I don’t think that can be seriously argued. In individual sports, there has been stricter testing, but the Players Association won’t agree to that in baseball and the top players make so much money, they can buy the latest non-detectable drugs.
I’ve also written that it’s ridiculous to call this the worst era in baseball. I’ve lived through eras when players showed up drunk for games, followed by another era in which they were zoned out on “recreational drugs.” Those players were cheating the fans. So, now we’re supposed to condemn players for taking drugs which improve their play?
Of course, I’m trying to look at this realistically, instead of trying to re-live my childhood, when we thought players were noble and valiant men.
The weakest argument of all is that athletes should take responsibility for youths who follow their example. In previous eras, athletes endorsed cigarets, but nobody condemned them for that, even though, when I was growing up, they were already known as “coffin nails.”
Parents should be responsible for their sons’ behavior. If they’re willing to abdicate that responsibility, they shouldn’t expect athletes to fill the void.
LOOKING FOR NFL PLAYOFF GAME TICKETS? They’re available on the TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS! link at the bottom of my Home Page. Tickets are also available for the Warriors and all NBA games, and for top college basketball games. In the entertainment world, the hot tickets for Van Halen, Neil Young, Garth Brooks, Hannah Montana, Bon Jovi and the Spice Girls are available, as are tickets for Broadway shows like Wicked, Jersey Boys and The Color Purple. Just click on either the Bay Area or national link and everything will come up.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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