There is no one subject more hotly discussed among Cal football fans than Jeff Tedford’s decision to stick with his beleaguered and injured quarterback Nate Longshore.
And, it’s not just the fans who have been disturbed. I’ve heard from a reliable source that many of the players hoped he’d make the shift to redshirt freshman Kevin Riley. I asked Tedford, in an one-
on-one conversation before Thursday’s media lunch, whether any players had come to him directly.
"No," he said, "that hasn’t happened, but we [coaches] have talked to the team about this, and we’ve also gone over the videos of games to show them what’s happened."
As a former quarterback himself, Tedford is aware of the reality: Quarterbacks get more than their share of praise when the team wins and more blame than they deserve when the team loses.
"With the videos, we’ve tried to show our team that it isn’t just the quarterback," Tedford said. "Sometimes, a receiver will fall down and the quarterback gets blamed when his pass goes long. On the videos, we could see that blocks weren’t made when they should have been, that defensive players didn’t fill the gaps as they should have."
I’m not a Longshore admirer and I’d have liked Riley to play more, too. Tedford said he hopes to play Riley some in the Armed Forces Bowl against Air Force on Dec. 31.
"We’d like to get him some more game experience," he said. But Longshore will start and any meaningful competition for the No. 1 job will have to wait for spring drills.
Longshore’s play has declined since he was injured in the win over Oregon, the highpoint of the Bears’ season, but there have been many other problems. The defense has seldom played well and the last two games, when they lost to Washington and Stanford, the two worst teams in the Pac-10 Conference, the Bears’ lack of emotion has been embarrassing. The Washington game was the worst I’ve seen by a Tedford-coached team.
One of the big problems this season has been a lack of player leadership. Last season, the Bears had strong leaders on both sides of the ball, with Marshawn Lynch on offense and Desmond Bishop on defense. Players listened to them because, as the saying goes, they walked the walk and talked the talk.
This year, there’s been nobody who could inspire the players when the season started to go wrong. Those who talk to other players aren’t big contributors themselves, so nobody listens to them. The top playmakers haven’t been players who want to be vocal.
On talent, the Bears should beat Air Force, but that assessment could have been made of at least four of the games the Bears have lost. Unless they regain their spirit, they’ll lose again.
Tedford said at the luncheon that he thought his players had been invigorated by the layoff before preparations resumed for the bowl game. It seemed that way to me, too, at a Tuesday practice I witnessed. Though it was pouring rain, players were playing with enthusiasm, running hard through their routines and often shouting with joy as something went right.
Hopefully they can continue that enthusiasm right through the bowl game, and the quarterback controversy can be momentarily put aside. There will be plenty of time for that in the spring.