Kevin Riley can become the next great Cal quarterback — if he doesn’t become the next Joe Ayoob.
Ayoob was a talented quarterback who transferred from City College of San Francisco in 2005 for his junior year. His confidence was destroyed by the boos he got at Memorial Stadium, as well as taunting by his fellow students, and he ended as a seldom-used backup in his senior year.
Riley subbed for the injured Nate Longshore against Oregon State on Saturday.
On the game’s last play, from the Beavers 12-yard line, he tried to run instead of throwing an incomplete pass, which would have stopped the clock and enabled the Bears to try a game-tying field goal. That put him in the media spotlight.
But Kevin Riley did not lose that game. His teammates did. If they had played well, the game wouldn’t have been close.
Longshore’s absence didn’t cost them the game, either. It might have been worse with him because the pass protection was often so bad that he would have been a sitting duck. The more mobile Riley was able to get passes off at times when the protection broke down.
This was just a terrible game for the once-No. 2 Bears. At times, it appeared that they were playing together for the first time. Their execution, especially on plays requiring deception, was awful. They were out of sync the whole game.
Another point: The squib kick after Cal had scored just before the end of the first half put the Beavers into position for Alexis Serna to kick a 52-yard field goal. If Serna had not kicked that field goal, the score would have been tied in the closing seconds and Cal coach Jeff Tedford would certainly have called for a field goal to win the game.
Meanwhile, it was Riley who gave the Bears their chance to win. When they were down 31-21, with just 6:13 left in the game, he hit Lavelle Hawkins (who had a great game) on a crossing pattern and Hawkins ran away from the defense for a 64-yard touchdown.
Then, starting the next series at the Cal 5, Riley moved the Bears down to the Oregon State 12. He tried to do too much on the next play, running when he thought he saw an opening. But the Bears wouldn’t even have been in that position if it weren’t for him.
That’s what we should remember, not just one unfortunate play.
There were other Riley plays that showed what he can become with more experience. His first touchdown pass was a beauty, as he zipped it to Hawkins in the end zone. His 3-yard run for a touchdown showed his mobility.
But the most significant play of all was the one that set up that touchdown run. Operating from the Oregon State 32, Riley was under great pressure from Oregon State rushers and had to scramble. But he always kept his eyes downfield, which is a characteristic that separates good quarterbacks from mere scramblers, and he hit Robert Jordan on the sideline for a 29-yard gain.
It’s unclear how much Riley will play the rest of the season because nobody can predict when Longshore’s ankle will be healed. But I hope the next time Riley plays at Memorial Stadium, he’sgreeted by cheers. He’s going to be a great quarterback, if he just gets the fans’ support.