One reasonJeff Tedford has been so successful at Cal has been his ability to recruit what he calls “difference makers” — football players who are capable of making the big plays that break a game open. Four of those players were keys in Saturday’s 49-21 win over Oregon State:
Receiver DeSean Jackson: His 80-yard punt return was probably the biggest play as Cal raced to a 42-14 halftime lead. As soon as Jackson broke through the first group of tacklers, he was gone. Potential tacklers downfield might have thought they had the angle on Jackson. But with his speed, he was able to get outside them and race down the sideline.
Running back Marshawn Lynch: It is a measure of Lynch’s ability that his 17 carries for 124 yards was a routine day. He’s a threat to break a long gainer every time he touches the ball because of his combination of speed and power, and he’s also a threat as a receiver. The Bears’ fourth touchdown Saturday was a 23-yard pass from Nate Longshore to Lynch.
Cornerback Daymeion Hughes: His 47-yard return of an interception just before the half illustrated his ability to blend his mental and physical game. When Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter checked off at the line of scrimmage, Hughes remembered from watching videos during the week that Carpenter usually threw underneath the coverage in that situation. Hughes moved up a few feet, so he was in position to cut in front of the ASU receiver to intercept the pass, stepping out of an attempted tackle by Carpenter on his way to the end zone. His touchdown was Cal’s sixth of the half.
Linebacker Mickey Pimentel: A junior college All-American before he transferred to Cal last season, Pimentel made an incredible play for the Bears’ final touchdown. Carpenter attempted to throw over the blitzing Pimentel, but Pimentel simply snatched the ball out of the air and then raced into the end zone, making a gymnastic jump and roll.
Even with these stars, Tedfordmakes sure they realize that the team is more important than the individual. When Lynch committed a stupid personal foul after a fourth-quarter run, Tedford sat him down for the rest of the game.
Surprisingly, Tedford has not yet been able to snare the Brady Quinn type quarterback. Longshore was named the No. 8 pro-style quarterback in the nation by Rivals.com, as a prep. Redshirt freshman Kevin Riley, son of coach Mike Riley, is highly regarded by Tedford and his staff; Riley was rated the top player in Oregon and the No. 6 quarterback in the country by Rivals.com.
But neither Longshore nor Riley was as highly rated as a prep as Stanford’s Trent Edwards, who was called the best passing quarterback in the country by USA Today.
Tedford has been able to get the best from Kyle Boller, Aaron Rodgers and now Longshore, who has had a superb last three games as Cal has rebounded from its embarrassing loss in the season opener at Tennessee. Now at No. 20, the Bears should be able to climb back into the top 10 eventually.
But if Tedford ever recruits a quarterback who is as good at his position as Jackson and Lynch are at theirs … well, a national championship isn’t an unreasonable dream.