Coach Tedford said that defensive-coordinator Bob Gregory had been studying the Texas Tech game films, not only looking at ways to defend the scheme, but also to see what plays and sets New Mexico State might try to use to benefit from that which worked against Cal in the bowl game.
"The key," said Tedford, "is to stop the big plays, to keep everything in front of you. We have to make them earn every yard they get."
Tedford redirected the press conference focus to what he believes the main issues are that the team faces this week: "We have not come close to our potential as a team yet, not in any part of the game. We have to develop consistency in all three phases of football."
"People ask me about Joe Ayoob's consistency, but it's not all about him. When a receiver runs a wrong route, or breaks it off too soon, or if a defensive back knocks a wide receiver off-stride – those are not all Joe's problems. We're working with the inexperience we have at wide receiver with our young guys, and Craig Stevens at tight end – even though he played a lot last year, he was not running a lot of pass routes."
Tackling – in general – will have to improve, said Tedford. He noted that the Illinois running back was better than expected – he ran low and hard – and when Cal linebackers and DBs would "fly to the ball and put a hard lick on the guy, he wouldn't go down."
"You also have to put an arm-wrap on the guy and run through his feet." We'll take that latter phrase to mean tackling right through the runner to take him completely off-stride.
With both Andrew Cameron and Aaron Merz suffering from concussions, Tedford addressed the difficulties that caused the staff in their planning. "It's really tough. You really don't know the outcome. It's not like an ankle injury where you can see and feel the healing process – with a concussion it could be two days, it could be three weeks, you just never know."
"And you can't afford to be wrong."
The absence of these two front line players created opportunities for others to step up – primarily Scott Smith at left tackle and Bryan Deemer at right guard, though Erik Robertson and Alex Mack played as well. Experience for these second tier guys will not only help line depth this season, it will also help prepare these players to be the front-line guys next year.
"Smith played real well," said Tedford. "Deemer can probably do better on a number of plays given the opportunity. He probably had a few more plays like that than he'd prefer."
"Merz and Cameron will continue to be day-by-day decisions – we may decide on travel day (Thursday this week) whether or not they will accompany the team. Greg Van Hoesen and Marshawn are day-to-day decisions too. Van Hoesen is hampered a bit by his sore ankle, as is Worell Williams – both are hobbled somewhat. Williams may be a little better off – he's had a bit longer to recover.
"Marshawn ran yesterday (Monday) but did not participate in any team drills. The pain in his hand is lessening somewhat. We're hoping to have Noah Smith back practicing with the team by the bye week – October 29th."
"Felder will start. He's been all over the field, making a lot happen. He's definitely a sideline-to-sideline guy."
It is indeed remarkable for freshmen linebackers to accomplish so much so early in their first year. Tedford attributes that to the two getting a lot of coaching from linebacker coach Justin Wilcox, and to getting a lot of playing time.
"Part of it," said Tedford, "is that they have the speed to recover from their mistakes." Both Felder and Follet are attentive and mature, says Tedford, and "they pay attention to details."
* * * * *
As is customary at media press conferences, opposing head coaches teleconference for 15 minutes or so with local beat writers. Tuesday, partly due to bad traffic delaying the arrival of writers, but also clearly because writers knew there was little the coach could say that would be of interest to Cal readers, few even bothered to step over to the conference table. Those who did walked away with puzzled expressions, wondering aloud if there was even one worthwhile quote in what was said.
There was one: "The way our team tries to achieve offensive balance [rather than by run vs. pass] is by making sure the ball gets thrown to all our wide receivers," said Coach Hal Mumme.
The teleconference lasted four minutes and two seconds.
* * * * *
Marcus O'Keith, or MOK as he is affectionately known on The Bear Insider, is off to a sterling start, averaging 11.9 yards on his 20 carries in three games. He has Cal's longest run of the season, 71 yards vs. Washington, and is tied with Tom Schneider as the team's leading scorer.
Not bad for a sub.
We asked (6-1, 190 lb) Marcus about his goals, his thought processes, when he gets handed the ball in the backfield.
Unabashedly, he says, "My main goal is to score a touchdown every time I touch the ball. That's why I put so much effort into every run.
"I do look at the down and distance on every play, so if it's 3rd and two, I first make sure I get that first down. After that, it's the touchdown I want. Every time I run, I want to make a difference.
"Even before the ball gets in my hands, I read the defense and count the numbers on the side where I'm running the ball to, trying to see where my blockers are going to be and how many guys I have to beat.
"If, then, everything goes wrong, well that's when my instincts start popping in, deciding like how I can make something out of the situation.
"Of course during the whole week, with my running back coach, Coach G (coach Ron Gould), we work on our steps so that once game time comes it's just like second nature to us. We do those drills every day, we work on them hard every day.
"Once I get past the front line – past the first five yards – and I have a chance to read the secondary, I feel like I have the advantage to make some moves in order to get to the end zone.
"The linemen in front of me – they all block very well, exceptionally well, so I never have to worry about that. Basically, they just pancake their men. I do watch to see which way they get their block going so that I can go the other way – that helps make the block easier for the O-line too."
* * * * *
Senior linebacker Ryan Foltz (6-2, 225) has notched 16 solo tackles for the Bears in the first three games, second only to JC transfer Desmond Bishop who has 20. Ryan has in the past expressed his regrets about losing (to graduation) the cohesiveness of the unit that developed last year, but now speaks with pleasure about the rapid development of both the players and the integration of the unit this year.
"I think we're playing well, each of us carrying out our responsibilities. In this last game (vs. Illinois) we didn't tackle as well as we wanted to, but that's what we're working on now and hopefully that will improve as the season goes on."
We repeated to Foltz what Tedford had said about tackling – see above – and Ryan agreed. "Exactly, we need to do better tackling like I said. That back was good, he ran low to the ground, but we have to face good backs in our conference every week – so it was good practice."
We asked Ryan about defending against the spread offense – from where a linebacker stands on the field.
"Well, we're obviously a little bit less concerned about stopping the run against these guys. They ran the ball, what, eleven times last game? So you shift a little bit away from stopping the run and focus more on pass responsibilities, whether in man-to-man or zone underneath. Sometimes we will line up a little deeper, we can cheat a bit towards their tendencies, but that also depends on down-and-distance.
"On film it looks like New Mexico State has some wide receivers who can make plays consistently – they can get open, they can catch the ball. We know we will have to come out and play well to beat these guys."
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