Cal game preview

There's not much golden in the ‘03 version of the Cal Bears but that doesn't mean there aren't a few nuggets to build a fortune on.



There's not much golden in the ‘03 version of the Cal Bears but that doesn't mean there aren't a few nuggets to build a fortune on. 


Jeff Tedford, was and is the best thing to happen to the University of Oregon since Rich Brooks went to the NFL.  He might be the best thing to happen to Cal since the Stanford band hit the field and Superman Chuck Muncie carried the rock nearly twenty years ago. He sure as heck has people forgetting the last man who actually coached the Bears...and no, I'm not talking Holmoe.  Steve Mariucci was the man and after turning the Cal program around in one short season, then continuiing the journey with the San Francisco 49ers before blessing Detroit with his leadership skills, he managed to pull one more class move in the Bay area when he phoned San Jose State's Perry the major stud who, as an amputee returned to the gridiron to show the meaning of true grit, to wish him well on his return to the game.  Yeah, Cal has always had head coaches who leave their mark, either good or bad and they got a good one this time round in Jeff Tedford. 


Tedford is an innovator.  He's been involved with the development of some of the game's best quarterbacks.  From Trent Dilfer, the Fresno State qb responsible for Larry Smith's demise to the underachieving Kyle Boller, who now finds himself under center in the NFL - Tedford is in the process of rebuilding Cal football.  And with new quarterback Aaron Rodgers, he has found the arm to continue that process.


Rodgers, now a sophomore, started his college career at Butte JC, next door to Chico State.  Chico State, long known for its party atmosphere was just far enough away from Butte to not be a distraction to young Rodgers.  During that first year at Butte, he led the program to a 10-2 season.  The kid's got an arm and thanks to Tedford, he's got a game too. 


In Cal's 31-24 victory over Illini Rodgers completed 26 of 42 passes for 360 yards and 3 touchdowns as a reserve.  Actually, Rodgers officially supplanted a very ineffective Reggie Robertson with four minutes left in the first quarter against Illinois and will remain Cal's starter until he graduates.  The kid is big, fast and smart - clearly, next to Tedford, the best thing Cal has going for it.  The biggest question mark for Cal is whether or not, the sprained index finger on Rodgers' throwing hand becomes enough of a problem to cause the new first stringer to tap out before the game is done.


Alright, I did say there were a few nuggets to build a fortune on, so obviously the mining is not done.  To play pitch and catch successfully the guy throwing the ball, has to have someone there to catch it.  Rogers does in Geoff McArthur, Jonathan Makonnen and Burl Toler, who have all have been productive through the early part of this season.  He also has a play maker in the pint-sized speedster Vincent "No, I'm not a B-Movie Actor" Strang - that's what I think of, at least, every time I see his name in print.  Hopefully the Trojans will never see Strang's name cause if they do, that will mean they're reading it off the back of his jersey, which of course would conclude he's just blown past them on a deep post.  Actually, if Strang, being the size of an under supplemented Flash Candela, attempts to go across the middle, he might think he's acting in a horror flick when SC's secondary lays him out.


Another bit of gold playing for the Bears this year is one of my favorite players from Newport Harbor High, Chris Manderino.  I remember seeing this young man do his best impression of our own beloved Groots during his senior year and I thought, no prayed he'd find his way to SC.  Instead, he walked on at Cal - could you imagine Groots walking on anywhere?  Okay, I could too cause Groots is a stud and if he wasn't invited to play for a team, he'd just invite himself till someone wrote a check.  Well, that is what Manderino did.  Never a small kid, Manderino is now a 230 pound fullback and will be a force for Cal throughout his time there.  I've given this young man major props by comparing him to the best football player on USC's squad.  He's no Matt G. but he does have game and could give the Trojans fits if they don't cover him out of the backfield.  Pay attention, there will be some big time hits between these two football studs.  Most who go up against Groots don't live to tell the tale, but Manderino might be #6's best match. 


We all know you have to spend money to make money and Coach Tedford just went through what little gold Cal had on the above players.  After these boys hit the field, there really isn't much else to get excited about.   The Bears graduated nine starters from last year's average defense.  Defensive Coordinator Bob Gregory, has been shuffling players the way a pit boss goes through stiff fingered dealers, praying for a way to stop teams from moving the ball on them.  Cal has given up 418 yards per game.  Against Illinois, Jon Beutjer threw for 430 yards alone.  Gregory has been forced to go deep into a paper thin bench, playing more true freshmen than a sorority pledge class.  In his favor, Cal has already played five games and through that trial by fire a defense is being forged but it won't be in time to stop the Trojans.  No, the best defense on the field will belong to a very balanced USC football team.


Balance is not a term one would use to describe the Cal offense.  As solid as their passing game has been, with Rogers earning a lofty 151.29 qb rating, their ground game has offered little support.  Starting tailback "Formerly known as Joe," Adimchinobe Echemandu, has managed a paltry 69 yards per game.  This has put Cal into a very one-dimensional attack, using the pass for nearly 75% of their offense.  As good a coach as Tedford is, we all know what the SC defense does to one-dimensional opponents - especially when they have two weeks to prepare for them.  It could get ugly.  As much as Cal fans love their new football coach, muck like their predecessors loved their country, we might see football tickets being burned in place of draft cards.  Cal is a season or two away from being a very good team. That being said, it will not be a walk in the park for the USC Trojans.  Cal should provide Troy with their toughest test of the season.  Then again, USC has yet to really face a test this year.  For those who point to BYU as such an example, I say you can take that finger and go on a mission.  SC was only tested by itself and even then, that was only for one quarter.  That is what makes Cal a difficult assignment.  It might be too easy to look past the Bears.  Too easy for any team, other than the USC Trojans.


Pete Carroll & Company have done a remarkable job in developing their Trojan squad.   The talent at every position is tough to match.  Beyond that, what has made this staff so impressive is not just the level of skill they have developed in each player, but the level of maturity.  You never hear Trojan players pulling a Ryan McCann by asking the nation who else their team has to beat to be declared number one.  No, this team has the mantra down "one game at a time."  Because of that, USC will not find themselves looking beyond the Cal Bears this coming Saturday.  


It's been two weeks since the Trojans have played any football.  They have spent that time getting healthy and integrating several players into this weeks game plan.  It is going to be very exciting to see how this new and improved Trojan squad performs.


Beyond the usual suspects, like SC's defensive and offensive line, the players to watch will be Matt Grootegoed, who makes his return to Cal in a flex-linebacker position after breaking his leg there two years ago;  the entire Trojan secondary who will get tested all day long against a bright and talented quarterback.  On offense - Brandon Hancock making his first appearance of the ‘03 season and a player that will surely add a major dimension to Norm Chow's offense; Whitney Lewis the freshmen phenom, now physically and mentally prepared to show the Trojan Family why he was a top rated football player coming out of high school; Steve Smith who will be left alone while Cal's rookie secondary doubles Keary and Mike. Dominique Byrd who is just beginning to display the skills Norm Chow thinks make him a spread the field type tight end; and finally Matt Lienart, who will continue to lead this team to victory.


Keys of the game:  Cal will not be able to run against SC's front seven and will be forced to feature the pass.  SC's secondary must come up big with turnovers and knock-aways.  On offense, SC must exploit Cal's young secondary early by stretching the field with the most talented wide receiver corps in the nation, then once Troy has gone up early, they must slow the pace of the game down and put their young backfield to work moving the ball on the ground, wearing Cal out and keeping the Bear's offense off the field.  And although it won't be how SC wins or Cal loses, Special Teams will be one more thorn in Cal's side.  They beleagured kicking game will continue to suffer, enough so that one, if not two scores for SC could result from Bear mistakes on Special Teams.


How they score:  Look for SC to put up 2 field goals, one touchdown off Special Teams, One through their dominant defense and three with a blossoming offense, giving SC 41.  Cal will put the ball in the endzone once early and once late, along with one field goal for 17 points.  SC covers and wins  41-17. Top Stories