September 26, 2008

Behind Enemy Lines: Athletic Cal squad ready for CSU

After a big win over the Houston Cougars last week, the Colorado State Rams haven't had much time to enjoy the fruits of their labor, preparing for a very athletic California Bears program which has produced several NFL prospects over the last three years. This year is no different as the Rams will come face-to-face with future professional football players like Jahvid Best and Worell Williams Saturday in Berkley. This week we talked with football writer Chris Nguon of the rivals.com network site www.bearterritory.net about Cal and their prospects for this weekend's game.

Greenandgoldnews.com: What is the Bears' mood after the loss to Maryland. It seems like the team had a lot of confidence and momentum and dropped a tough one to a team that most thought they should have beat. After a bye week, what is the mood of the team?

Chris Nguon: The mood is very positive around the program. Since the moment the team loss to Maryland, the obvious question posed to coaches and players by media members was simply to ask how the senior leadership will approach the bye and the rest of the year. After the colossal collapse last season, which saw the Bears lose six of their last seven regular season games after being ranked No. 2 in the country, there was strong grumblings around the program that proper senior leadership wasn't in place. Dynamic linebacker Zack Follett for instance, was very critical of that aspect of the team late last season. Everyone who we have spoken with this week leading up to the contest against the Rams have stated on and off the record that they will have no problem bouncing back from the defeat to the Terrapins. Of course, same statements were made all of last season as well so college football fans will just have to wait and see what happens.

G&Gnews.com: When you look at the stat sheet, the biggest thing that jumps out to anyone researching Cal is the balanced offensive attack (243 ypg passing; 210 running).  What is the key to the Bear's attack and how have teams tried to defend what seems to be a very athletic attack?

CN: When anyone mentions the name of Cal head coach Jeff Tedford, the first thing that pops up is usually great quarterbacking and a dynamic  passing attack. However, what gets lost in that discussion is how effective Tedford's running game has been over the years. In fact, you can make a strong argument that the Bears have had a stronger rushing attack than a passing game since Tedford has been at the helm. Last season, Justin Forsett led the Pac-10 in total rushing yards and in 2006, Marshawn Lynch earned the conference offensive player of the year honor. Tedford has always had a 1,000 yard plus rusher and it'll be no different this year. Over the years, teams have given the Cal offense trouble when they've been able to stop the run. Last week against Maryland for example, the Terrapins played tremendous gap control defense, putting 8-9 players in the box and anticipated runs very well. The Bears have always tried to combat those defensive tendencies with screens, draws and mis-direction tosses to their 'backs in hopes of getting their speedy guys on the edge.

Jahvid Best's name is all over the stat sheet, as he leads the team in running, receiving and returning. What are his strengths and what will impress CSU fans about him when they see him on Saturday?

CN: USC fans might not want to hear it, but you can make a strong case that Jahvid Best is the best running back in the Pac-10. Best is as explosive as any ballcarrier on the West Coast, combining a 10.3 100 yard dash speed with excellent cut-back ability. The sophomore is a quiet guy off the field, but he certainly lets his play do the talking for him on the field. Best needs to get better running between the tackles, but when he gets a crease, the potential for a big run is massive. In fact, midway through the third quarter of Cal's season-opener against Michigan State, Best took a handoff off left tackle and actually ran into wide receiver and teammate Sean Young, who was trying to get in position to make a block down the field. The conclusion after the game from Young and quarterback Kevin Riley was that Best ran too fast through the line of scrimmage. Best also has a great pair of mitts coming out of the backfield and understands how to set up blocks when returning kickoffs as well.

G&Gnews.com: Defensively, the Bears come in allowing 2.5 yards per rush and have a heralded front seven. Tell us about the Bears up front and how they have done in the past against the run.

CN: Simply put, Cal was gashed all season last year defensively. The Bears weren't very good defending the pass and they were down right terrible trying to stop the run, especially in the second half of last year. So, the coaching staff changed the defensive scheme to a quicker 3-4 set this season and going away from the base 4-3 defense. The results have been positive so far. Cal's strength in the front 7 is its linebacking play, as the Bears feature three senior 'backers (Zack Follett, Worrell Williams, Anthony Felder) that have All-Conference type talent. Cal limited talented Michigan State running back Javon Ringer to 88 yards rushing on 27 carries. Since then, Ringer hasn't gone below 135 yards. One of the first things Rams fans will notice about the Bears defense is how much faster they are with that extra linebacker on the field. Last season, Kyle Bellran extremely tough against Cal, racking up 102 yards and two touchdowns. The Bears remember that and they hope to limit Colorado State to under 75 yards rushing Saturday afternoon.

G&Gnews.com: Describe the game of Cal quarterback Kevin Reilly and what he brings to the table.

CN: The announcement during Fall Camp by Jeff Tedford that Kevin Riley had beat out incumbent starter Nate Longshore was a surprise to say the least. Riley isn't the most physically imposing signal-caller out there, but you'll be hard pressed to find a tougher guy under center. When teams have been able to force Riley into being a pocket passer, the sophomore has been inaccurate at times trying to hit receivers down the field. However, when Riley needs to improvise when the pocket breaks down, he almost always turns the play into some positive yardage. Riley is also more of a risk taker than Longshore as well, always looking to heave the ball down the field.

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