BERKELEY-Today's 52-3 win by the Cal football team over UC Davis can be boiled down to just four words: Keenan Allen is good. Really good. As good as advertised? Better. Ok, so maybe that was a few more than just four.
"He's good, obviously," laughed senior quarterback Kevin Riley. "Like we said during camp, when you asked me a question about Keenan Allen, I always chuckled to myself and said, 'He's pretty good.'"
And now, Bears fans know exactly why. The true freshman caught four passes for 120 yards and a touchdown, rushed three times for 38 yards and a touchdown, and returned a kickoff for 18 yards. That's 176 all-purpose yards, for those scoring at home.
"He's just a natural with the ball in his hands," Riley said. "He has great vision on the field, and you've just got to give him the chance to make a play."
From the first time that Allen touched the football on Saturday, he was simply electrifying. In the first quarter, on second-and-10 from the Cal 32, Riley found a wide-open Allen just a touch behind the line of scrimmage. Allen left three defenders in his wake as he juked and hammered his way for a 17-yard gain. Not a bad start to a college career.
"I was real nervous, because I knew it was coming to me," Allen said. "The DB was off a little bit, so I just tried to make a play, and get as much as I could."
After having fumbled away the Bears' first drive on a botched snap, Riley kept the second one going strong. After Allen's debut touch, and a 17-yard first-down scamper by backup tailback Isi Sofele, Riley pump-faked his way to a 23-yard scoring strike to starting tailback Shane Vereen.
"That was a play that we'd been practicing all week," Vereen said. "We saw the opportunity for it, and they actually gave us a little bit of a different look than what we were expecting, but the O-line gave Kev time to set back there and put one up, and he threw a nice ball."
With that reception, Cal was off to the races, scoring on its next two straight possessions, including a 13-yard laser from Riley to Marvin Jones over the middle of the end zone, and yet another showstopping dazzler by Allen.
On first-and-10 from the Aggies' 22, Riley handed off to Vereen for a gain of four. Then Allen took a reverse all the way to the east sideline and set his feet for a pass. Seeing nobody open, Allen pulled the ball down, reversed field and scored on an 18-yard end-around, bringing the crowd of 58,040 to its feet and making the score 21-0 just minutes into the second quarter.
"It was actually supposed to be a pass," Allen said. "The person I was supposed to throw it to was kind of covered, so I just looked for a run, and I saw a whole bunch of people coming to the right, so I just cut it back, found my blockers and got behind them. I just think, 'look for the green grass,' because that's what I've been taught all my life-look for the green grass and run to it. Everybody was coming back to where I was, and then it all opened up and I took the other way around."
But, wait a second, isn't Zach Maynard supposed to be the quarterback in the family?
"He can throw," said Bears head coach Jeff Tedford. "That one play where he cut back across the field, he was supposed to throw that ball. But, he pulled it down and made something out of nothing. He can do almost anything. He's a great athlete."
The post-game interview session was an Allen lovefest.
"He's got size, and speed to go with it," Tedford said. "The body control, and his hands are excellent and he's a strong runner. For a guy that big, in an open field, he can make people miss, and that's a great combination. He can make guys miss in the open field, and he's not going to get taken down by any arm-tackles. He's 210 pounds and he's got great, strong legs and excellent hands."
Allen had yet another chance for some drama late in the second quarter, when, on second-and-eight from Cal's 48, Riley uncorked a bomb along the left sideline which settled neatly into a diving Allen's fingers before being jarred loose by the ground.
After a timeout, on the very next play, Allen hauled in a short dish from Riley and then weaved between defenders for a 45-yard gain, almost all of those yards after the catch.
"I was just thinking, 'stay levelheaded, and get it next time,' and then he threw me the ball," Allen said. "I thought I had that one when I hit the ground, but I came down pretty hard, kind of hurt my chest a little bit, but it was cool."
With Allen's catch getting the Bears down to the Davis seven-yard line, it was up to Vereen to pound it in, which he did with relative ease, going right up the middle to make it 28-0 for the first of two consecutive seven-yard TD runs.
Vereen ran off his second seven-yarder when Cal got the ball back when Aggies kickoff returner Elon Wyatt fumbled the ball at the end of a 14-yard return, which was recovered by J.P. Hurrell.
Vereen rushed for a game-high 70 yards on 14 carries, and pulled down two passes for 28 yards, including that scoring toss, before taking a seat for the second half and ceding the rest of the game to his trio of backups: Sofele (52 yards on nine touches), Dasarte Yarnway (five carries for 22 yards) and Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson (seven carries for 21 yards).
"The game was going well, and the coaches thought that it would be best if we could get the other guys in and get some reps," Vereen said. "I was happy with the decision."
Tedford, who was happy to be able to empty the bench and get most of the backups into the game, was a bit sour on Yarnway thanks to a fumble late in the game.
"Isi is going to be the backup, and Coach (Ron) Gould does a nice job of managing that, and he kind of goes by feel," Tedford said. "It's all on the field, and how they're doing, and Isi had some nice plays today. Covaughn got in there a little bit. Dasarte put the ball on the ground, so if he does that again, he'll probably be standing by me, most of the time, because we can't put the ball on the ground."
But, as well as the running backs performed, the bulk of the Bears' 517 total yards of offense came through the air. Riley and Beau Sweeney (6-of-8 for 29 yards) combined for 287 yards through the air, with the top two targets being Allen and Calvin.
"It's nice to have Keenan on the other side of Marv, because then you have two, 6-foot-3 receivers," Tedford said. "Marv made some nice plays, as well, today. You have two, 6-foot-3 guys that can run, so it makes it pretty solid there."
Allen's partner in crime, Jones, was effusive in his praise of his young protégé.
"He does that every day in practice, and every day throughout camp," Jones said. "I definitely wasn't surprised to see him do what he did. He has a good head on his shoulders, so I already knew that he was going to handle it well."
Jones was no slouch himself, catching a game-high five passes for 81 yards and a score, including a career-long 51-yard reception in the second quarter with Davis defender Marcus North draped all over him. Had Jones not hauled the pass in, the Bears would have accepted the pass interference penalty.
"When the ball's in the air, I don't care about anything but that ball," Jones said. "So, regardless of what the defender's doing, I'm going to try my best to catch that ball. I just looked it in all the way. I knew it was going to be a PI, but I saw the ball, so I stuck my hand out to where the ball was going to be, and caught it."
That pass proved to be the eighth of nine straight passes that Riley completed to start the game. The senior signal-caller finished 14-for-20 for 258 yards, three TDs and no picks.
Those three scoring strikes put Riley in a tie for seventh place on the all-time Cal list, with the man calling the play-by-play, Mike Pawlawski.
"I thought he played well, but there is room for improvement," Tedford said of Riley. "There was a little lack of concentration. It was good to get the cobwebs off of him with a full stadium. He did a nice job; threw some nice balls and made some good decisions. He didn't turn the ball over as far as in the passing game."
But while Riley climbed up the all-time charts, Allen was dropping jaws.
The newcomer out of North Carolina proved to be such a playmaker, that he took over for Chris Conte on kickoff return, opposite Sofele, on the first kickoff of the second half.
Seeing that kind of speed prompted Davis to kick the ball short, right into the waiting hands of fullback Will Kapp, who returned the ball for two yards. But even then, the Aggies couldn't get away from Allen.
On the third play of the drive, Allen took a reverse 48 yards to the house, at first powering through would-be tacklers and then just flat-out pulling away. Caught up in the moment, Allen decided that a little fan participation was in order, and gave some high-fives to the Gold Zone.
"He got a penalty today for his celebration, so we'll have to talk to him about that," Tedford said. "You can't touch anyone in the stands. He's excited, and he didn't jump up into the stands, but you just can't touch anyone in the stands and he gave somebody a high-five and got penalized for it. But, right after, he came over and said, 'Coach, I'm sorry for that.' He apologized for it."
"I got caught up in the moment," Allen confessed. "I didn't actually know we couldn't do that until after the play, but it was cool. I've been waiting for this game for a long time, and it was great. The fans were really dedicated."
On the whole, the Bears did have more than a few yellow hankies coming their way today, getting flagged four times for a total of 30 yards, compared to Davis' two penalties for 14.
"There are still things we need to improve on," Tedford said. "We were a little sloppy on offense."
That sloppiness included a fumbled snap by Riley and a delay-of-game penalty.
"The ball got knocked out of his hand by a guard as the guard was pulling," Tedford said of the fumbled snap that led to one of only two Davis drives to start in Bear territory. "He needs to protect the ball better there. The false start was on him actually; there were a lot of things going on in the play and he forgot the snap count, which is easy to do."
Aside from a few miscues, Tedford was pleasantly surprised by his team's demeanor heading into the season-opener against the FCS Aggies.
"They played with a lot of intensity; there wasn't a lot of giddy stuff going on," Tedford said. "They were having fun doing what they were doing. They came into today with a very business-like approach. I could tell yesterday, at the hotel, even at practice, they were a little bit too tight, but it was just a lot of focus. They were anxious to get on that field and play."
Of course, none moreso than Allen, who was imploring his teammates to try to calm him down before he ran through the north tunnel.
"I was really nervous, and I was trying to get the other players to keep me calm," Allen said. "I was really anxious, too."
At least now, he's gotten that pesky first game out of the way.
Notebook • With the win today, Tedford has taken the title of modern-era wins leader at Cal, with his 68 wins surpassing the legendary Pappy Waldorff. He is now second only to Andy Smith, who won 74 games between 1916 and 1925, and James Schaeffer, who won 73 games between 1909 and 1915.
"It is an honor, no doubt about it," Tedford said. "You hear so many stories about Pappy Waldorff. I have huge respect for Pappy's Boys and the tradition they set for Cal football. It is a lot of hard work by everybody since day one that we've been here. The coaches, the players, everybody like that. It is an honor because of the company you keep."
• Riley is now 16-8 as a starting quarterback, the active leader in the Pac-10.
• Allen's 120 receiving yards are the most since LeReyelle Cunningham had 138 at Maryland on Sept. 13, 2008.
• The record for receiving yards by a freshman is 130, by DeSean Jackson, who did it twice during the 2005 season.
• Sweeney scored his first career TD when he scampered for a four-yarder late in the third quarter, evading two tackles and showing some nice moves on the run.
• Brock Mansion entered the game in the fourth quarter, but did not record any stats.
• Dominic Galas played much of the game at center after the Bears built up their lead in the first half.
• Sofele's nine rushing attempts were a career high.