By Jay Heater
With one 46-yard touchdown pass on Saturday against Sacramento State, Cal backup quarterback Steve Levy said he erased the doubt about his ability to play Division I-A football.
His team's ability to play Division I-A football might still be in question.
Many of the fans among the opening-game-record crowd of 65,938 had to leave Memorial Stadium doubting whether Cal can be a contender in the Pacific-10 Conference. Cal's 41-3 victory over the Division I-AA Hornets featured poor ball handling, ugly quarterback play and a potentially season-ending injury to starting quarterback Nate Longshore. Longshore, who was 8-of-11 for 131 yards at the time of his injury late in the second quarter, had just connected on a 44-yard pass to wide receiver Sam DeSa when Hornets defensive end Jacob Houston fell into the back of his legs.
The fibula in Longshore's left leg snapped at the ankle, an injury that Cal Coach Jeff Tedford estimated would take at least three months' recovery time.
Cal, which led 10-3 at halftime, wasn't exactly racing up and down the field at the time of Longshore's injury, and the offense came to a halt when backup Joe Ayoob took over. As Sacramento State Coach Steve Mooshagian put it, ``I knew Cal was going to get their butts ripped at halftime.''
Actually, Tedford said he remained calm, but that didn't help Ayoob, who missed all six of his throws in the first half and his first four throws of the third quarter.
Tedford yanked Ayoob and went with Levy, who was a fullback last season, midway through the third quarter. With Cal leading 17-3, Levy promptly threw an interception. Two more incomplete passes followed on the Bears' next series, but Tedford didn't lose faith and called a double post pattern on Cal's final possession of the third quarter. Levy hit wide receiver Noah Smith in the end zone for the 46-yard touchdown that finally made the game a mismatch.
``I made the best throw of my life,'' said Levy, who finished 2 for 7 for 52 yards. The Bears led 27-3 at that point, and they added two fourth-quarter touchdowns, including a 49-yard punt return by freshman DeSean Jackson. Jackson had scored Cal's first touchdown on a 31-yard pass from Longshore. Despite the 38-point victory, Tedford was not pleased. ``That was the sloppiest game I've ever seen offensively,'' Tedford said. ``We have to go back and focus on the little things.''
Cal fumbled five times, losing two, and the Bears threw two interceptions. One of the fumbles came on a trick play, where tailback Marshawn Lynch took a pitch from Longshore and then threw a long lateral back to the quarterback, who dropped the ball.
Fortunately for the Bears, they had a defense that held the Hornets to 189 yards -- not to mention Lynch. Although Cal's talented sophomore tailback didn't break anything longer than a 21-yard run, he finished with 147 yards in 24 carries, including a 2-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Lynch said the sloppiness of his offense never bothered him. ``I was relaxed,'' he said. ``I will still having fun.''
A big game by Lynch, two touchdowns by Jackson and a huge special-teams day that included two blocked punts, two long punt returns and a 50-yeard field goal by sophomore kicker Tom Schneider weren't enough to satisfy Tedford, who now has to decide on a starting quarterback for next Saturday's game at Washington.
``Those guys will have to pick it up,'' Tedford said of Ayoob and Levy. ``They're thrown now into the reality of playing.''
Tedford, who said he would make a decision on a starter Monday after viewing game film, said freshman Kyle Reed, who was going to redshirt, might be called upon this season. Considering that Cal will have starting wide receivers Robert Jordan, who was suspended, and Lavelle Hawkins, who was ineligible for the opener, back next Saturday, Tedford wants to find someone who can get the ball to them.
``We had guys who were open today,'' Tedford said.
Cal finished with 212 rushing yards, even though the Sac State defense packed the line of scrimmage to stop the run. Three of Cal's scoring drives were less than 23 yards, and one of the touchdowns came from Jackson's return. ``I didn't see anywhere to run, so I just tried to avoid some people,'' Jackson said. ``Then I got a good block from Terrell Williams.'' Williams' block freed Jackson, who caught the ball, headed across the field to his right, then sprinted down the sideline.
``I was excited to see how the college football was,'' Jackson said. ``I know I messed up on a couple of plays out there, but I stayed poised.''