By GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer
Saturday, September 3, 2005
Jeff Tedford's best quarterback probably is out for the season. His junior college project couldn't hit the broad side of a receiver, and California finished the season opener behind a third-string passer who played fullback last season.
No wonder the 19th-ranked Golden Bears and their coach didn't look particularly excited about their 41-3 victory over Sacramento State on Saturday.
Tedford's reputation as a quarterback guru is about to get its toughest test yet: Nate Longshore, the redshirt freshman who won the starting job over Joe Ayoob, broke his leg near his ankle late in the first half. He'll be out at least three months — and when Ayoob got his first chance to play, he threw 10 straight incompletions.
Though Marshawn Lynch's 147 yards rushing and heralded freshman DeSean Jackson's two touchdowns paced Cal to an easy win, the Bears soon will face much bigger tasks than pulling away from an undermanned Division I-AA opponent.
"It's nice that we've got a supporting cast around that we don't have to rely on our (quarterback) to win every game for us," Tedford said. "It's really unfortunate. Nate was playing really well."
Longshore was 8-for-11 for 131 yards with an interception, but Cal led just 7-3 when he got hurt and went to the locker room on a cart. The Bears originally said Longshore's ankle was sprained, but Tedford revealed his quarterback has a broken fibula.
Ayoob took over but looked comically bad, with most of his passes sailing over the heads of his receivers. Ayoob was expected to replace Aaron Rodgers last spring, but lost the chance with dozens of similarly inaccurate throws in training camp.
"I couldn't even tell you why I wasn't hitting them," Ayoob said. "I've never played a football game where that's happened before. I've never thrown balls like that."
Third-stringer Steve Levy, a junior from Cornwall, N.Y., who played fullback for the Bears last season, then threw an interception on his first play from scrimmage. But Levy threw a beautiful 46-yard touchdown pass to Noah Smith moments later, then led another scoring drive culminating in Chris Manderino's 3-yard TD run.
"I threw the best ball of my life," said Levy, who went 2-for-7 for 52 yards despite not taking a snap in practice last week. "It was a dream. It's just a blur. It's been a long journey to get this far."
Levy moved to fullback last year in an ill-fated attempt to get on the field after two seasons on the bench, but went back to quarterback this spring. His parents were in the stands — and after the game, he got a congratulatory text message from Rodgers.
Jackson, Cal's top recruit from prep powerhouse Long Beach Poly, caught a 31-yard touchdown pass from Longshore on Cal's opening drive. Jackson also returned a fourth-quarter punt down the Cal sideline 49 yards for a score, diving into the end zone.
"I got out there and was a little excited, so I messed up on a couple of plays," Jackson said. "We were planning for me to get the ball a lot more on offense, but it couldn't happen with the (quarterbacks)."
In front of 65,398 fans — the biggest season-opener crowd in school history — the Bears won with the running game and an impressive performance by their defense, which held Sacramento State to 2.7 yards per play and forced three fumbles in the second half.
"Those big mammoth pocket protectors, those 1,500-pound linemen, they come after you," Sacramento State coach Steve Mooshagian said. "We had an experienced defense going against inexperienced quarterbacks. They're developing their tight ends, their wide receivers and the quarterbacks, and that's hard (simultaneously)."
Lynch, who averaged 8.8 yards per carry last season as the backup to 2,000-yard rusher J.J. Arrington, finally got the chance to be the centerpiece of Cal's offense. Curiously, he spent most of the first half rushing straight up the middle with limited effectiveness.
Lynch also fumbled twice in the first quarter, though he recovered both — and he ran the wrong way on a screen play in the second, forcing Longshore to intentionally ground the ball.
"The first half looked like we hadn't been practicing for three weeks," Tedford said. "We were dropping the ball on handoffs, and it looked ridiculous. It was the sloppiest game I've ever seen offensively."
Lynch seemed to get stronger in the second half, rushing for 72 yards on nine carries.
Chris Hurd passed for 82 yards for Sacramento State in the first meeting between schools separated by 90 miles. Fred Amey, who graduated last year as the Hornets' career leader in receptions and touchdowns, watched the game from the sideline after learning he had made the San Francisco 49ers' roster as an undrafted free agent.