Sunday, November 13, 2005

Modesto Bee: Tedford's experiment with Ayoob has blown up in Cal's face - now what?

BERKELEY — Jeff Tedford, the guru of quarterbacks, spread his arms apart and pointed his palms upward, the classic "What happened?" posture as his drowning-in-air quarterback staggered off the field.

Joe Ayoob had just tossed his fourth pass into the grateful arms of the top-ranked USC Trojans, who normally do not need such generosity. The ball was intercepted in the end zone and scuttled Cal's best chance for a touchdown against the USC first unit. Here was a quarterback shaken and stirred with James Bond nowhere in sight. What you may not know, however, was the quarterback guru himself was shaken and stirred. Tedford, the man who invented everyone from Trent Dilfer to David Carr to Akili Smith to Kyle Boller to Aaron Rodgers, believes he's failed Joe Ayoob, not vice-versa. "I have to do something to get his fundamentals squared away," Tedford said of his stricken quarterback. "I'll take some blame, too, for not doing enough. You wanna be supportive. It hurts to see a person go through that. This is not an easy thing to deal with. We're going to bring him back for his personal sake as well as his career. We have to support Joe for the person he is."

Tedford labored hard through a job crisis Saturday. His M.O. is developing quarterbacks. His business card says, "Maker of Great Quarterbacks." Well, not really, but it should. He overnighted Kyle Boller from three-year disaster to first-round draft pick. That conversion no doubt encouraged Tedford to think he could do the same with Ayoob, the coach's own discovery from City College of San Francisco. The magic has happened, all right, only it's black magic. Ayoob has regressed, not progressed. He collapsed against the nation's best team and took his slumping team down with him on national TV, 35-10, Cal's lowest point total under Tedford (the touchdown was scored on USC's reserves).  Hindsight now blinds the observer with cruel truth. Ayoob began his Cal career with 10 straight incompletions against Sacramento State and, aside from teases and flashes, hasn't even approached Tedford's demanding expectations. Later, Tedford looked his questioners straight in the eyes and ducked nothing. Ayoob wasn't the only guy whose confidence was rinsed through the spin cycle. It's Game 10 and Ayoob should be farther along, yet Tedford spoke about base things like fundamentals and footwork. And there's the issue that forces a conclusion. If Ayoob, the starter since freshman Nate Longshore was lost for the season during the season opener, hasn't yet graduated from basic training in the Jeff Tedford QB Academy, then the plebe probably is lost. It's tough medicine, especially when your résumé reads "creator of quarterbacks." In Ayoob, who inspired nasty sounds rhyming his name Saturday, Tedford has created only a confused and deflated young man. "The hardest part is your home fans booing you," Ayoob said. "(My confidence) is a little shaken. I can't remember a game or a season like this." USC, sensing more than just a little weakness from the opposing QB, glided though this one. The Trojans locked into cruise-control behind Matt Leinart, the Heisman Trophy winner, the anti-Ayoob. Leinart patiently distributed the ball to his cavalcade of weapons. When Ayoob looked downfield, the game whizzed by him at warp speed. When Leinart set his feet, he waited, waited, waited, and then ran for two touchdowns. It's Leinart who exposed Cal's overly-ambitious tryst with Ayoob, though not in the way you expected. As USC head coach Pete Carroll said this week, Leinart didn't become Leinart until his junior year. Tedford attempted to triple-step Ayoob up to speed within a few months. It's been a non-starter.

"I feel I let my team down and fans down," Ayoob said. "It's part of the game. You have tough games. You have to come back." Ayoob shouldn't bear the burden alone. Saturday's game essentially was decided six months ago when Leinart declined the NFL riches while Rodgers, the last quarterback to beat the Trojans 32 games ago, grabbed the money. Leinart stayed and Rodgers bolted. Game over. It's a tribute to Tedford's four-year run that the matchup last August was billed as a can't-miss. A capacity crowd of nearly 73,000 flirted with the idea Cal could still rattle the Trojans' comfort zone, as it's done the last three years under Tedford. But not this time. The Trojans now are a downhill racing train, a locomotive that blows through the whistle-stops. The Joe Ayoobs are feasts to be devoured, a fact Tedford surely concedes. While Fresno State and senior quarterback Paul Pinegar — about 10 levels higher on the QB food chain over Ayoob — take their shot at the USC Express next week, Cal must salvage some dignity against archrival Stanford. To do so, Tedford will try to reassemble the parts that once were his quarterback. He blinked when he was asked which was tougher, the physical or the mental rehab of one Joe Ayoob. "After today," he finally allowed, "a lot of it is mental."

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