Friday, November 16, 2007

SF Chronicle: Some interesting story lines in an otherwise dull Cal-UW matchup

Nearly all the buzz and significance to be found in today's game between Cal and Washington comes from two trumped-up quarterback controversies.  Both teams are in the bottom half of the Pac-10 standings. Cal, which has lost four of five, is the picture of mediocrity according to most conference statistical categories, and for Washington, which has dropped seven of eight, the picture isn't even that pretty.  Though they may be a little trivial, there are some intriguing story lines.

At Cal, junior quarterback Nate Longshore threw himself under the bus after a 24-17 loss to USC last week, and some want the bus to stop and back up over him. At Washington, redshirt freshman sensation Jake Locker can't even turn his head, but coach Tyrone Willingham hasn't ruled him out of the game. In Cal's 5-0 start, Longshore completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 1,137 yards and seven touchdowns to only two interceptions. Since spraining his right ankle in the 31-24 win at Oregon on Sept. 29 and missing the ensuing loss to Oregon State, Longshore has completed 57.3 percent of his passes for 919 yards and five touchdowns to eight interceptions as the Bears have gone 1-3. Cal coach Jeff Tedford hasn't forgotten that Longshore is also the quarterback who led Cal to a 10-3 record last season, throwing for 3,021 yards and 24 touchdowns. Tedford used Tuesday's news luncheon as an opportunity to stand up for his guy. "The obvious thing to do is to pile on the quarterback," Tedford said. "Nobody sees missed gap responsibilities or missed blocking assignments, but it's very evident to the eye what the quarterback does. But Nate has done a lot of really good things for us."

No one in Seattle is calling for Locker's job, because he's eight yards away from breaking the conference's rushing record among modern-day quarterbacks with 807 yards. A start Saturday is in doubt, however, because Locker endured a neck stinger and bruised trapezius muscle on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Oregon State safety Al Afalava last week and was taken from the field in an ambulance after temporarily losing feeling in his left arm.  "That was a scary situation," Locker said. "I've never really had anything like that happen, but it's part of the game. ... I remember colliding with the guy and trying to push myself up and I couldn't move my left arm. "That's when I got scared." In a Tuesday's news conference, broadcast on the Washington athletics Web site, Locker turned his upper body instead of rotating his head to address media to his left and right. Reportedly, he's been able to do more each day and actually took some first-team repetitions Thursday, but Willingham has yet to rule Locker out. "I think there's always a shot (he'll play), especially knowing Jake the way I know him," Willingham said. "We're not ruling in or out, but I like the progress I see from him." If Locker doesn't play, the game immediately draws comparison to last season's match-up between the teams. Carl Bonnell, now a fifth-year senior, made his first start, replacing dual-threat quarterback Isaiah Stanback, and threw a last-second, 40-yard touchdown pass to force overtime. Of course, Bonnell also threw five interceptions as Cal pranced away with a 34-27 win, creating the circumstances for one of the season's most indelible images. After Cal middle linebacker Desmond Bishop intercepted a pass to seal the victory, tailback Marshawn Lynch found the keys to a utility cart and zig-zagged across the Memorial Stadium artificial turf in celebration of the Bears' seventh-consecutive win.

Cal today

Who: Cal (6-4, 3-4) vs. Washington (3-7, 1-6)

When: 12:30 p.m.

Where: SeattleTV/Radio: Channel: 7 Channel: 10 /810

Story line: Cal coach Jeff Tedford is looking for his 50th win, and he'll secure the school's sixth straight winning season if he gets it today. Seattle would be a fitting place for the benchmark victory, because Tedford stopped a string in 19 consecutive wins by Washington in the series in 2002.

Washington ranks last in the conference in points allowed and rushing yards allowed and is ninth in total offense allowed. Cal hasn't scored more than three touchdowns in a game for four weeks, but the Huskies' defense should get the Bears back on track. Cal quarterback Nate Longshore wants to prove his doubters wrong, and tailback Justin Forsett could dominate in the rain.

Cal's defense has played probably its best back-to-back games of the season. The Bears figured out how to get off the field, limiting Washington State and USC to 11-of-30 third-down conversions. The two high-powered offenses averaged only 20.5 points againt Cal. The Huskies rank third in the conference in rushing, but will probably be without quarterback Jake Locker and his 800 rushing yards. That leaves tailback Louis Rankin, who is on pace to be Washington's most productive runner since 1997, and senior quarterback Carl Bonnell, who threw five interceptions against Cal last season.


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