Friday, December 29, 2006

Bear Insider: Schwartz Comments On Commitment To Bears

By Jim McGill

With the commitment of 6-6/305 Pacific Palisades offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz, the Cal Bears continued their run of impressive offensive linemen recruiting.  The CIF Los Angeles City Offensive Lineman of the Year (Invitational bracket) is the 4th highly-touted OL commit for the class of 2007 for the Bears, joining Peninsula center Todd Huber, Bakersfield guard Justin Cheadle and Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks) tackle Sam DeMartinis –all who committed prior to Schwartz.

Schwartz had recently narrowed his choices to Stanford, Oregon and Virginia, but the decision where he’s ultimately end up became clearer recently for the big OT.

Read the entire article here.


Bear Insider: Bears Trounce Aggies in Holiday Bowl

In the end, it was no contest. A solid and determined University of California football team that started the year with its highest-ever pre-season ranking (8th in AP poll) -- and immediately disappointed itself and its fans with a conclusive defeat at Tennessee - ended its season in exactly the opposite way.

Read the entire article here.

New York Times: California 45, Texas A&M 10

CALIFORNIA 45, TEXAS A&M 10 Unlike two years ago, the California Golden Bears played like they wanted to be in the Holiday Bowl. Marshawn Lynch ran for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns, and the Golden Bears’ defense played impressively in a victory against No. 21 Texas A&M (9-4) in San Diego.  No. 20 California (10-3) put an emphatic final touch to its second 10-win season in three years.  In 2004, Cal was in position to end its long Rose Bowl drought but was leapfrogged in the final Bowl Championship Series standings by Texas. Although the fourth-ranked Golden Bears claimed not to be bothered by the snub, they could not compete with No. 23 Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl and were defeated, 45-31. California’s Nate Longshore was 19 of 24 passing for 235 yards. He threw for a touchdown and ran for another.

Hunstville Times: Cal Playbook Inspires Alabama

Here is the link.

The lateral to left tackle Andre Smith for a touchdown in the fourth quarter came from California.  "We've been running that thing for three weeks," Rader said. "The research that we did on it came from California. Give (Cal coach) Jeff Tedford credit. (Special teams coordinator) Dave Ungerer (who was hired away from Cal) told me afterward we had to give kudos to Jeff Tedford.  "Coach Shula, he had run it and he liked it and he wanted to do it. This was the time to do it. We've kind of had it on the backburner and with the bowl game, we had more time to practice it."  Rader said he was almost shamed into calling the play.  "We just thought it was a real good call and then it got real personal because people said I didn't have much to me if I didn't call it in a game," he said. "We were down there a bunch but we were never in the right spot. I almost blew it when we had the opportunity."

San Francisco Chronicle: Win Both Convincing and Entertaining

Ray Ratto

Like most Holiday Bowls, this one will be neither long remembered nor particularly noteworthy. The Pacific 10 and Big 12 conferences make strange bedfellows, given that they have little enough common history and therefore no burning rivalries. Indeed, the closest the two groups ever got was decades ago, when Texas and Colorado showed interest in joining the Pac-10 during the breakup of the Southwest Conference.  But for the California Golden Bears, this was plenty good enough. As strange as it seems for a 10-win team, they needed a strong send-off to eradicate the ambivalence they had engendered over the last four games of the regular season, and to reinforce for the fresh doubters why, in fact, these are the best times the football program has had since the Pappy Waldorf era.  And so they got it, a 45-10 throttling of Texas A&M at Qualcomm Stadium that finished off a year that will feel better in retrospect than it did in November.  No, this did not wipe out the sting of the loss to USC that essentially resigned them to the Holiday Bowl for the second time in three years, but it did provide some serious end-time feelgood to a season that seemed at times to be less than its numbers.

Marshawn Lynch's 112 yards and two touchdowns looked like classic Chuck Muncie. Justin Forsett's 125 yards and a score on eight carries looked a lot like Lynch. Nate Longshore's 235 yards on 19-of-24 passing looked like Pat Barnes circa 1996. DeSean Jackson was the spitting image of Geoff MacArthur in 2003.  And head coach Jeff Tedford got to beat back the brushfires of criticism that licked at the outer edges of the program with the school's most convincing postseason performance since the 37-3 win over Iowa in the '93 Alamo Bowl.  The biggest question left for 2006 is to determine when Lynch will announce that he is forgoing the rest of his college career for the rich, green pastures of the NFL, for few people believe he sees much personal value in staying.  But it must be said that he went out not as an observer, as he had against Stanford in the dry-as-bone-meal Big Game, but as the most obvious contributor on a night that featured many of them. His two touchdowns essentially molded an intriguing game into a hunch rout, and he attacked both the blocking lanes and the Aggies who tried to clog them with the verve and aggression that suggests a long and lucrative future in the running-into-large-men-for-money game.  It was more than just Lynch, though. Longshore, the occasionally maligned quarterback, was almost chillingly efficient, and the only cross moment he seemed to have the entire night was after he short-hopped the game's first pass to Jackson; Jackson had a wide-receiver-scorned on-field chat with Longshore.  Jackson controlled his space, finding seams and backing the A&M secondary away from his favorite curl and fade routes, ending up with 82 yards on five catches that helped cement his reputation as the best receiver north of Dwayne Jarrett. Oh, the defense was outstanding as well, reacting well after some early confusion over the Aggies' option offense. They bent a bit but broke only the one time, and if your taste runs toward that sort of thing, you got your dough's worth.  But if defense floats your fleet, you are in the minority among the folks who sit in your section. Cal was being doubted as a national player by its most ardent supporters because its offense wasn't full of jaw-dropping magic, trickery and effervescence.

Indeed, there has been for some time now a suspicion that the Golden Bear offense promises more than it delivers, which is another way of saying folks are more willing to be oversold on its virtues than chastened by its occasional stutters.

Thursday, though, Tedford used the back of the playbook on a number of occasions, making the attack less about the game-breaking abilities of Lynch and Jackson, and more about keeping A&M off-balance in general and suspicious of every shift and use of motion. In short, the Holiday Bowl brought out the tactical imp in Tedford, and his willingness to break programming early opened up the more straightforward Lynch here/Jackson there attack that broke the game open in the second half.  Put another way, doing things like the direct snap to Lynch on Cal's second touchdown made it easier to shake Jackson free for the 27-yard out that set up Cal's third touchdown.  As a result, this season ended for the Bears in a far more uplifting way than either of the past two seasons, because (a) the Golden Bears won their final game, and (b) showed more of the sizzle that keeps the customers interested in the steak.  That's the thing about Cal - even more than winning in the good times, its constituency demands a fair amount of wow to go with it. Cal can never be a stout defensive team, winning 13-7 and passing it off as a great afternoon for the ticket-buyers. They want Lynch and Jackson, like anyone with a brain listed higher than Turnip, Third Class, but they also want to suspect that every play holds the possibility of wonder to go with the heavy lifting.  Which is why Tedford had been kicked about a bit by the rank and file after the USC loss, and almost as much after the desultory win over Stanford. It was as if Cal had backed into the Holiday Bowl, some sort of mutant NFC team descending upon the college game.  And why, as a result of Thursday's convincing and entertaining victory, those complainers will downshift into second gear for awhile. Whatever they may define as the proper context for whipping up on Texas A&M, they cannot deny that it was forceful and unambiguous, and an evening well spent for those who enjoy that sort of thing.  And as 10th wins go, it was not only one of their best, but exactly what a program unsure of its place in the bigger picture or of the love of its most ardent fans desperately needed.


San Francisco Chronicle: Cal's Big Win Offsets Poor Finish, 2004 Loss

Ray Ratto

Of course the Cal fans in the corner of Qualcomm Stadium chanted "one more year" when Marshawn Lynch was named one of the three Cal players of the game in the Golden Bears' 45-10 crushing of Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl on Thursday night.  And, of course, Lynch crooned back, "one more year." Just toying with them, of course, like any great entertainer, but it was just one more bit of fun on a night like so few others in Cal football history.  Lynch is likely to play out for the next month or so the announcement expected of him -- that he is heading for the NFL to start the next phase of his career. When asked directly about it, he said, "It's cold out here. I gotta get inside."  And he did, laughing as he went.

So it was the entire night, a night in which the Bears excised the demons of two years ago, when they came half-heartedly to San Diego and took a well-deserved hammering from Texas Tech. A night in which they also faced down the shame of what head coach Jeff Tedford generously called "a very disappointing" November. They dominated the Aggies across both lines, and deep into both backfields. If they were placed, as Lynch said, "right where we needed to be," they thoroughly controlled their environment.  Lynch gained 111 yards on 20 carries, two of them for scores. His backup and likely successor, Justin Forsett, went for 124 and another score. Quarterback Nate Longshore missed only 5 of 24 passes for 235 yards, a score, one early and harmless interception and no sacks. The two lines utterly routed their A&M counterparts, and the option offense that befuddled the Bears on A&M's first drive did no more thereafter.  It was, in short, their most dominant postseason game ever, and one that will provide rebuttal for those whose minds still go back to the losses at Arizona and USC that sent them here.  "I was here two years ago when we got beat by Texas Tech, and it was a horrible feeling, horrible," senior tackle Andrew Cameron said. "And then, with the way the season sort of ended for us, we came here with an awful lot to prove. I know for a fact the offensive line worked harder for this game than we did all year, and we could tell we wore them down because they were bent over with their hands on their hips a lot."  "A lot," indeed, given that the game actually turned for good midway through the first quarter. Texas A&M marched almost insouciantly down the field on its first possession, using a pitch to Mike Goodson for 19 yards, a quick slant from quarterback Steven McGee to L'Tydrick Riley for 12 more, and three inside runs to set up a 19-yard McGee pass to Chad Schroeder for A&M's first, and last touchdown.  Eight plays later, Cal tied the game with such ease and precision (Longshore completing all five of his passes for 70 yards and plowing in from the 1) that the doubts that both history and recent malaise would smite the Bears melted away in the face of overwhelming size, speed and need.

It took awhile for the announced crowd of 62,395 to see that proven, but a 31-point second half, keyed by Lynch's second touchdown, a 1-yard dive 4:47 into the third quarter, made it comprehensively and painfully obvious.  Cal was so dominant in producing its most lopsided win against a ranked team since beating Penn 40-0 in 1953 that even if/when Lynch leaves, it must be considered a national player when the season begins again in August. Lee Corso may not pick the Bears to win the national championship again despite Jackson's postgame prediction/goof for the fans that the Bears would win the national title next year, but this win went a long way toward curing some of the lingering ills of that disappointment.  In fact, the only slightly false step of the evening came on Cal's last touchdown, when quarterback Steve Levy ignored Tedford's instructions to kneel down at the A&M 3-yard line with 30 seconds left and gave the ball to backup tailback Bryan Schutte, who ran through a hole for the 39th through 44th points.  "No comment," Levy said with an impish smile when asked if, as it appeared on national TV, Tedford had given him what-for. "We kind of wanted to get one for Schuttie."  And Tedford, who actually did give Levy what-for, acknowledged that Levy "had explicit instructions to kneel, but he kind of gave in to the pressure in the huddle." Tedford made nice with A&M coach Dennis Franchione, who by all accounts understood, at least some, the impetuousness of youth.  But that was 28 seconds that could not erase the previous 59 minutes. Cal finished its year as though at least some of the early hype was well-aimed, and all that's left now is to wait for Lynch to warm himself, settle himself and prepare himself for the new world that awaits him.  At least that's the betting.  "Did Marshawn tell you anything?" Forsett said with a smile. "He just ran off? Yeah, he's good at that."  You'll hear no argument there. Not in this town.



Oakland Tribune: It's too much to ask Marshawn to return

By Michael Silver

AS A proud Cal alum hell-bent on reaching the Rose Bowl before global warming necessitates the game's relocation to Vancouver, British Columbia, I would love to be able to make a case that Marshawn Lynch should stay for his senior season.

Then again, I'd also like to convince Stanford to rehire Buddy Teevens and Roger Waters and David Gilmour to reunite, among other things.  Sadly, trying to persuade Lynch to wait another year before entering the NFL draft is a similarly lost cause.  Were Lynch playing any position other than halfback — even wide receiver (and yes, young Mr. Jackson, I'm talking to YOU a year in advance — I might try to argue that staying had its benefits.  Another year of seasoning in Jeff Tedford's offense never hurt anybody, and the college vibe is something to be cherished. Once that's gone, it can never be recaptured, though many of my friends and I try fervently to do so before, during and after various Cal sporting events.

We love the Bears, and we adore Mr. Lynch, but can we really ask the kid to turn down probable mid-first-round money to get his butt kicked for free for another collegiate season?  As I was just explaining to my 7-year-old son as he put on his No.24 (Lynch's freshman number) Cal jersey in preparation for the Holiday Bowl: Being a college athlete is a great deal if you play soccer or softball, but football stars get abused like Trent Edwards in the pocket.  Lynch doesn't see a penny from

the jersey sales or ticket revenue or Holiday Bowl travel packages, yet he's the guy risking his career against gang-tackling 250-pounders on Saturdays.

No football players get beat up like halfbacks, and Lynch's physical running style means he'll likely wear down more quickly than most. If he has a chance to be a top-10 pick — as my NFL sources tell me he does — then, like a Cal women's swimmer competing in a meet at Stanford without time for a trip to the rest room, he's GOT to go.  One more year at Cal would mean one less year of an NFL paycheck — and one year closer to 30, when most elite backs wear down. And that's the BEST-CASE scenario. Lynch risks suffering a career-threatening injury every time he steps on the field. It's also possible he could play poorly and drastically hurt his draft stock, as Russell White did after deciding to stay for his senior season in 1993, plummeting from a likely top-five pick to a second-rounder who was out of the NFL after three years.  Lynch might not earn his degree, as White did, but this is Business 101, and he won't flunk the course. In the meantime, if you care about the Bears, give thanks for Justin Forsett. The little dude with the big heart won't be anyone's first-rounder, but as a senior who finally has a chance to shine, he could be the kid who gets us to Pasadena.  


San Diego Union Tribune: Jackson's prediction: Bears will play for national title in '07

By Bill Center

DeSean Jackson wasn't trying to steal the spotlight, he was just trying to make a point.  As California's 1-2 punch of quarterback Nate Longshore and tailback Marshawn Lynch prepared to make their acceptance speeches as co-Most Valuable Players of the Holiday Bowl, Jackson grabbed the microphone on the field at Qualcomm Stadium.  “We're going to the national championship game next year,” proclaimed the sophomore wide receiver.  “And we're going to win.”  For a moment, Lynch and Longshore appeared stunned. But the California partisans weren't. They cheered Jackson's words almost as loudly as they had Longshore and Lynch's performances.  “I think tonight showed what we're capable of doing,” Longshore said moments later. “It was disappointing how we played late in the season (in back-to-back losses to Arizona and USC).  “Tonight, we got everything working again. We took our time, executed our game plan and put together a complete game.”

Certainly, a game like last night's will provide the Golden Bears with a lot of momentum going into next year – provided Pacific-10 Conference Player of the Year Lynch decides to return for his senior season.

When asked the obligatory question about the NFL and his future, Lynch fired off a very loud, “Ha, ha,” and darted to a corner of the field where the Golden Bear fans had assembled.  As he approached, the chant of “One more year, one more year” drowned out a much smaller group saying “NFL, NFL.”  Lynch did make it a point to mention that his understudy and fellow junior Justin Forsett actually led Cal with 124 yards rushing last night. Lynch finished with 111 yards, although he scored two touchdowns.  Lynch wanted to make one other point in his post-game remarks.  All week long, the Bears had heard about how physical Texas A&M was and how that would swing the outcome in the Aggies favor.  “We play physical football on the West Coast, too,” said Lynch. “I thought we were getting in some great hits. I think we might have surprised them a little bit”  Longshore agreed.  “We knew they were physical, and they were,” said the quarterback. “But we were every bit as physical. Our defense was flying. Our defense played a great game. We all did what we had to do.”  For Longshore, that meant completing 19-of-24 passes for 235 yards – including five to Jackson for 81 yards – and a touchdown.

After throwing an incompletion on Cal's first three-and-out possession, Longshore completed seven straight as the Golden Bears took a 14-7 lead.  As Cal's lead grew, Longshore threw less until he was out of the game completely midway through the fourth quarter.  “I hate it when we get up like that because we get conservative,” said Longshore, half jokingly. “But it's been awhile since we've been this successful. And I guess if I was coaching with Marshawn running the ball, I'd be conservative, too.”  Longshore can only hope that will be the case gain next season.


San Diego Union Tribune: Lynch rushes for 111 yards, 2 TDS in rout

By Mick McGrane

Not only did Cal prove it could take a punch, it delivered a haymaker.  Dismissing any sentiment that the Big 12 Conference had begun conducting business at the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl as though it were Muscle Beach, the Golden Bears turned brutish last night, bulling their way past Texas A&M 45-10 in the game's 29th edition.  In front of 62,395 at Qualcomm Stadium, No. 20-ranked Cal, the highest-scoring team in the Pac-10 this year, went to the whip with a purpose in the second half in drubbing an Aggies squad that had come within six points of finishing unbeaten this year.  The victory marked the Bears' second 10-win season in two years and served as an ideal remedy for any residual grief incurred during their dismal debut in the Holiday two years ago.  Whereas No. 21 Texas A&M (9-4) had been identified as the intimidator in this affair, boasting a bruising running game that ranked seventh-best in the country, it was Cal that assumed the role of tormentor. The Bears finished with 476 total yards and ran roughshod over a defense that just last month limited then-No. 11 Texas to seven points in the Aggies' regular-season finale.  Cal junior running back Marshawn Lynch, who has NFL agents and scouts salivating like famished wolves, staged an exercise in excellence in carrying 20 times for 111 yards and two touchdowns.  Meanwhile, Bears sophomore quarterback Nate Longshore, one of the most efficient passers in the Pac-10 this season, was an absolute aggravation for the Aggies throughout, completing 19-of-24 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown.  Lynch, the Pac-10's Offensive Player of the Year, and Longshore shared Offensive Player of the Game honors, though junior tailback Justin Forsett may have been the best player on the field in the second half. Forsett, who averaged 4.5 yards per carry this season, carried eight times for 125 yards over the final two quarters.

Yet it was Cal's defense that held serve in this Holiday. After yielding a staggering 597 yards in a 45-31 pummeling by Texas Tech in 2004, the Bears (10-3) bottled up the Aggies' vaunted option attack with relentless pursuit and tenacious tackling.  Texas A&M running back Jorvorskie Lane, who at 270 pounds has been described by coach Dennis Franchione as a “ballerina,” never found the dance floor. Lane, whose 19 rushing touchdowns this season ranked second in the nation, finished with 36 yards on seven carries had a long run of 9 yards. Tailback Mike Goodwin, the team's leading rusher, carried 13 times for 62 yards.  In pitching a shutout in the second half, the Bears limited Texas A&M to its second-lowest point total of the season. The Aggies, who had 203 yards at the half, managed just 146 in the second. They converted on third down only 4-of-11 times.  “It seemed like every time we had the ball we were going 80 yards,” Franchione said. “We moved the ball (in the first half), but we didn't do a very good job when it came to getting into the end zone or making big plays. Cal did a good job of containing us.”

Cal's point total marked the sixth time this year that it scored 41 or more points. The Aggies had allowed more than 30 only twice. The Bears punted once.  “We talked about coming in and playing physical,” said Cal coach Jeff Tedford. “We wanted to make sure that we put our brand of football on this game. There was a lot said leading up to the game about how physical the Big 12 is. Well, I think our conference plays pretty physical, as well. Our offensive and defensive lines really set the tone.  “I thought once our defense got a feel for the speed of the game, and how things were coming at them, that they did a great job of responding. It's not easy to simulate what (Texas A&M) does in practice and it's not easy to simulate a 270-pound running back (Lane). Our kids got comfortable, and once that happened they really played great.”  It was 14-10 at the break, but a shanked punt by Justin Brantly that traveled nary a yard on Texas A&M's opening possession of the second half launched a landslide that never subsided.  Taking possession at the Aggies' 41, the Bears, who had 25 scoring drives this season spanning two minutes or less, needed just 1:40 to find the end zone when Lynch, taking a direct snap from center, scored on a 2-yard run.  Cal boosted the advantage to 28-10 with two minutes to go in the third quarter when Longshore tossed a touchdown pass to Lavelle Hawkins with the Bears facing a fourth-and-1 at the A&M 4.  “The thing I really noticed was just how much time I had,” said Longshore, who was never sacked. “Our offensive line just did a great job. For me, at least from the standpoint of what I had to do, this game was pretty easy.”  A game that concluded on a considerably happier note than the Bears experienced two years ago.  Said Longshore: “We definitely owed the Holiday Bowl.”



American Statesman: California routs A&M in Holiday Bowl

Bears shut out Aggies in second half for lopsided victory

By Randy Riggs

SAN DIEGO — The next time Dennis Franchione's Texas A&M football team receives a bowl invitation, do the Aggies have to accept?  They will, of course. But history has shown the fun Franchione's Aggies have at these affairs stops abruptly when they step on the field.  A&M's season of close calls, both good and bad, ended Thursday night. And this call wasn't close. No. 20 California, supposedly the finesse team, muscled the Aggies all over the Qualcomm Stadium field for a 45-10 victory in the 29th Holiday Bowl.  The score was even more lopsided than the only other bowl trip in Franchione's four seasons at A&M — a 38-7 loss to Tennessee in the 2005 Cotton Bowl.  "Cal played a great game and we were not up to the task," Franchione said. "I thought they controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball to a certain extent."  The 21st-ranked Aggies, whose losses in a 9-3 regular season were by a combined six points, were outscored 31-0 in the second half Thursday. The Golden Bears (10-3) gained some measure of revenge against the Big 12 Conference after their 45-31 loss here to Texas Tech in 2004.

The Maroon gloom was for more than the score. A&M's outstanding freshman tailback Michael Goodson was hurt with 6 1/2 minutes left and put no weight on his legs as he was helped off the field.  Franchione said he "wasn't sure yet" on the extent of Goodson's injury.  The game turned early in the third quarter when A&M punted. Cal's DeSean Jackson led the nation this season in return average and touchdown returns (4), which Aggie punter Justin Brantly might have had in mind when he woefully shanked the kick.  The ball fluttered into the Cal bench for a net kick of exactly zero yards. The Bears took over at the A&M 41-yard line. A 27-yard pass to Jackson got them to the 2 and Marshawn Lynch barrelled over on the next play.  Lynch fumbled and officials initially ruled it was A&M's ball. But replay clearly showed Lynch crossed the plane of the end zone before losing the ball, and the call was overturned.  Franchione called the shanked kick "a big swing of events."  "But we've been in that position before," he added. "We just didn't respond tonight."  With quarterback Nate Longshore completing 19 of 24 passes for 235 yards and the tailback tandem of Justin Forsett (124 yards) and Pac-10 offensive player of the year Lynch (111) sparking a ground game, Cal amassed 476 yards.  That was the most yardage surrendered by A&M's defense this season.

"No one did good, no one played good," senior safety Melvin Bullitt said. "It was one of those games."  The Aggies did move the ball fairly well — 349 yards — but got in the end zone only once, on their first possession of the game.  "It comes down to making plays when it matters most, and it always seemed like we were a foot short or a penalty away," said quarterback Stephen McGee, who completed 17 of 26 passes. "I wouldn't say Cal was that much more physical than any team we've played this year. They played good, but it came down to us not making plays."  Neither team did a particularly good job of stopping the other in the first half. Cal couldn't stop A&M's running game and the Aggies couldn't stop the Bears' passing game.  The end result was a 14-10 Cal edge at the break, which came when a 42-yard field goal try by the Bears' Tom Schneider was short on the final play of the half.  Ironically, while Cal passed like crazy and A&M ran effectively in the first half, the Bears' touchdowns came on runs while the Aggies' came on a pass.  The latter was a 19-yard strike from McGee to senior receiver Chad Schroeder. It capped a six-play, 61-yard drive on A&M's opening drive. For Schroeder, the senior from Westlake, the slant route marked his fourth scoring reception of the year, but first since the third game of the season, Sept. 16 vs. Army.

Cal quickly answered with touchdown drives on its next two possessions to take a 14-7 edge.  The first score came on a 1-yard sneak by Longshore after a 26-yard pass to tight end Craig Stevens.  The Bears' second score came on a wrinkle that coach Jeff Tedford added for the game. A 43-yard catch by Robert Jordan helped Cal get to the A&M 2-yard line. From there, Lynch lined up at quarterback in the shotgun and took a direct snap for the first time this season and scored over left tackle.  A&M trimmed its deficit to four points with a 32-yard field goal by Matt Szymanski with 2:08 left in the half. It was the first field-goal try by Szymanski since the freshman lost his starting job to Layne Neumann in the Army game.  The Aggies pounded out 108 rushing yards in the first half, divided fairly equally between Mike Goodson (33), McGee (29) and Lane (24). Longshore, meanwhile, shredded A&M's secondary for 177 yards.  Cal's 6-foot-5-inch sophomore quarterback completed 12 of 16 passes in the half, and had two drops. He was intercepted once when he lofted a bomb down the center of the field where only A&M safety Japhus Brown was standing. Brown's pick led to Szymanski's field goal.


Houston Chronicle: Lights go out on A&M

California erupts in second half to squash Aggies


SAN DIEGO - Texas A&M came into the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl looking for springboard to what the Aggies hope will be a magical 2007 campaign. Instead, the Aggies were knocked back to reality Thursday night when the 20th-ranked California Golden Bears beat them at their own physical game and then put on the burners en route to a 45-10 victory in front of 62,395 fans at Qualcomm Stadium.

Worst loss of season

It was by far the worst loss of the season for the 21st-ranked Aggies, who had made a habit of close games the entire Big 12 season.  The Bears, however, changed that with a display that put a damper on an otherwise impressive rebound year for A&M. "Even though this wasn't what I wanted, maybe it's what this team needed going into the offseason," said A&M senior safety Melvin Bullitt. "This season was very successful. We just didn't finish the way we wanted to." The Bears punished A&M physically, hammering quarterback Stephen McGee on at least two occasions and then knocking running back Mike Goodson out of the game late with what appeared to be a knee injury. Cal dominated the Aggies' offensive line, swarming to the ball to cut off running lanes. A&M couldn't return the favor. The Bears' speed riddled A&M zones, with Nate Longshore having plenty of time to find open receivers in soft spots. Longhsore completed 19 of 24 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown with DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan his favorite targets.

That open up the running game for Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett, who both went over 100 yards as Cal (10-3) gained 241 yards on the ground. Lynch ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, while Forsett did most of his damage in the second half with 124 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. The Bears outscored A&M 31-0 in the second half to break open a close game. "It was just one of those things where if we thought we were about to stop them, they would get 10 or 15 yards on the next play," Bullitt said.

Third-quarter meltdown

The Aggies had no response on offense, especially after Cal put together back-to-back scoring drives in the third quarter to take a 28-10 lead.  A&M had stayed in the game in the first half because of a couple of breaks, including an interception by Japhus Brown and a missed 42-yard field goal by Cal. The luck ran out in the second half, beginning with a shanked punt by Justin Brantly that went zero yards and gave the Bears the ball 41 yards from their end zone. It took them four plays to capitalize, Lynch going airborne for a 2-yard score. "We have to give Cal credit tonight, they played very good," A&M coach Dennis Franchione said. "They weren't very far from being a BCS team. I think our guys prepared very hard and wanted to win, we just didn't play very well."

One and done

McGee looked sharp on the opening drive of the game, leading the Aggies (9-4) on a six-play, 61-yard scoring drive that ended with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Chad Schroeder.  The offense never look as crisp again as senseless penalties by the line stalled drives and the team was unable to sustain any drive. The Aggies got into the red zone only twice more, converting on a 32-yard field goal by Matt Szymanski that cut the deficit to 14-10 at halftime. "We had some decent yardage," Franchione said, "we just didn't do very well when it came down to scoring and we didn't make big plays. "Cal did a good job of containing us and we didn't make the plays. We were driving a long way all the time and we didn't execute well enough to sustain drives to get points."


Dallas Morning News: Holiday off: Cal routs A&M, 45-10


SAN DIEGO – Texas A&M's porous pass defense, its downfall last year, resurfaced to haunt the Aggies Thursday night in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl.  The Aggies' inconsistent passing offense, which they overcame much of this season, finally cost them against No. 20 Cal.  No. 21 A&M suffered its first blowout loss of 2006, ending an encouraging year with a disappointing 45-10 defeat in front of a pro-Golden Bears crowd of 62,395 at Qualcomm Stadium.  "Cal played a great game, and we were not up to the task," A&M coach Dennis Franchione said. After ranking last in the nation in pass defense last season, A&M had improved to 42nd this year. The Golden Bears were 108th in the country in pass defense, but the Aggies were unable to take advantage.  "It comes down to making plays when it matters, and it always seemed like we were a foot short or a penalty away," McGee said.  A&M has lost its two bowls under Franchione by a combined score of 83-17.

Cal's DeSean Jackson, the nation's top punt returner, didn't have a single return yet still may have made a major impact on the game. A&M was trailing 14-10 early in the second half when it lined up to punt from its 41. Perhaps sophomore Justin Brantly, who had been very consistent this season, was distracted by the threat posed by Jackson, because he shanked it. The ball traveled zero yards, and the Golden Bears needed just four plays to score a touchdown to go up 21-10.

The score wasn't without controversy, though. On first-and-goal from the 1, Cal star running back Marshawn Lynch dived into the end zone. Officials ruled that he fumbled and A&M recovered. But replays showed Lynch crossed the goal line before losing the ball, and the call was reversed.  "We've been in that situation before," Franchione said of how A&M has handled adversity well all season. "We just didn't respond tonight."  On the Golden Bears' next possession, they faced fourth and more than a yard to go from the A&M 4. Cal decided to go for it, and Longshore rolled to his right and found Lavelle Hawkins for a touchdown. That gave the Golden Bears a 28-10 lead with two minutes left in the third quarter. Cal had 476 yards of total offense, 166 more than the Aggies' much-improved defense had been allowing.  Lynch, the co-offensive MVP, had 20 carries for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Backup Justin Forsett of Arlington Grace Prep had eight carries for 124 yards and a touchdown.  The Aggies' win at No. 11 Texas in the regular-season finale looked like a turning point for the program, but A&M followed it by taking a step back. The physical dominance that marked that victory was absent Thursday.  Franchione acknowledged that Cal "controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball to a certain extent."

San Jose Mercury News: Holiday Bowl review: Stars of the game

By Jon Wilner

Well, that was quite a performance. I’m not sure which was more surprising, the way Cal moved the ball on A&M’s defense, or the way Cal shut down the Aggies’ option attack. Forced to pick one, I’ll politely refuse and take both. Both were surprising….  And so Year Five of the Tedford era ends with 10 wins, a Pac-10 co-championship and a Holiday Bowl trophy (I bet it’s shapes like a dolphin): the 45-10 win over Texas A&M stands as the most impressive bowl victory of the Tedford era and the only bowl victory (so far) for the Pac-10 this season. There will be no 0-6. The following are my stars of the game for Cal. Feel free to slice and dice them, just make sure to offer your own suggestions.

Minus-10 stars: Cal quarterback Steve Levy. He changed the play in the final minute, handing off for a touchdown instead of taking a knee — and in process drew Tedford’s (very public) wrath for running up the score. Tedford looked as good as Levy looked stupid. Good thing for Levy that he’s a senior; it saves him the embarrassment of not being asked back for ‘07.

One star: Cal tailback Marshawn Lynch. In what was probably his last game as a collegian, Lynch ran hard all game, gaining 114 yards on 20 carries, scoring two touchdowns and softening up the A&M defense for his understudy, Justin Forsett.

Two stars: Cal linebacker Desmond Bishop. He set the tone defensively by making plays all over the field, usually in bone-crushing fashion. (I don’t have his tackle totals yet, but it looked like 10-12, at least.)

Three stars: Cal’s offensive line. No need to single anyone out; it was, for the most part, a collective effort. The OL protected Nate Longshore and cleared running lanes for Lynch and Forsett, who combined for 239 yards.

Four stars: Texas A&M punter Justin Brantly. His zero-yard punt early in the third quarter was the play of the game, giving Cal possession at A&M’s 41 yardline. Four plays later, Lynch was in the end zone and Cal had a 21-10 lead.

Five stars: Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory. Two years after his unit was embarrassed by Texas Tech’s aerial attack, Gregory had the Bears ready for A&M’s option. They looked lost on the first drive but quickly settled down and executed their assignments, played with passion and prevented big plays. They clogged the middle on handoffs and used their speed to string out the pitch plays.

Los Angeles Times: Cal makes point for Pac-10, beating Texas A&M, 45-10

By Sam Farmer, Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — It wasn't the Rose Bowl, but it was a start.  The No. 20 California Golden Bears, whose chance to get to Pasadena had veered off course in two of the past three seasons, made the most of their postseason opportunity Thursday with a 45-10 victory over No. 21 Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium.  In claiming their second 10-win season in two years, the Bears (10-3) rushed for 241 yards and five touchdowns and shut out the Aggies (9-4) in the second half. It was an impressive performance by a Cal team that looked to be among the nation's elite at midseason before staggering through November with two losses in its last three games.  "We're not where we want to be yet," Cal Coach Jeff Tedford said. "We had high expectations this year and there were a couple disappointments in there, but I thought our team really bounced back strong."

Cal's was the first bowl victory for a Pacific 10 Conference team this season. Oregon lost to Brigham Young, 38-8, in the Las Vegas Bowl; UCLA lost to Florida State, 44-27, in the Emerald Bowl; and Arizona State gave up 38 points to Hawaii in the second half of a 41-24 loss in the Hawaii Bowl. Oregon State plays Missouri today in the Sun Bowl, and USC faces Michigan in the Rose Bowl on Monday. In 2004, the Bears were in line to play in the Rose Bowl before being leapfrogged by Texas in the final Bowl Championship Series standings. The Bears, then ranked fourth, were disappointed to be playing in the Holiday Bowl and lost to No. 23 Texas Tech. "We felt slighted the last time we were here because we felt a computer kept us out of it," said Tedford, who called this year's trip to San Diego a "privilege." This time, his team played as if it were happy to be here. Justin Forsett rushed for 124 yards in just eight carries, and Marshawn Lynch, the Pac-10 offensive player of the year, added 111 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Nate Longshore ran for one touchdown and threw for another. He wasn't sacked and was seldom hurried.

"With no rush all night and with receivers getting open, it was pretty easy," said Longshore, who completed 19 of 24 passes for 235 yards, with an interception. "Just having guys like that in the background and with me having the ability to run, you could definitely see the play-action working. You could see that they were geared towards stopping the run. So that's only going to open up the passing lanes." The Aggies, who came into the game averaging 401.4 yards and 29.3 points a game, scored on their opening drive but after that did not find a rhythm. Jorvorskie Lane, a 274-pound tailback who was second in the nation with 19 touchdowns, did not score and was limited to 36 yards in seven carries.  Among the memorable moments in the game were a punt for zero yards by Texas A&M's Justin Brantly and a trick play by Cal for a touchdown. With Longshore split out wide at receiver, Lynch took a direct snap at the Aggies' two and charged into the end zone.  "Cal played a great game," Texas A&M Coach Dennis Franchione said. "We were not up to the task. They controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball."

Thursday, December 28, 2006

AP: A&M looking to fast Lane in Holiday Bowl

SAN DIEGO - Jorvorskie Lane has the chance to dance his way into Holiday Bowl lore.  "He is a unique athlete. He would be a great ballerina because his feet are as good as any big man I've ever seen," Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione said Wednesday, a day before his No. 21 Aggies face the No. 20 California Golden Bears at Qualcomm Stadium. The mental image of a 6-foot, 274-pound tailback in tights might be a bit much to handle, but Aggies (9-3) fans have gotten used to the sight of him plowing into the end zone. Lane tied a 79-year-old school record with 19 rushing touchdowns this year and will be one of the players to watch in the Holiday Bowl. Franchione correctly guessed that Cal coach Jeff Tedford had a hard time finding someone to emulate Lane on the scout team during practice. "Not many people have a 275-pound guy that they can put back there and try to give a look to," Franchione said. "He is a big guy that can get going downhill. He's a load to stop." Said Tedford: "There is no one you can do that one with. Our 275-pound guys are linemen. They're nowhere near the ballerina he talked about that he is. So it's very difficult to simulate somebody of that size and that speed and with that athleticism." Tedford is impressed with Lane's balance as much as he is with his power. "You see him sidestep, you see him do some things that guys that big normally can't do. He can shed tacklers and is very impressive." Lane, a sophomore, rushed for 689 yards.

"You're going to have to put a lot of guys on him," Tedford said. "He doesn't go down with one guy. You're going to have to put a lot of hats on the ball when he has it, and rally to it. It's very, very hard to simulate that." Lane also showed a nice touch with his hands. With the Aggies trailing Oklahoma State 27-20 and facing a fourth-and-13 from their own 32 with 1:43 left, Lane made a one-handed catch to keep the drive alive, and the Aggies won in overtime.  The Golden Bears (9-3) have some talented players, too. Junior running back Marshawn Lynch and senior cornerback Daymeion Hughes were named the Pac-10 Conference offensive and defensive players of the year, the first time Cal pulled off the double.  Lynch ran for 1,245 yards and nine touchdowns, and also had 31 catches for 311 yards and four scores. Hughes had eight interceptions, pushing his career total to 15, four of them for touchdowns. Cal receiver DeSean Jackson was named an All-American for returning four punts for touchdowns. With that kind of big-play potential, there's a chance for a classic wild Holiday Bowl to break out.  "One thought you have to have for us is that it could get into a situation where you don't want to miss serve and miss your opportunity," Franchione said. "They can score quickly. I don't think it's the kind of game we want it to be, but we may have to match."  Both teams are coming in off wins against their biggest rivals. Cal beat Stanford 26-17 on Dec. 2 and Texas A&M beat defending national champion Texas 12-7 on Nov. 24.  This will be the Aggies' first appearance in the Holiday Bowl since they roughed up Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer in 1990. Both of Detmer's shoulders were separated as the Aggies routed BYU 65-14. The 51-point victory margin remains a Holiday Bowl record.  After getting knocked out of the Rose Bowl picture in a 23-9 loss to Southern California on Nov. 18, Cal will be making its second trip to the Holiday Bowl in three years.  In 2004, Cal was in position to end its long Rose Bowl drought but was leapfrogged in the final Bowl Championship Series standings by Texas. Relegated to the Holiday Bowl, the Golden Bears lost 45-31 to Texas Tech.

San Antonio Express News: Football: Holiday Bowl performance will gauge Aggies' growth

SAN DIEGO — The besieged Texas A&M football coach, fresh off a startling upset victory at rival Texas, relished the chance to get a few things off of his chest. "There were a lot of things going against us," he said. "The press jumped ship, some former students jumped ship, some fans jumped ship. But our players made the decision to keep going."  The coach was Jackie Sherrill, and the year was 1984. The Aggies wrapped up a 6-5 season with Sherrill's first victory over UT in three tries — 37-12 in Austin.  The Aggies followed with three league titles over the next three seasons under Sherrill, who told his players during the '84 season that if they didn't get it going, they were "going to get his (rear end) fired," according to former All-American defensive end Ray Childress.

Begging the question: Will the 2006 season wind up this A&M generation's 1984 — the start of something big — or will it turn into another 2004, when Tennessee crushed a program figured to be on the rise in the Cotton Bowl, a blow that carried over into a 5-6 campaign in 2005.  Thursday night's Holiday Bowl against favored Cal (9-3), the Pac-10 co-champion, should offer the Aggies (9-3) plenty of clues as to their program's direction under fourth-year coach Dennis Franchione. What they know for now, however, is winning in Austin 12-7 last month lifted a huge burden, as Franchione earned his first victory over UT in four tries.  "If you're having a bad day," linebacker Justin Warren said of a newfound aura in Aggieland, "you put an A&M football shirt on, and you'll be all right."  Added safety Melvin Bullitt, "People are a lot friendlier. I've been out to eat and taken a couple of pictures with people. I'm not used to that."  The Aggies endured plenty of criticism earlier this year, after barely defeating Army in the Alamodome and losing in their league opener to Texas Tech.  "We had to put in earplugs," Bullitt said. "All we've heard since we've been here is that Coach Fran is not going to be here much longer, you guys aren't any good, and we need to get some new guys.  "But we beat the defending national champions, and we lost three games by a total of six points. We fought every game to the last minute. One or two more plays here or there, and we're playing (in the national title game).  "This program is looking up."  Two years ago, the 7-4 Aggies swaggered into Dallas for the Cotton Bowl, seemingly on an up-tick under Franchione (despite a narrow loss in Austin), before the Volunteers whipped them 38-7. A&M followed with a losing season, bringing hollers for Franchione's job.  On Thursday, the Aggies will play in their first bowl since the Cotton. One thing's certain so far — the victory at UT has done wonders in College Station.  "Any time you beat your rival and end a streak of losses," Franchione said, "it adds a little bounce in everybody's step."


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

SF Chronicle: Bears being bothered by bad batch of victuals


Rusty Simmons

Cal players and coaches have raved about their meals this week, but, apparently, they've run into some bad food, too.  Linebacker Justin Moye missed Tuesday's practice and linebacker Zack Follett sat out of several drills with stomach problems.

"Thankfully, it hasn't been a lingering thing with any of the guys," coach Jeff Tedford said.  Earlier in the week, three coaches had similar symptoms, and defensive tackle Derrick Hill and offensive guard Bryan Deemer each have missed practices.

Getting noticed: Recruiting assistant Kevin Parker was awarded the Admiral U.S. Grant Sharp Trophy during the team's luncheon on the USS Bonhomme Richard. The award is given each year to a behind-the-scenes person who has shown extraordinary teamwork and dedication.  "He relates so well to our kids because he has stories from his upbringing and his college days that they can draw from," Tedford said. "He's a real team guy who is always really positive."  Parker grew up in the East Bay and played at Oregon.  More awards: The Golden Bear Team awards were released, highlighted by offensive MVP Marshawn Lynch and defensive MVP Daymeion Hughes.  Lynch led the Pac-10 with 1,245 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. He added 31 catches for 311 yards and four scores.  Hughes is second in the nation with eight interceptions and second on the team with 67 tackles.  Center Alex Mack and defensive end Abu Ma'afala were named the most improved linemen, and safety Thomas DeCoud was named most improved player.  Other notable award winners included tackle Scott Smith (Frank J. Schlessinger Coaches Award for combining athletics, academics and community service), tackle Andrew Cameron and defensive lineman Steve Kelly (Ken Cotton Award for showing courage) and linebacker Desmond Bishop (Stub Allison Award for inspiration).  Naval maneuvers: Tackle Mike Tepper ran into some problems as players were given tours throughout the assault ship. Actually, he simply ran into a lot of stuff.  The 6-foot-6, 336-pounder hit his head on something in nearly every room he entered. Then he tried to squeeze his mammoth frame into one of the miniature bunks to the delight of his razzing teammates.  Briefly: Linebacker Anthony Felder (leg) didn't practice, but Tedford hopes he'll be ready for the game. ... He said kick returner Marcus O'Keith (turf toe) and defensive end Rulon Davis (stress fracture) are doubtful.

Contra Costa Times: Key to attack will be speed


By Jay Heater

SAN DIEGO - Although Oklahoma runs an entirely different offense than Cal, the Sooners might have provided some valuable information that could be used against Texas A&M on Thursday in the Holiday Bowl. Oklahoma, which beat the Aggies 17-16 in Big 12 play, ran up 224 rushing yards. ``Oklahoma did a great job coming off the ball and attacking them, moving very fast,'' Cal center Alex Mack said. ``Hopefully, we're able to do that.'' After Cal beat Stanford, Bears guard Erik Robertson said his team's offense was thinking too much before attacking. Coach Jeff Tedford noted the same thing. The emphasis during practice leading up to the Holiday Bowl has been getting off the ball and attacking. ``We got back to the basics,'' Mack said. ``We're just hitting people. We're not thinking about anyone else. We are just thinking about ourselves.'' The Aggies, who allow 123 yards rushing per game, use a four-man defensive front, two linebackers and five defensive backs with the emphasis on speed, not size. It would appear that such a scheme would make it tough to stop Cal's rushing attack. ``But they mix it up real well,'' Mack said. ``Their 'backers move around a lot. It's pretty much our defense.''

Texas A&M actually runs a more conventional defense than Cal, Bears quarterback Nate Longshore said. ``Their No. 33 (strong safety Melvin Bullitt) really is a linebacker in theory, but he plays like a safety.'' Tedford said he looks at A&M's defense as a 4-3 alignment. He also noted that the Aggies don't mind crowding the line of scrimmage. ``They don't give you six men in the box, but they are more of an eight-man front.''

Cal linebacker Zack Follett sat out most of practice because he felt sick to his stomach Tuesday. Several Bears have experienced the same problem the past couple of days. Backup guard Bryan Deemer and second-string linebacker Justin Moye have been ill as well. ``It's not the flu,'' Tedford said. ``I think it is something they ate. But it is not a lingering thing.''

• Tedford said he doesn't expect Cal will miss a beat with sophomore fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou in the game instead of injured starter Byron Storer. A key component in Cal's offense recently has been short passes to the fullback. Storer was solid, catching eight passes for 61 yards this season. ``Will catches it well,'' Tedford said. ``He will do just fine.''


Oakland Tribune: Tedford, lighten up on QBs

Column by Dave Newhouse

IT'S HARD to find fault with Jeff Tedford, the savior of Cal football, but if he has one flaw, it's his stubbornness at quarterback. Tedford will change every other position if the mood strikes him. He has replaced several senior starters without hesitation. But it's not only seniors who'll get Tedford's quick hook if there's somebody behind them who's better. Tedford has even changed his kickoff man.  But quarterback? He'll wait and wait and wait. Aaron Rodgers is in the NFL, but he didn't start until the fifth game in 2003. Joe Ayoob struggled with a 5-4 record last year until he was pulled finally for Steve Levy.  Levy then saved the season with wins over Stanford and BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. His reward? Third string this fall, behind Ayoob of all people.  Which brings us to Thursday's Holiday Bowl in San Diego. Texas A&M's defense flies to the football with the kind of quick athletes who could make life miserable for immobile Cal quarterback Nate Longshore.

If Cal can't protect Longshore, it'll be like pigeons landing on a statue all night long. And if that's the case, how long will Tedford stay with Longshore?  The Bears have one win in their last three games, over hapless Stanford. Longshore struggled in those losses, but Tedford refused to call on Ayoob or Levy in relief.  These two seniors are better athletes, and more mobile, than Longshore. Levy clearly is the best leader of the three, with natural charisma in the huddle. But he has been banished because he is 6-feet tall, and not as a result of that offseason bar skirmish.  If you watch Cal practice, Levy throws as well as the 6-5 sophomore Longshore. Tedford loves Levy but not enough to play him. Some gratitude for Levy's rescue job last year. Meanwhile, three 6-foot quarterbacks — Drew Brees, Rex Grossman and Michael Vick — are tall enough to start in the NFL.

Maybe it's because Tedford is perceived as a "quarterback guru" that he is so stubborn about the position. But his reluctance could be a pivotal factor Thursday evening. If Cal fails again in the Holiday Bowl, San Jose State will be smiling, because the Bears and Spartans will have identical nine-win seasons. Now who would have predicted that in August? Nobody, not even Spartans coach Dick Tomey, the king of turnaround coaches. Hawaii, Arizona and now San Jose State have been graced by Tomey's rebuilding touch. Tomey has proven, at 68, that the best coaches can coach at any age. Spartans football teetered on the cusp of extinction two years ago. And now with a bowl victory, there's an even brighter future ahead.  It just goes to show that there are no absolutes in sports. Anything is possible, even the near-impossible. The end result: San Jose State alumni, including the grizzled face above, are humming the school's fight song this week, even if, ahem, for the first time.  Some momentous changes occurred late this year in the Bay Area, from the Oakland A's and San Francisco 49ers announcing that they'll be playing in Fremont and Santa Clara, respectively, in the future.  That's weird enough, but the A's signing Erubial Durazo to a minor league contract might be even stranger. Billy Beane doesn't make roster mistakes as a rule, but bringing back this deadbeat might be his worst.  Durazo, like Ben Grieve, proved to be a defensive liability in Oakland. But Grieve, unlike Durazo, never said he wouldn't play in the field. Grieve tried his best in the outfield, although a butcher is a butcher.  Durazo is the A's worst example of a player since Herb Washington, the designated runner. Who needs this kind of presence in the dugout?  What's next, Beane's bringing back Octavio Dotel as a closer?

SF Chronicle: HOLIDAY BOWL: Cal vs. Texas A&M

Ayoob finds his calling as holder

Rusty Simmons, Chronicle Staff Writer

If Thursday's Holiday Bowl is as close as many are projecting, Cal's hopes very well might be in the hands of backup quarterback Joe Ayoob.  That's not a prediction that starter Nate Longshore will be ineffective or injured. Rather, it's a reminder that as the holder in the kicking game and as a member of the "hands" team, Ayoob is in two positions to directly affect the outcome of tight games.  "That'd be an OK way to go out," the senior said. "I always like to have the ball in my hands."

Ayoob lost the starting quarterback job last season and couldn't regain the spot in training camp this year, but he has emerged as one of the nation's most reliable holders.  Coach Jeff Tedford used "smooth," "automatic" and "great" to describe Ayoob before settling on: "There's no question that he takes some pride in holding. It's something that gets overlooked, but it takes a lot of practice and a lot of skill. He has both."  Holders usually gain notice only when something goes awry, but the technique is almost an art form.  Well before the ball is even in play, the holder is responsible for setting the mark, finding a path of clear vision for the kicker and getting him lined up. Then, with opponents bearing down on him, the holder has to cleanly catch a speeding football, get the tip down and spin it properly to get the laces away from the kicker.

"It's hard to put into words, because a lot of it is just about feel," Ayoob said. "You've got to have a feel for where the laces are and make sure you spin it inside or outside so they don't end up facing the kicker."  After connecting on 18 of 36 field-goal attempts his first two seasons, kicker Tom Schneider has made 14 of 18 this year. He has missed only one inside of 50 yards.  "A lot that has to do with (long-snapper) Nick Sundberg and Joe," Schneider said. "Joe's hands are unbelievable."  For Ayoob, that part of the holder resume comes naturally.  When Tedford told a story of former Cal quarterback Kyle Boller, who could catch the ball, put it down and spin it while using only one hand, Ayoob tried to match the feat.  "I did it, too," Ayoob said. "After that, I tried to get coach to let me run a streak (route) or something, but I don't have the speed to play receiver."  The episode did, however, earn Ayoob a spot on the hands team, which takes the field in an effort to recover onside kicks. On three onside attempts this season, opponents have kicked two away from Ayoob's side, and before the other got to him, Justin Moye caught it.  "I guess teams know better than to kick my way," Ayoob joked.  Ayoob is left looking for other ways to get involved in games.  "I've been waiting for a bad snap, so I'll get a chance to run or make something happen," he joked. "I'm always pressing coach to run a fake field goal. We've never run one, so I doubt we ever will."  The smile doesn't leave Ayoob's face as he answers questions about his other role as a backup quarterback.  "Obviously, every player wants to play, but we've got Nate," Ayoob said. "He's doing an excellent job, and I'm just trying to do my job as his backup. I'm trying to push him to be better and trying to always stay ready in case something happens."


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Honolulu Advertiser: Cal lands Moanalua's Eselu



By Stacy Kaneshiro

Advertiser Staff Writer

Apparently, mother knows best.  Moanalua High senior tight end Savai'i Eselu ran a reverse by telling California he would accept its football scholarship offer after giving Oregon a verbal commitment last month. "My mom wanted me to go to Cal," Eselu said. Bears coach Jeff Tedford made a home visit to Eselu last week and convinced his mother, Tammy, that California had more to offer educationally than Oregon.  "He was talking to my mom about the education opportunities and different degrees (you can get at Cal)," Eselu said. "He was telling her how strong a Cal degree is. Football is not going to be my whole life." He told Tedford of his decision Sunday, then called Oregon coach Mike Bellotti. "That was the hardest thing I ever did, having to call Coach Bellotti," said Eselu, who added that Bellotti told him he would continue to recruit the 6-foot-4, 248-pound player.

The other hard part was responding to the Hawai'i players on the Oregon team. Ducks senior center Enoka Lucas, a Kamehameha graduate, sent him a photo of the Hawai'i players through his cell phone. "They're in Vegas for the (Las) Vegas Bowl," Eselu said. "It was a photo of the Poly (Polynesian) boys."  Eselu took his recruiting visit to Cal the weekend of Dec. 1-3, when the Bears hosted and beat rival Stanford, 26-17. He said Tedford told him he had a chance to play as a true freshman. Eselu also made recruiting visits to Oregon, Arizona and Colorado. He canceled a fifth and final visit to San Diego State.


Contra Costa Times: Tedford embraces facility upgrade


By Jay Heater

Cal football coach Jeff Tedford had a new look Wednesday at Memorial Stadium, and it had nothing to do with facial hair. Tedford was standing in front of artists' renderings of the planned Simpson High Performance Center, which is scheduled to open in spring 2009. At a media conference held to discuss the center, Tedford spoke about the importance of the new facility -- approved Dec. 5 by the UC Board of Regents -- when it comes to recruiting. ``With this facility we will be able to recruit, hopefully, throughout the country,'' Tedford said. He said that Cal's current facilities are a detriment when out-of-state recruits visit the campus. Those recruits might not be so familiar with Cal's academic reputation, Tedford said.

``They are disappointed with the visual aspect,'' he said. That no longer will be the case. The $125 million, 142,000-square-foot building, to be constructed along the west wall of Memorial Stadium, will bring Cal up to date with other powerhouse football programs. The center's roof will serve as a 68,000-square-foot plaza that will be open to ticketed fans on game days and give Cal extra concession opportunities. A Cal release said construction will begin in March, and Athletic Director Sandy Barbour noted that some preliminary work will begin immediately. Barbour said $100 million has been raised and she hopes the final $25 million will come together soon. The project's lead donor is Orinda's Barclay Simpson, who said Tedford's work as football coach was a key to his decision. ``He's a big part, yes,'' Simpson said. ``He's unusual as a person of character. He gets after those athletes to be good students. I am a great admirer.'' The final hitch in the construction is three lawsuits aimed at stopping the project. Cal vice chancellor Nathan Brostrom said lawsuits have been filed by the Panoramic Hill Association of Berkeley, the California Live Oak Foundation of Oakland and the city of Berkeley.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Contra Costa Times: Job 1: Tackling 275-pound TB

Texas A&M's Lane poses one huge problem for Cal's defense

By Jay Heater

BERKELEY — At 6-foot-2, 265 pounds, Cal's Nu'u Tafisi is the typical size for a Division I-A defensive end. At that size, he also is giving away 10 pounds to Texas A&M's tailback. Yes, tailback.  Aggies sophomore Jovorskie Lane is a 6-foot, 275-pound wrecking ball who will be aimed at Tafisi and his defensive teammates in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.  "There are two kinds of running backs," said Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione. "There is the kind who makes you look good because they can make guys miss. Then there is the other kind that can make you look good when guys don't block because they can run you over."  Lane, who has scored 19 touchdowns this season, fits into that second category.  Linebacker Desmond Bishop knows the Bears have their hands full. "We have to get him before he gets started," Bishop said. "We have to gang-tackle him. And he is very quick for a big guy. He will try to run around you sometimes."

Franchione laughed when he was asked if he ever imagined coaching a 275-pound tailback. "No," he said. "It's pretty neat. And if you watched our films, you wouldn't believe how light on his feet he can be."  Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane said he has been impressed with Lane, but he said the Bears will be up to the task. "His size motivates our defense even more to stop him," Mebane said. "It's going to be a challenge.  "That's a big dude. I have to give him credit for being that athletic. That's amazing, to see him move and carry his weight like that."

Mebane, now a 295-pounder, played some fullback at Crenshaw High in Los Angeles and once broke a 60-yard run. But he just shakes his head when he thinks about playing tailback at 275 pounds.  Cal coach Jeff Tedford didn't even attempt to find a huge body to play Lane's role on the scout team. "You can't simulate a 275-pound tailback," Tedford said.  Although Lane has scored 19 touchdowns, he is Texas A&M's second leading tailback in terms of yardage. He has gained 689 yards and has averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Mike Goodson leads the Aggies with 785 yards and a 6.9 yards-per-carry average.  Goodson is a freshman whom Franchoine compares to Reggie Bush.

STILL SEARCHING: Although Cal's offense struggled the last three games of the regular season, accounting for a combined three touchdowns, quarterback Nate Longshore was confident that the Bears will be back on track in the Holiday Bowl.  "We have so many play-makers," Longshore said.

Cal struggled to get the ball to its playmakers down the stretch.  "It's a long season for everyone," Longshore said. "As teams get more time to prepare, it gets more difficult. There was no one reason that teams shut us down."  Tedford said next season he would like to see Longshore drop a few pounds from his current 235 pounds. Longshore said he wants to play at the same weight next season, but that the weight would be distributed differently.  He said some injuries — he wouldn't disclose the exact nature because he doesn't want opponents to be able to target an area — have kept him from training the way he would like.

EXTRA POINTS: Cal worked through a fast-paced, two-and-a-half hour practice on Tuesday morning and then Tedford dismissed the players so they could head home to spend time with their families. The Bears have to reassemble in San Diego on Saturday afternoon. ... Although Cal will be attempting to wipe out some memories of the dud they fired at the Holiday Bowl in 2004, Tedford said he will keep things lighthearted in the days leading up to the game. "A bowl game is meant to be fun," Tedford said. "That's why we are going early. They are going to have plenty of fun, then we will cut it back as it goes."

San Jose Mercury: Cal's Longshore still confident

Although Cal's offense struggled the last three games of the regular season, accounting for a combined three touchdowns, quarterback Nate Longshore said Tuesday that he is confident the Bears (9-3) will be back on track when they face Texas A&M (9-3) in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28.

“We have so many play-makers,'' Longshore said. ``It's a long season for everyone. As teams get more time to prepare, it gets more difficult. There was no one reason that teams shut us down.''  Coach Jeff Tedford said he would like to see Longshore drop a few pounds from his 235-pound frame before next season. Longshore said he wants to play at the same weight next season, but that the weight would be distributed differently. He said some injuries -- he wouldn't disclose the exact nature because he doesn't want opponents to be able to target an area -- have kept him from training the way he would like.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Oakland Tribune: Bowl last Cal game for Lynch?

By Carl Steward

JEFF TEDFORD said Monday he hasn't yet had his summit sitdown with Marshawn Lynch about the star tailback's plans for next year.  Maybe that's because the coach already knows what he's going to hear, even though he publicly professes that he doesn't.  That would be that the Dec.28 Holiday Bowl against Texas A&M will be Lynch's last game as a collegian at Cal, because the lure of the NFL is simply too strong to pass up for the junior from Oakland.  Even if Lynch wanted to stay, the financial opportunities weighed against the potential health risks almost certainly will force him to the pros.  Lynch hasn't yet declared his intentions, and like Tedford, would rather not discuss it yet, even with his coach. The two have had some informal chats, but neither appears to be in a rush to say goodbye.

"It's something we'll address after (the bowl game)," Tedford said. "Really, that's all we've talked about is that, 'Hey, when this is all said and done, we'll get together and find out where you're going, what you're doing and what's on your mind.' I think he prefers it that way as well, just focus on what's going on right now, and afterwards, he'll talk to people and seek advice on what the right thing to do is."  Pressed on his gut feelingabout what Lynch will decide, Tedford tried to maintain his best poker face.  "I have no idea, really, what he's thinking," the coach said. "Obviously, he's been a huge part of what we've done here over the last three  years. But I wouldn't venture to say."

Tedford knows the odds, though, perhaps even more so than two years ago when he was facing the same situation with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. One tipoff to the inevitable: Cal already has received verbal commitments from two top prep tailbacks, Salesian's Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen of Valencia. Two-year letterman Justin Forsett will be back next season as well, so the Golden Bears' backfield won't be destitute, even if there's no way you replace a Marshawn Lynch.  The coach also probably understands it's going to be a lean year in the NFL Draft for running backs, with Lynch and Oklahoma standout Adrian Peterson viewed as the only ones who likely will be first-round selections. Most early mock drafts have Peterson and Lynch going among the top-10 picks, and one I saw this weekend projected that they will go 1-2, with Lynch landing with the Oakland Raiders.

Sad but true, but Lynch's hometown team probably needs him more than Cal does, and if they want him, they should get the chance to draft him come April, if they deem him worthy. It remains to be seen if he'll truly grade out to be a top-5 pick, but his stock has steadily risen as pro scouts have gotten a more acute bead of his physical package.  It doesn't hurt Lynch's prospects that he is drawing an increasing number of comparisons to the San Diego Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson, considering the otherworldly season Tomlinson is having. Nobody is saying Lynch is the next Tomlinson, but their similarities are unmistakable.  They are almost exactly the same size, for starters, right around 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds. They both are blessed with the rare combination of power, speed and excellent vision. Both have good hands and can be utilized as pass-catchers out of the backfield, and they both have been able to throw the ball as well on occasion.  There's a bit of irony, of course, that Lynch will be playing in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego at Qualcomm Stadium, where Tomlinson has made his extraordinary mark as a pro for six seasons. As if Marshawn needs any more motivation for this game, that might be it.

Lynch's Cal teammates, while not tipping his hand, are in accord with the notion that he's ready to take the next step.  "If I was him, I would probably go, but that's just me," said linebacker Desmond Bishop.  Senior cornerback Daymeion Hughes, who also is being projected to go in the first round of the draft as a mid- to late-round pick, actually contemplated declaring as an underclassman last year and studied his options and possibilities closely.  He said Lynch would be wise to do the same, even if his mind is virtually made up.  "I think it's one of those things where you sit down with your family, consult with some people and ask them what they think," Hughes said. "I did all of that last year. I thought about it, but that wasn't my thing to do."  Hughes realized early on, though, that he had room to improve his draft stock coming into this season. He concedes Lynch can't go much higher.  "He's probably the best football player I've ever seen," he said. "I wouldn't tell him to stay."  Tough as it may be to do, Tedford won't, either.