BY TONY PHIFER
With 10th-ranked California coming Saturday to Hughes Stadium, many Colorado State University football fans are asking just how good this DeSean Jackson guy really is. Sure, he’s returned seven kicks for touchdowns over the past three seasons, including a 77-yard punt return in last week’s opener against Tennessee. And yes, he’s got a set of moves that would make any video game look tame, lightning-quick speed and that special knack for making big plays. His splashy debut against Tennessee already has him among the Heisman Trophy frontrunners. But, really, how good is this guy? If he were the Rams, would he want his punter or kicker to boot the ball his way? “No way,” he said Wednesday from Berkeley, Calif., during a media teleconference. “Actually, that’s a tough question. But I definitely would be smart and have the right coverages in place to contain me.”
That’s obviously easier said than done. The 6-foot, 172-pound junior returned the first punt he saw as a freshman for a touchdown against Sacramento State, and during his career he has returned one of every five punts he gets his hands on for a touchdown. “He might be as good as I’ve ever seen,” Rams coach Sonny Lubick said.
The truly scary thing about Jackson is he’s also a dangerous receiver. He has been Cal’s leading receiver the past two seasons and last year had a ridiculous 28 plays (runs, catches and returns) of 20 or more yards. “We’ll have to know where he is at all times,” Lubick said. “But even if he runs a little hitch pattern he can make one move and take it 70 yards. That’s how good he is.” CSU has spent the past two days in practice working on ways to keep Jackson under wraps. Punter Jimmie Kaylor sent nearly every punt out of bounds Tuesday, while the coverage team practiced swarming to the ball.
The Rams, by their own admission, were awful in coverage in their opener against the University of Colorado. They yielded punt returns of 20 and 43 yards and a 68-yard kickoff return to players with credentials nowhere near as impressive as Jackson’s. Jackson said he’s not expecting the Rams to kick him the ball. “If they do, they do, and if they don’t, they don’t,” he said. If Jackson does get his hands on a return, CSU fans will see a rare talent in action. Jackson has spent years honing his skills, patterning himself after former collegiate greats Desmond Howard (Michigan), Peter Warrick (Florida State) and Dante Hall (Texas A&M) while using the offseason to work on moves. His signature move — the quick, full stop followed by an even quicker forward burst — came in handy during his touchdown vs. Tennessee.
“That’s just a lot of hard work paying off,” he said. “All summer and spring I work on certain moves. I do cone drills, getting in and out of my breaks.” Still, Jackson’s boldest move came at the end of last season following the Bears’ romp over Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl. That’s when he said Cal would be competing for a national championship this season. “In all honesty, that’s where we’re headed,” he said. “In my mind and my teammates’ minds, that’s all we’re thinking about.” Still, to get there the Bears cannot afford any off days. So, don’t look for them to arrive for Saturday’s game ill-prepared to play. “I’ve heard some reporters calling this a trap game, but this year’s team is ready for anything and everything,” he said. “We’re not going to allow for any slip-ups. We saw what happened last week to Michigan (in a loss to Appalachian State). We can’t afford to have any letdowns like that.”