Friday, September 28, 2007

San Jose Mercury: Cal receiver has some catching up to do

It's not his fault: Defenses focusing on Cal standout

By Jonathan Okanes

Cal has one of the most dynamic offenses in the country, ranking 15th in scoring at 41.5 points per game. The No. 6 Bears also feature one of the most exciting players in college football, preseason Heisman Trophy candidate DeSean Jackson.  Surely, there is a correlation, right? Sort of. While Jackson certainly has made an impact through the first four games, it has been more as a decoy. Defenses are focused on stopping the wide receiver, and that's opening more of the field for others to make plays. "He obviously is a playmaker. We have to find ways to get him the ball," quarterback Nate Longshore said. "But at the same time, if the defense takes that away, I don't think that will stop us from reaching our full potential." Receiver Lavelle Hawkins has been the biggest beneficiary of the attention Jackson is drawing. Hawkins has caught 25 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns. The Bears also have been running well, led by tailback Justin Forsett, who ranks second in the Pacific-10 at 121 yards per game. "For us to be successful, we need to try to get the ball into his hands a little bit more," Coach Jeff Tedford said of Jackson. "It's not that we haven't been trying. It's just sometimes they take it away. You can't be foolish and force things just to prove a point. But it would be nice to have him a little bit more a part of the game plan as we move forward here."

Jackson led the Bears with 59 catches for   1,060 yards and nine touchdowns last season, but this year he has just 17 receptions for 151 yards heading into Saturday's showdown at No. 11 Oregon. Jackson also has been hampered by a sprained thumb for most of the season.  “I'm not too worried about it," Jackson said. "Obviously, I want to touch the ball as much as possible. All I can do is keep practicing and come to the games prepared. A lot of defenses are focusing on me. It's just one of those things I have to deal with. I'm not mad. I'm not upset."

Jackson kept himself on the Heisman radar with an electrifying 77-yard punt return for a touchdown in the season opener against Tennessee and a 73-yard run for a score on an end-around against Colorado State. But over the past two games against Louisiana Tech and Arizona, he has just eight catches for 67 yards and minus-7 yards on four punt returns.  "I'm not caught up in the Heisman too much," Jackson said. "I've just got to be ready to make something happen at any given time. This is a big game this week and anything can happen. If my number is called, I have to be ready to make a big play. If I keep making big plays, the Heisman is still going to be there for me." The mystery is if and when opponents will stop paying extra attention to Jackson because other players are hurting them. As the Bears' numbers on offense demonstrate, the approach hasn't been working. "It probably will come back to DeSean at some point because I don't know that they can continue to leave the other guys open like they're doing," Tedford said.

• Linebacker Zack Follett (neck) and fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou (knee) will not play Saturday, Tedford said. Defensive tackle Matt Malele (foot) will return after missing last week's game.


No comments: