Golden Bears eager to face No. 14 Wildcats
BERKELEY – The timing of California’s Pac-10 opener against No. 14 Arizona this week couldn’t come at a better time for the Golden Bears.
Coming off their worst performance of the season in a 52-31 loss to Nevada, the Bears are trying to get back on track and don’t care that the opportunity comes against a team many expect to contend for the Pac-10 title.
“We’re ready for some conference games,” quarterback Kevin Riley said Tuesday. “Last week was a good test and we can learn from a lot of the things we did, especially offensively. We kind of hurt ourselves.”
No one inflicted more self-damage than Riley.
Cal’s senior quarterback passed for 277 yards and a touchdown but was sacked twice and threw three interceptions, including one that was returned 65 yards for a touchdown midway through the third quarter after the Bears had pulled within three.
Coach Jeff Tedford felt Riley played better than the stats indicate and noted that one of the interceptions was tipped and another came after the ball slipped through the hands of wide receiver Keenan Allen.
Riley didn’t see it that way and blamed himself.
“I made some crucial mistakes, especially that pick six that changed the game,” Riley said. “All you can do is learn from it. This is a new week, a new opponent. I still have plenty of confidence in myself and this offense.”
Riley is second in the Pac-10 and 13th in the country with a passer efficiency rating of 165.29.
Yet throughout Tuesday’s media session with the quarterback, Tedford and wide receiver Marvin Jones, most of the talk revolved around the mistakes Riley made in the loss to the unranked Wolfpack. He overthrew an open receiver in the end zone in the third quarter, was called for delay of game on fourth-and-goal from the 6 and also had a pass tipped away in the final 10 minutes.
That was against Nevada, a team Cal fully expected to beat on the road in Reno. Now the Bears face an even stiffer challenge from the 14th-ranked Wildcats.
“People are focused and ready,” Riley said. “We put that Nevada game behind us. We watched film and learned from it but we have to come out and play our best game of the year to beat Arizona.”
Tedford defended his quarterback.
“I don’t think Kevin played horribly by any means,” Tedford said. “He made a lot of good plays. A poor decision on the interception was costly, of course, but he completed a lot of balls. Can he be better? Obviously yeah, everybody can.”
Cal’s defense could get a boost from the return of linebacker Mike Mohammed, who sat out the loss to Nevada with a sprained big toe. Mohamed, who led the Pac-10 in tackles during the 2009 season, rested as a precautionary measure and Tedford said he will determine later in the week if his talented linebacker can play against the Wildcats.
Mohamed’s presence in the lineup will be critical for Cal after the Bears gave up 502 yards of offense to Nevada.
“Anytime something like that happens to you, it stings,” Tedford said of the loss to Nevada. “It makes you sick to your stomach. The bus ride, the plane ride was as quiet as you’ve ever heard it. They were anxious to get back on the field today and get after it.”
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