Golden Bears Off to Best Start in Nine Years
Cal still needs some work, though
Oct. 3, 2005
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) - Five easy wins and the best start in nine years would make many coaches happy.
Yet, California coach Jeff Tedford sees much room for improvement - especially on offense - for his young team and little time to get it done, with a trip to No. 20 UCLA on Saturday.
"It's still a work in progress, no question about it," Tedford said Saturday night after the Golden Bears (5-0, 2-0 Pac-10) beat Arizona 28-0 to win their first five games for the first time since 1996. Cal moved up two spots to No. 10 in the AP poll.
Tedford's biggest concern is in the passing game with junior college transfer Joe Ayoob at quarterback. After opening his career with 10 straight incompletions against Sacramento State, Ayoob has settled down after replacing the injured Nate Longshore.
He has won his four starts, completing 62 percent of his passes for 813 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions. While Ayoob did well on the short passes against Arizona, completing nine balls to his running backs and tight ends, he had only five completions to his wide receivers.
Only one of those passes to the wideouts went for more than 11 yards - a 39-yard touchdown to Robert Jordan off a broken play - leaving Tedford dissatisfied with the passing game. Ayoob took a few chances down the field, but was often off target on the long balls.
"He had some open receivers he needed to hit," Tedford said. "He needs to be more consistent that way. Joe hit some underneath stuff very well. To be a great team, a conference championship contender, you have to make a lot more big plays in the passing game."
Cal has been a predominant running team the first five games, a change for a coach that has tutored six NFL quarterbacks in his career.
But this year's team is riding the legs of Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett. Lynch, who missed two games with a broken finger, returned to the lineup against Arizona and had 107 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Forsett, who had 422 yards in the two games Lynch missed, added 78 yards on 13 carries. Cal is averaging 259.4 yards per game on the ground, seventh best in the country. But that has come against teams with a combined record of 4-16.
Sacramento State and New Mexico State are a far cry from the Pac-10 teams like UCLA (4-0, 1-0) that the Bears will face in the coming weeks. That means Ayoob will have to do a lot better if Cal is going to avoid what happened the last time it started 5-0. Coach Steve Mariucci's team won only one more game in 1996, finishing 6-6.
"You can't beat top teams with the 5-yard pass every play," Ayoob said. "You have to complete some long balls. We haven't done that yet but I'm not too concerned. I'm confident it will happen."
Part of the problems stems from Cal's facilities. The Bears are forced to practice at Memorial Stadium, with the defense working on one half and the offense on the other. That limits the quarterbacks to throwing passes of about 45 yards in practice, shorter than some of the routes they use in games.
Ayoob said he wouldn't use that as an excuse, but Tedford thought it was a factor.
"Maybe we need to look at the way we practice, and figure out a way to get the timing on our long throws down," he said.
The defense hasn't been a problem at all, posting a shutout against Arizona for the second straight year and not allowing an offensive touchdown in 10 games.
The Bears controlled the line of scrimmage against the Wildcats, allowing just 37 yards rushing and pressuring Richard Kovalcheck into three interceptions and many other off-target passes.
"We knew it would get tougher when we got to Pac-10 play," cornerback Daymeion Hughes said. "We had to step it up a couple of notches and we did. These are the games that really matter. ... UCLA will be the best team we've played so far. We're up for the challenge. If we play the way we're capable of playing, we can beat anybody."