Cal's Air Attack Struggling to Take Off

Photo: <b>Wide receiver Jeremy Ross</b> had three receptions for 28 yards against the Trojans. The Cal wide receiver corps combined for just 95 yards in Saturday's loss to USC.
Skyler Reid/Staff
Wide receiver Jeremy Ross had three receptions for 28 yards against the Trojans. The Cal wide receiver corps combined for just 95 yards in Saturday's loss to USC.

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USC coach Pete Carroll's game plan on Saturday boiled down to one simple imperative:

Make the Cal football team pass.

"We never let (Bears tailback Jahvid Best) get into a rhythm," he said. "Because of that, they had to pass the football, and that's what we wanted."

In fact, the Bears entered their second Pac-10 game well aware that the Trojans would likely focus on Best and force them to rely on the air attack.

That knowledge didn't seem to help them in a 30-3 loss to USC at Memorial Stadium.

With Best being held to 3.4 yards per carry, Cal wasn't able to successfully retaliate through the air against the Trojans. The team thus extended its streak of offensive futility, as it hasn't scored a touchdown in its last eight quarters of play.

Quarterback Kevin Riley threw for 199 yards but completed just 15 of his 40 pass attempts and recorded one interception. It was an improvement from his 12-for-31, 123-yard effort last week against Oregon, but it didn't yield any six-point scores.

"We didn't execute very well in the passing game," coach Jeff Tedford said. "We had a chance to make some plays in the passing game, and we didn't do a very good job of it."

Against the Ducks, a frequently collapsing pocket and a notoriously boisterous Autzen Stadium crowd seemed to negatively affect Riley's timing with the receiving corps.

In front of a home crowd against USC, the junior struggled even though he appeared to have more time to throw.

"From my standpoint, he did," Cal offensive lineman Mike Tepper said. "I think he did, but I've gotta see the film."

In any case, when Tepper does watch tape, he'll likely notice that the offense missed several opportunities against USC.

On their opening drive, the Bears moved the ball into the red zone on a 21-yard pass to Shane Vereen. Three plays later, on third-and-goal from the five-yard line, Riley was picked off by Trojans safety Taylor Mays.

With 4:59 remaining in the third quarter, Cal faced fourth-and-two at the Trojans' 38-yard line. A turnover on downs ensued when Riley, rolling right, overthrew a seemingly open Best for what likely would have given the Bears another first down.

Then, on its next possession, Cal took over on its own 25-yard line after a failed fourth-down pass attempt by USC. Because the Trojans defense was not properly aligned when the ball was snapped, Vereen found himself wide open down the left sideline. Riley recognized the advantage, but his pass was well beyond the reach of his backup tailback.

Junior wideout Jeremy Ross, who had three catches for 28 yards, said Riley's performance won't affect the quarterback's state of mind heading into the team's bye week.

"He still believes in himself," Ross said. "We still believe in him."

Against USC, however, believing wasn't enough.

"The defense played really well (on Saturday)," Riley said, "and the offense just didn't do anything to help them out."


Contact Jeff Goodman at [email protected]

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