Riley, Bears Seek Redemption Against Oregon State

Photo: Quarterback Kevin Riley, who passed for 294 yards and two touchdowns last year against OSU, will be starting for Cal on Saturday.
Anna Hiatt/File
Quarterback Kevin Riley, who passed for 294 yards and two touchdowns last year against OSU, will be starting for Cal on Saturday.

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The play follows Kevin Riley around-and in more ways than one.

It's there in questions, as he regularly fields queries about last year's game-ending scramble in the Cal football team's 31-28 loss to Oregon State.

It follows him on video, with the footage popping up periodically:

"(Wednesday), I walked into (coach Jeff Tedford's) office," Riley said. "He goes, 'Good timing.' And he was watching the clip of the play from last year."

Even in the offseason, the play shadows him. Hanging out with OSU safety and high school teammate Greg Laybourn, Riley ran into linebacker Joey LaRocque-the player who tackled him on the final play-for a second time.

"I was like, 'Oh, it's this guy,'" Riley said with a chuckle. "He goes, 'I'm sorry about that.' I told him not to worry about it. He did his job."

Tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. at Reser Stadium, Riley gets his second shot at the Beavers and the chance to put last year's ballyhooed play further in the rear-view mirror, something it sounds like Riley has already done.

"(He's) a natural leader in the huddle," senior fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou said. "He has a different aura about him. He has confidence, the attention of all the players. I think he's grown tremendously since then."

Riley enters Saturday's game as the Bears' starter instead of Nate Longshore, who started last week against USC. Tedford made the declaration unusually early on Tuesday, giving Riley extra notice to prepare for a game that doubles as a homecoming of sorts for the Beaverton High alum.

And in a rather ironic twist, Cal could return the favor that Oregon State delivered last year in denying the Bears a No. 1 ranking. This time, the Beavers have the most to lose, given their simple Rose Bowl equation: Win their final three games and they will play in Pasadena.

Similarly, the OSU offense has followed an equally simple equation: Get Jacquizz Rodgers the ball. The 5-foot-7 freshman has been a revelation this year, leading the Pac-10 in rushing with 1,089 yards. He has gained 100 yards or more in six of his last seven games, including a season-best 186 yards in the upset of No. 1 USC.

"He's a great back," Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed said. "He's got great vision, he's a little guy but he's hard to tackle. If you go too high on him or don't wrap him up he'll slip through and bust a big one on you He always keeps churning his feet."

Though the Bears' run defense has been stiff this season, allowing opponents 116.6 yards per game, Rodgers' diminutive stature could be cause for concern. Many liken him to another small Pac-10 back, Arizona's Keola Antolin, a 5-foot-8 runner who gashed the Cal defense for 149 yards and three touchdowns on Oct. 18.

"They're pretty similar," Mohamed said. "I think the only thing with (Antolin) was that we didn't ever really get to see him on film. Rodgers, we'll be able to take a little more of a look at him (but) we don't want that to happen again. We got ran over in that game. Our defense is a lot better than that."

While Rodgers getting the ball seems to be a certainty, the quarterback handing off to him is less so. Backup Sean Canfield is the likely starter, having filled in for the injured Lyle Moevao the last two weeks in wins over UCLA and Arizona State.

Either quarterback will have weapons at his disposal in the receiving corps. Explosive senior Sammie Stroughter is second in the Pac-10 in receiving yards, while James Rodgers (Jacquizz's older brother) and Shane Morales crack the top seven. The trio has combined for 16 touchdowns.

The Bears offense, on the other hand, will be out to prove that last week's three-point, 165-yard effort against the Trojans was an aberration. They won't see the ferocious USC defense, but instead, a stout Oregon State unit, filled with eight seniors and led by safety Laybourn, the conference's leading tackler, and defensive end Slade Norris (third with 6.5 sacks).

As an added bonus, Cal has history on its side. The road team has won each of the last four meetings between the Beavers and Bears, and Cal hasn't lost at Reser since 2002.


Contact Jack Ross at [email protected]

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