Dec. 1, 2009
BERKELEY - California head coach Jeff Tedford and junior quarterback Kevin Riley addressed the media during the final weekly Cal football media luncheon of the 2009 regular season held Tuesday in the Hall of Fame Room at Memorial Stadium prior to the Golden Bears' regular-season finale at Washington this Saturday, Dec. 5 (3:30 p.m. PT). Following are selected comments of what each had to say.
HEAD COACH JEFF TEDFORD
On the tenor of his team in the unusual situation of having another regular-season game after the Big Game, as well as a bye week preceding this Saturday's final regular-season contest at Washington
"It was a great break for us to get healthy. We were a little bit banged up after [the Big Game], so it's great for the kids to be able to take a break, go home, kind of regroup, get focused on Washington. I think it was good in that way. [But] I think there is some - especially when we played here at home last year [against Washington, also after the Big Game] - I don't think the interest was as much by the fans coming to the stadium. It was a little anticlimactic, I think, for the fans, but the players will be excited to go play."
On whether the pace of this end-of-season schedule is beneficial compared to having too long a break before a bowl game
"Yeah - there's a lot that goes into that though. This is a heavy recruiting time. The bowl schedules cut your recruiting weekends, your opportunities, down. They start finals here in a week, so there's a lot going on."
On whether he has any updates on Jahvid Best's status
"No, no update at all. Jahvid did go back today to get evaluated in Pittsburgh, [Pa.] and he'll be back tomorrow. He seems to be doing very well but we have not discussed at all a return."
On whether he will play against Washington
"He won't play this week."
On any specific types of evaluations Best is undergoing
"I don't know what they're doing. I do know that the expert in that field that a lot of people rely on is back there, so that's why he went there. But his head's been doing fine. His thing now is he's got a sore back, that's the main thing. He hasn't had any symptoms with headaches or anything like that for a couple weeks now. The back has been what's bothering him."
On whether this expert in Pittsburgh is seeing Best for his back or concussion
"It's still just making sure that the head is 100 percent completely clear, and we've given it a lot of time. It's something that we said after that happened, that we'd by no means take any risk or anything like that with him. He's back there just getting evaluated to make sure that everything's okay."
On the Washington Huskies and how they've endured with their good start followed by four straight losses and a recent 30-0 win over Washington State
"They're back on track, I don't think that there's any doubt about that. They're playing really, really well. They lost some close games, some tough games there. But they beat USC there, they beat Arizona there. It's tough to play there. They have all their fans back, I think they had 68,000 [actual attendance 68,697] last week for Washington State, so it's a hostile environment. Offensively they're playing really well. [Quarterback] Jake Locker is a guy who makes a big difference as far as throwing the football, pulling it down, running with it. [Chris] Polk, their tailback, is doing a great job. And then their defense is playing really well, played great last week against Washington State. Linebackers are athletic, can run. Their defensive line, very quick and agile. Secondary, very solid and they have a nice package, so they're doing a great job."
On the unique skill set of Husky junior quarterback Jake Locker
"It's rare to find someone that big with that type of speed, because when he gets in the open field, he can go the distance and he has quite a few times this year. And then he's throwing the ball very well. He's very accurate, he's throwing the ball, he knows what he's looking for. There's no question that he's a great player and you have to defend the whole field with him or he's going to burn you with his legs."
On the challenge of playing at Husky Stadium
"It's one of the tougher places to play in the conference when they have it going. Years ago it was very hostile to go in there, very loud. The last couple times we've been there it hadn't been as bad as it can be, but as I look at people on the sidelines I see how [players] are trying to communicate up front, they're having some illegal procedure penalties, things like that. I'm sure that with 68,000 fans or over 60,000 for sure, it will be very, very loud there."
On reasons for Cal's road success this year, with a 4-1 road record going into the game at Washington
"We haven't done anything differently this year than we always have on the road. Nothing in preparation, nothing when we get there - there's no difference."
On Shane Vereen and what he has done differently since becoming the starting tailback
"Shane's really the same guy. Shane's made a huge impact for us the last couple years as he's kind of been the one-two punch with Jahvid. So we've had great confidence in him and he's such a down-to-earth, hardworking guy, focused guy, he really hasn't changed a bit. He works very hard throughout the week. Now, when he's carried the load a little bit, he has to rest a little bit more during the week because he's pretty banged up after the game. He was very banged up after last week [at Stanford], carrying the ball 42 times, so he didn't practice last week. We just tried to get him fresh and healthy. But he's the same guy. He always has great focus. He's so versatile with what he does. He can run it, he pass protects very well, he can catch it, you can put him out at receiver, he runs routes at all different levels, he has the speed to break it, so he's an excellent running back, but he hasn't changed at all just with his role being increased."
On whether other backs such as Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson could see more action
"We just kind of play that as it comes. Coach [Ron] Gould, the running backs coach, kind of sees how the game's going and he'll sub as needed. There's no plan that you're going to have this series, that series, there's no plan like that ever going in. He just really evaluates how the game's going and that's how he makes the substitutions."
On whether Vereen could get as many carries again as he did at Stanford
On what about Vereen makes him able to carry the ball that many times in a game
"He's in great shape, he works hard. Every day in practice he runs to the end zone with every touch he gets of the ball. He's fit. He works hard in the weight room. He can do that because he's in great shape, and you get in great shape by work ethic, and he has great work ethic."
On the type of leader Vereen is and whether he just lets his play do the talking
"He can be vocal. There was one day where I really didn't think he was very vocal, and then one day I asked him to break the team down and what came out of his mouth was awesome. I didn't know that could come out of his mouth. He is so well respected on this football team because he's not always talking. When he does, people listen. He's really not one of those guys who just always wants to jabber all the time. When it's meaningful, he'll have something to say."
On whether finishing strongly with a win to end the regular season is important in part from a recruiting perspective
"Always. Winning football games and recruiting, it's a big deal, because perception of the recruits and what you're doing here makes a big difference. It's always important to finish strong, for a lot of reasons, but recruiting definitely is one of them."
On the potential impact of weather this weekend, with forecasts calling for possible rain and temps in the high 30s
"Weather will be a little bit different than what we're used to ... It's a little difficult to simulate here, obviously. But it's got to be something that we just focus on what's going on between the lines and kind of put those things out of our mind. You never know what you're going to get there. It could be pouring rain, it could be bright, sunny, who knows. But whatever it is, we have to focus on our execution and the one thing we can simulate is noise, and we will do that throughout the week."
On his impressions of the Pac-10 conference this season
"Just the parity in the conference, this is the strongest I've seen this conference in as long as I've been associated with it, either as a coordinator or as a head coach. Every team is so strong. I think everybody realizes that Washington State is rebuilding, but after that, you have to bring your 'A' game each and every week. Everyone is recruiting well, everybody has great players. It's just very, very competitive ... There are five Pac-10 teams in the BCS Top 25 ... so it's a very strong conference, which, you know, you knock each other off week in and week out. That's the way it's been. Hard to explain but there's a lot of good football teams in this conference."
On whether Washington freshman tailback Chris Polk plays with experience beyond his class year
"He looks like he's been around for a while. We're going into our 12th game, so he's had enough carries now. He's a 1,000-yard rusher, so he's had plenty of experience. You're going to continue to learn every time you touch the ball, but he runs physical, he has great speed, he's elusive, so he's a very good player. He doesn't look like a freshman."
On the criteria for selecting the starting placekicker and whether the decision to start Vince D'Amato in the Big Game at Stanford was based on pregame warmups
"It's such a close competition for the field-goal kicking spot that really, who plays best in pregame - the week of practice has something to do with it as well - but whoever kicks best in pregame is the guy that's going to kick. They get equal amount of reps throughout the week and Giorgio [Tavecchio] was having a hard time in pregame [at Stanford] and Vince was doing a great job, so he kind of won the opportunity that day."
On whether the competition for kickoff duties are similarly close or if they belong to Tavecchio
"Pretty much it's Giorgio's job, but that gets evaluated each week as well. But right now, Giorgio's more consistent. We didn't kick the ball [deep] against Stanford. We squibbed every kick, I think, except one, and we pooched one. But we squibbed the ball, we wanted to keep it away from [Cardinal KR Chris] Owusu there in that deal. Right now, Giorgio is the more consistent kickoff guy."
On whether there are similarities between Washington and USC in film study
"Yeah, there is, both sides of the ball. Defensively, no question, with [former USC defensive coordinator] Nick Holt there, very similar to what USC does. And then obviously [former USC offensive coordinator, now UW head coach Steve] Sarkesian playing a big role on offense, they do quite a bit of very similar stuff."
On whether the absence of Holt and Sarkesian at USC has been a factor in the Trojans' three losses in 2009
"I don't know. I haven't watched them close enough. We played them a long time ago and after that I haven't watched them. I don't know what their issues are, I don't know how the transition's been ... We have our own issues so I really haven't paid attention to their issues."
On Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden, who is retiring as head coach after this season at the age of 80 following 34 years as the Seminoles' head coach
"I have a great deal of respect for Bobby. Over the last few years I've had an opportunity to meet and spend some time with Bobby, and he's one of the most genuine people I know ... Bobby's been great for college football and has been very well respected by everyone ... He's been a friend to me and I wish him all the best."
On whether he has given any thought to how long he would like to be a head coach
"No [laughs]. This week, for sure. I promise you it won't be 'til I'm 80, I'll put it that way. I know that for a fact."
On how much he and his team have discussed the different bowl-game scenarios
"Only that we've tried to put a calendar together for all the scenarios, because there's a lot of planning that goes into it, like I said. The kids have finals coming up. Everywhere from the [Las] Vegas Bowl to the Holiday Bowl, you have to kind of make plans for and have schedules, as far as going out recruiting, when you have recruiting weekends, when are you going to practice, and so on and so forth ... But there's still so much football to be played, we have no idea what's going to happen with the bowl picture. We really haven't discussed that. It's just about finishing strong, winning our ninth game, obviously going to Washington and playing a good Washington team, that's all we're thinking about, because you have no idea what's going to happen in the bowl picture. We just have to take care of ourselves, and it is what it is, but we have to take care of our business."
On whether it's odd to go this far into the year with bowl possibilities so wide-ranging
"Yeah. Typically it's one or two [possibilities], but I think it's completely open. Except for the Rose Bowl, there are scenarios that say you could play in all of them."
On what it would say about the team to finish as high as a tie for second in the conference
"This team has shown a lot character. There's a lot of people who got down on us after, for sure, those first two losses to USC and Oregon, but the team, the guys in the locker room, didn't get down. We always knew we had the makings of a good football team but we had to handle everything properly. I think the leadership on this team has done that. The coaches have done a nice job of continuing to prepare very well, but the players have done a great job of sticking together, winning close games. Sometimes that's the difference. You play those close games and you find a way to win, and they have. The other thing is you have one of your best players go down - that's three games ago, [Jahvid Best] got hurt in the second quarter [vs. Oregon State on Nov. 7}\] - and still to find a way to win [the next two games] says a lot about this group. So I'm really proud of the effort up 'til now, but again, we still need to finish strong and that going to be the whole focus."
JUNIOR QUARTERBACK KEVIN RILEY
On Washington quarterback Jake Locker, who was in the same recruiting class as Riley and also had an offer from Cal
"Tremendous player. We were roommates at the Elite 11 together in high school. He's a playmaker. I remember watching his high school game his junior year [at Ferndale, WA] and they were playing Bellevue and Bellevue was winning all those games, and he almost won that game by himself, returning interceptions for touchdowns, running touchdowns, throwing touchdowns. He's a tremendous player overall and what he does gives his team a good chance to win games."
On the unusual situation of having another game after the Big Game, as well as a bye preceding this weekend's final regular-season contest
"It was good to go home and see the family for a change. We've just got to come out ready and it's going to be a hard-fought game. They're a good team."
On what it would say about the team if it succeeds at winning its final game to finish strongly as was intended after suffering two straight losses at Oregon and vs. USC to start the Pac-10 schedule
"We stuck together, that's for sure. A lot of times you can place blame and poke fingers at each other, but we stuck together and believed, played hard every game, and some of those games were fights. We've just got to continue to do that this week ... We knew we could play better and just had to do it. We just knew we were a better team than we played those two games."
On tailback Shane Vereen the past two games
"Stepped it up big time. He's carried the load for us. Both games he's had over 30 carries [actually 30 vs. Arizona and 42 at Stanford] and just been there when you need to count on him, making first downs, critical situations, making holes. Line's doing a great job for him and he's doing a great job. There's not much you can say. Hopefully he continues it this week."
On whether the amount of carries Vereen has gotten has been a surprise
"The way he's played hasn't surprised me but just the load, how many carries he's gotten each week ... he's been tough, definitely grinding it out and working hard."
On whether the team is distinctly better now than it was going into the Oregon and USC games
"Each week we've gotten better in many situations."
On whether there was a specific point in time when he felt things began clicking positively for the team
"After the bye week, that UCLA game, the way we started that and kind of continued it. We had some downs but after a couple of drives where we didn't go anywhere we'd kind of step it up again and make a drive ... We stuck together well and even when things weren't going well we were able to pick it up."
On how much it matters whether the Bears finish as high as tied for second or tied for fifth in the Pac-10
"We've just got to win this week, that's all we can do. I don't think anybody's really worried. We don't control what bowl we go to, but we've just got to win this week to put ourselves in the best situation."
On the play of the offensive line and how its success is linked to the return of Matt Summers-Gavin
"The line the last few games, definitely stepped it up run-blocking and pass-blocking, and it makes the game a lot easier. I don't know if it's entirely [Summers-Gavin's return] ... but they've definitely picked it up. I can't say it's just one guy."
On the worst weather he has ever played in
"Redmond, Oregon, it was like 25 degrees and snowing. Played in a ton of games where it's just rained the whole time and like 35 degrees ... It's a little different growing up there [in the Portland area]. Playing in bad weather is not so much for the quarterback so much as the receivers ... Got to do some wet-ball drills."
On how much of a factor poor weather conditions might be at Washington this Saturday
"It's going to be cold which is going to be different for our team."
On the Huskies' defense and what he sees in film study
"On third down they mix it up well with their fronts and their pressures, and it's kind of hard to see it sometimes because they disguise it real well. So I'm going to do a good job of watching film and trying to see what they're going to do on third down."
On whether it will be hard to have the right mindset at Washington considering Cal's lopsided victory over the Huskies at home last year
"There's not much to say. It's their Senior Day, this is their bowl game ... It's their seniors' last day at home and they're going to want to finish with a win, but we're going to do our best to not make that happen."
On what he recalls about the last trip to Seattle in 2007, which resulted in a 37-23 Cal loss
"That was one of the worst games I've ever left the field feeling. It was just a terrible feeling after that game. So we're going to have to get pumped up for this game, for sure. Because that wasn't Cal football. It was kind of embarrassing."