California suffered a disappointing loss at Nevada last Friday. The defense gave up 52 points and 497 yards, which is just embarrassing. But you still got the feeling most Bears fans wanted to point the skeletal finger of blame at quarterback Kevin Riley.
After all, at the moment that Cal appeared to be driving for the go-ahead score in the third quarter, he made a poor decision and hurled a bad throw that ended up going 65 yards the other way for a pick-6.
Instead of going ahead, Cal was down by 10. And the final stat sheet would read: Riley, three interceptions, one touchdown.
"I don't actually think Kevin played horribly, by any means," coach Jeff Tedford said.
That might sound preposterous. But then Tedford explains, "A poor decision on the interception was costly, of course, but [he] completed a lot of balls. I don't know if there's any specific thing he did poorly. If you do, I'd be happy to address it. ... The first interception goes off Keenan's hands -- that's going to be a touchdown. And then the second one was obviously costly [the pick-6]. On the fourth down, the ball got tipped because the receiver got jammed at the line of scrimmage and Kevin's waiting for him to get open and has to be late with the ball because the receiver gets jammed. So there's a lot of those things people don't really see and the easy thing is to say, 'Well, that's Kevin.'"
Some might counter that not playing "horribly" isn't much of an aspiration for a the Pac-10's most experienced quarterback, but it's not unreasonable to point out that Riley and the offense rolled up 31 points and 502 yards. That should be good enough to win just about every weekend.
So we have Cal's visit to Arizona on Saturday. It's the Pac-10 opener for both, and they couldn't be coming from more different directions based on their previous games.
The Wildcats upset No. 9 Iowa as an underdog. The Bears lost as a favorite to a WAC team. Arizona doesn't want to suffer a hangover after celebrating its thrilling win. Cal doesn't want to let its disappointment from a loss kill its confidence and intensity.
Both are trying to accomplish the same thing, though: Wash away the feelings of their previous game to focus on this one.
"We've put that Nevada game behind us," Riley said.
Said Arizona coach Mike Stoops, "One game is not going to define you, win or lose, good or bad. It's the accumulation of all 12 games. Our goals are different than just beating Iowa."
Based on how well Arizona's defense played vs. Iowa -- holding the Hawkeyes to just 29 yards rushing -- one would expect that Riley is going to have to pass a lot and pass well for the Bears to win. And Riley seems to know this.
"They really put a lot on their secondary, which they have a lot of trust in," he said of the Arizona defense. "They've really packed the box inside. They don't want teams to run the ball on them and teams haven't been running the ball on them, so we're going to definitely, again, have to throw the football this week to be able to win."
Of course, don't expect the Bears to yield the running game entirely. That wouldn't be smart with a running back like Shane Vereen, who can get tough yards and also can hit a home run, see 198 yards on just 19 carries with three TDs at Nevada.
But the bigger issue might be the Bears defense, which looked, well, terrible while getting gashed by Nevada's pistol offense. The verdict from Berkeley is the Bears did a poor job mentally vs. a "gimmick" offense, but the Wildcats are far more conventional.
"Last week's unconventional thing in a short week, we didn't handle it very well," Tedford said. "There was some indecision and that's one thing you cannot have against that group [Nevada]. It's a triple option, and if you overplay one thing, you try to make up for somebody else. You have to be very patient against that group we played last week."
In other words, the Bears look forward to going back on attack mode in Tucson against Nick Foles and company.
But, whatever happens, whether Cal finds redemption in the desert, or Arizona takes another step toward the nation's elite, here's a guess that Riley's role in the matter will be much-discussed afterwards.