California has everyone totally perplexed after its 50-17 victory over Arizona State last week, and…
And while the cause of those losses are not all on Riley – inconsistent play in all aspects of the game have plagued the Bears – the relative amount of criticism placed on Riley makes you think that he was the sole cause of the Titanic.
So, with the pressure mounting on Riley for the 2010 season, how did he respond?
With his best effort of the year.
In California's 50-17 win over Arizona State, Riley went 19-of-28 for 240 yards and two TDs.
He quickly got the ball to freshman Keenan Allen early and often – Allen had a career high six catches for 40 yards and one touchdown – to get into rhythm and spread out ASU's defense.
The quick passes outside, in turn, led to solid running lanes for junior running back Shane Vereen, who finished with 19 carries for 91 yards and two touchdowns. That, in turn, set up play-action, where Riley was extremely successful.
"We ran the ball well early," said Riley. "Then, we threw the ball and made some big plays. You look back through the years, and that's kind of what we do. When we are scoring points, we are running well, we are 'play-actioning' it, and making plays."
Riley's success with the play-action culminated in a 52-yard touchdown strike to junior Marvin Jones. Riley's fake handoff to Vereen was perfectly executed, that Arizona State's safeties jumped the gun and allowed Jones to simply beat his man. Though Riley's pass was slightly underthrown, Jones had perfect body control to catch it, and fall into the end zone for the score.
"One of our main play action plays is the three level stretch," said Riley. "You read the safety – he came down with the play action – [Jones] had a one-on-one with the corner and, whenever you get that opportunity, you take that shot. [Jones] made a great adjustment and got in the end zone."
That touchdown put California up 23-3 in the second quarter. Late in the half, Riley lead the offense quickly down the field – going 6-for-8 with 65 yards and a near-touchdown pass that was not due to review. A field goal at the end of the second quarter would give California a 26-3 lead that would never be contested.
In that first half – when the game was all but decided – Riley went 15-of-22 for 201 yards and two touchdowns.
Head coach Jeff Tedford was pleased with the results.
"Kevin did some good things," said Tedford after the game. "I thought he did a nice job of throwing the deep ball today to Marvin, and did a nice job with the two-minute offense; going down the field with the two-minute offense before the half. And, he didn't turn the football over, which is key to protect the football."
"But he definitely made some nice plays."
So much for folding under pressure, and so much for the Bears giving up on the 2010 season.
The Bears are back on the road these next two weeks, venturing into the great Northwest. That really means something, given that the Bears are 0-3 away from Memorial Stadium, and have looked completely lost at times wearing white.
But, if Riley can dictate the flow of the game like he did on Saturday, then that factor should not be a problem – at least offensively.
And with the Bears ending the 2010 season with three straight home games – where they have looked unstoppable at times – they have a golden opportunity to really gain some momentum late.
But if that is going to happen, Riley will need to continue his improved play.
"It's always important to try and stay balanced," said Tedford. "In order to be successful each and every week, we have to be balanced, and we have to be able to throw the ball. While [Riley's yards] were not huge numbers, they were effective numbers."
And, as long as Kevin Riley keeps putting up effective performances, perhaps 'criticism, frustration, and disappointment' can be reversed into more positive connotations...and a successful season.
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