Kevin Riley Can Rewrite His Golden Bear Legacy Against USC

BERKELEY, CA - OCTOBER 09: Kevin Riley #13 of the California Golden Bears celebrates after throwing a touchdown against the UCLA Bruins at California Memorial Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Riley's performance as starting quarterback haven't inspired much fanfare among the Cal faithful. He'll have his best shot to silence his critics on Saturday.

It was little over a year before that the California Golden Bears were massacred in Oregon, shattering their national aspirations. They  headed back home for homecoming weekend against the USC Trojans. Cal fans were shocked at the result, but not quite yet despondent, and were ready to rally behind their team and give themselves a good showing against a strong Trojan squad.

Unfortunately, after a promising start which gave the Bears 1st and goal, Kevin Riley began to unravel. His pass deep into the end zone was tipped by Chris Galippo on second down, and on 3rd down he rolled out of the pocket too early, kept looking for far too long, and threw a wobbler to Marvin Jones that was intercepted by Taylor Mays. After that he was a mess, completing only 14 of 40 passes in all and missing plenty of wide-open receivers. The Bears lost 30-3 and were never serious Pac-10 contenders again.

A year later, Riley's career as a Golden Bear is nearing its conclusion, and its hard to figure out what the final chapter will bring. The fifth year senior has shown signs of being the best post-Aaron Rodgers quarterback Jeff Tedford has developed. But then at other times he regresses to old habits and loses the focus that an experienced leader needs to have. He's improved over time, but he's still inconsistent, and the fanbase, while not openly hostile to his play, has become rather weary of seeing him march back out onto the field again. With weapons like Marvin Jones, Keenan Allen and Anthony Miller all available.

His last three performances against Nevada, Arizona and UCLA have provided a lot of consternation. If you look at the numbers and make snap judgments based on them, you'll see a quarterback who threw a costly pick-six to effectively blow the Wolf Pack game, and then a coaching staff that seemed unwilling to trust him to make aggressive decisions the next two games. Against Arizona Riley averaged a lowly 4.5 yards per attempt, and it only dipped up a little to 5.2 YPA versus UCLA (courtesy of cfbstats).

If you look beyond the stats, the picture looks somewhat clearer. Riley's offensive line has made mistakes. His receivers continue to struggle to gain separation. The playcalling isn't exactly ideal passing-wise. But there are still big question marks, like why he doesn't take off running more often instead of trying to force completions, or why he continues to leap on throws when he's rolling out, or whether he abandons the pocket too early.

Still, if you're an optimist, you have to like that Riley didn't make any mistakes against top 40 passing units and willingly took a backseat to the run game. But the rest of the way he needs to contribute more directly. He'll be facing at least four passing defenses (USC, Oregon State and the Washington schools) that rank near the bottom of the ladder nationally. If he doesn't perform well against any of those schools, our offense will languish and he will bear the brunt of the criticism.

The beginning of the end starts in the Coliseum. He again faces USC, a team that's tormented him the past two seasons. And after years of dominating the conference with the defense, USC's backline will never look more vulnerable than they'll be Saturday afternoon. With a reeling pass defense that's given up nearly 300 yards a game and lost two games thanks to game-winning drives by opposing quarterbacks, the Trojans will have precious little time to recover. Stopping Shane Vereen and the Cal rushing attack will be paramount. And if they can do it, all eyes will be once again on Cal's quarterback to make the throws necessary to bury the defense in its grave.

Kevin Riley will have a chance to rewrite his story as a Golden Bear. Whether it'll be for better or for worse will all be laid out on the gridiron.

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