There are plenty of reasons for why you should reserve opinions for another week (like next week).
This was UC Davis quarterback Randy Wright's first game. Wright might turn out to be a fine quarterback. But expecting him to do anything impressive against an experienced Cal defense after Greg Denham's sudden departure is asking a lot. Add in both of Davis's top receivers from last year graduating in Chris Carter and Bakari Grant, and it becomes a near impossibility to expect great things offensively.
After a nice job threading the needle on his first pass to his tight end Dean Rodgers, he spent most of the game trying to guess where the blitzes were coming from and having to throw on obvious passing down situations. Almost all of his good passes went less than ten yards. Once it became clear Cal's front seven was winning the line battle and dominating the run, Wright's troubles became even more perilous as the coverage tightened up and his window for throwing narrowed.
Speaking of which.
UC Davis's offensive line wore down against the seven man defensive line rotation. Let's say you have three starters in Cameron Jordan, Kendrick Payne and Ernest Owusu who've all seen quality minutes the year before, the first of whom might be an All Pac-10 defensive end. You have another three backups in Aaron Tipoti, Derrick Hill and Trevor Guyton who saw just as much action in 2009, one of whom was the starting nose tackle for much of the past two season and an NFL-caliber prospect when healthy. Top all of that by adding in another newcomer in Deandre Coleman, who might turn out to be the best of the bunch when all is said and done. You know your offensive line's going to struggle holding their footing.
The Aggies rushed for 14 yards on 19 plays. I don't know the list of teams that've won averaging under a yard per carry on the ground, but the list is short. For a team starting a new quarterback, these ground numbers don't make it any easier for the offense to get going.
Shane Vereen only generated 4.8 yards per carry. Clearly, he must be overrated. This number is fairly good against BCS competition. But against FCS competition, it's probably alarming right?
Well, until you realize the Aggies were playing strong to stop the run. The Aggies employed a similar strategy as many of Cal's opponents did last season--dare the quarterback to beat them and sell out against the tailbacks. Once Vereen showed he was more than capable of getting seven to eight yards against Davis's front seven, the Aggies dropped in another defender or two to stuff him inside.
However, this forced Aggie defenders to play a lot of man coverage. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig could dial up the misdirection rollouts and bubble screens to take advantage of the outside. Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen obliged with 9 catches and 201 yards.
When the passing game started scorching and the Aggies had to draw defenders back out, Vereen walked in for two quick touchdowns to make it 35-0. Don't worry too much about the running game yet.
Kevin Riley is ____________! Some will say he's real improved. Riley did have a strong first quarter. His mechanics look much sharper--his footwork is more crisp and his spiral has way more spin on it. The slant throws he struggled with last season looked a lot crisper and on target this week, as he found Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen a few times. On the other hand, he was rarely going past his first read because Davis was playing so much man coverage and Jones and Allen were slipping past their men pretty easily with their footspeed. It's a lot easier to throw to a guy who's not being covered tight.
Others will say he still gets the jitters. After a near perfect first quarter, he went 1 for 6 in the second quarter. He did overthrow Allen on an easy out route to the sidelines. He made three mental errors (a fumbled handoff between him and Chris Guarnero, and a false start and delay of game that killed a drive). Still, he did show he could step into the pocket and deliver with confidence when he knew the hit was coming. He got knocked down on a throw to Michael Calvin that was well-defended by the free safety, and nearly nailed Allen for a spectacular touchdown down the left side. Unfortunately, Allen wasn't running at full stride at the start of the play and had to catch up to the throw. If he had been moving at full stride the start, it would've certainly been six more points.
So let's take a wait and see attitude and assess how he does against a strong Colorado secondary next week. If he can pick apart coverages and find receivers in a similar fashion, you can boost your optimism progressively.
Beau Sweeney struggled as the backup in a 40 point game. Is second string quarterback analysis the new sweet science of football? Because it seems like everyone was wringing their hands because #9 couldn't make things happen with the second unit. Hydrotech at the California Golden Blogs mentioned some of his mistakes.
One thing that probably gets lost is that the second unit has been playing as the scout team to help improve readiness for the first team. So they don't know UC Davis's defense as well as they would have in previous years. The tradeoff for the first team being that much more prepared for game situations and strategies is that the second team lags behind because they're too busy simulating the other team. This is the tradeoff for having a more polished first unit. Sweeney is the natural casualty.
Sweeney was probably asked to come into the game to protect the ball and not commit turnovers. Playing with mostly the second unit receivers, running backs, and (occasionally) linemen, let's not be hasty and dismiss a quarterback so easily from two and a half drives of garbage-time football.
Keenan Allen spent Saturday replicating his high school days. Don't get me wrong. Allen's instincts on the football field are already on par to many of his fellow Golden Bears. He showed great vision in the open field. On his rushing touchdown he surveyed the defense and drew the closest defenders inside. Once he drew the defense into the hole, he cut to the outside and quickly gained the edge. Whoever was supposed to contain on the left side of the field either got drawn out by the receivers or came up too late to contest Allen.
On his second score, Allen received a simple trips screen on the weakside. He then got great downfield blocking to seal off the right side. Again though, the Aggies all overran back to Allen and made his job to get to the end zone that much easier. Think Jahvid Best against Washington State in 2008. On most of his star plays he was being the better athlete, cutting past and and juking out guys who aren't on his level.
Don't get me wrong--Allen has a bright future ahead of him, and he should have some sterling moments down the road. But let's not go thinking he'll light up the conference catching slant routes from Riley and averaging 25 to 30 yards after the catch. Davis's linebackers and defensive backs are far easier to block and cut against than premier Pac-10 defenders. Only time will tell if he can replicate those performances against the top schools in the conference and maintain his timing with Riley with the same regularity.
We've been here before. Cal 59, Eastern Washington 7. Cal 41, Sacramento State 3. Both of those teams ended up playing really well for about a month before their season submarined. In fact, their least impressive win against an FCS opponent as of late came from one of their most impressive teams, a modest 42-16 victory over Portland State. So to say this game is a predictor of future success isn't really saying much. All we concluded is that our team can beat up a team that isn't on our level. And we knew that already.
So treat Cal-UC Davis for what it was--a glorified scrimmage masquerading as a competitive football game. Lots of fun to watch football again, but it's the same joy NFL fans get when watching the Hall of Fame game in Canton. Searching for meaning is a fruitless endeavor. Only now do the true tests begin.