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Like it or not, there is a quarterback controversy. Longshore is probably coming back next year, and Riley’s great performance in the bowl game isn’t going to automatically win him the starting job next year. Like it or not, we’re going to see Riley, Mansion, and Longshore battle it out in in a few months for the 2008 starting QB spot.
I know it probably comes as a shock to many Cal fans that there is actually a QB competition and controversy for next year following Riley’s All-American performance in the Bell Helicopter Bowl but there will be one.
Tedford has already publicly announced that all positions will have open competitions in the spring. And furthermore, Tedford himself has already acknowledged that there will probably be a QB controversy in the spring.
I’m sure many readers are thinking: "why is there a QB controversy? Kevin Riley just won himself the starting QB spot for next year!"
Well, it sure would seem like it. Afterall, most fans have written off Nasty Nate Longshore. You know, the guy that has thrown 1 touchdown in the fourth quarter compared to like a bagillion-squared interceptions in the fourth quarter. Certainly Nasty Nate doesn’t stand a chance against Riley in winning back his QB spot for 2008. But that Nasty Nate dude for some reason, still started every regular season game after the 2007 loss to Oregon State.
How could someone so completely horrible, start so many games? Simple. He’s not horrible. And definitely not as horrible as many Cal fans probably think. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying he’s Peyton Manning (aside from the fact that they both move at the speed of the continental drift), but he’s somewhere from a serviceable to an above average QB.
And what about Riley? Well, against OSU he had a shaky 1st quarter, okay 2nd and 3rd quarters, and an impressive 4th quarter. And against Air Force’s defense, he looked like Tom Brady.
So who’s better?
After seeing the bowl game, it’s hard not to think that Riley is better than Longshore. The notion that Riley is better than Longshore begs the question, why did Tedford start Longshore for so long instead of Riley? Why? Why? Why???
Well, below are a few of the possible reasons as for why. These are the ones that I’ve heard thrown around on this blog and other places. Also included below are my thoughts on each of these theories.
(1) To punish Riley for his OSU mistake. Well, I can’t believe this one. Players make game mistakes and Tedford realizes that. Furthermore, evidence suggests that he no longer punishes players for their game brain-farts. Remember the days when JT would bench the RBs for fumbles? That never happens any more. Lynch had a few fumbles in his day, and stayed in the games. Forsett has had a few fumbles and stayed in the game. Longshore throws INTs and stays in the game. So I really don’t think JT was punishing Riley for his costly brain fart at the end of the OSU game. Furthermore, JT just doesn’t strike me as that kind of person any more. I think as his time as a HC has increased, he’s put more faith in the players and will let them continue to play despite an occassional error.
(2) Tedford’s loyalty to Longshore. So, JT didn’t start KR because he’s loyal to Longshore. Loyalty is essentially playing favorites, right? So JT likes NL more for some reason. I’ve heard people say it’s because Longshore was JT’s first Elite 11 QB. Eh, not very convincing of a theory. Well, why does JT like NL more than KR? Well, I’ll get to that in a moment but I certainly don’t think it’s because Tedford is more loyal to Longshore. I really don’t like this theory because it’s premised on nothing. Absolutely nothing. We have no evidence to really conclude that Tedford is more loyal/playing-favorites with Longshore. This theory started out somewhere on BearInsider and because Tedford hasn’t really blatantly explained why he has started Longshore over Riley (although careful reading of his quotes do reveal why he started NL over KR - which I have tried to point out in previous posts here and here), people start thinking up random theories. While this theory is certainly plausible, I’d say it’s just more or less just a bunch of bat guano.
(3) Riley’s inexperience. So, JT didn’t start Riley because of Riley’s inexperience. Or at least the inexperience part played a factor in the decision to start NL over KR. I think this is extremely plausible and likely. Riley had only 1 game of experience under his belt while Longshore had a full season and a half. And experience is invaluable. Whether it’s reading masked defenses, or just the speed of the game, something has to be said for experience. I definitely think part of the reason why KR didn’t start in the latter part of the season was because of experience, especially compared to all the experience that Longshore has in comparison. Which sort of brings me back to theory (2), the theory that Tedford was being overly loyal to NL. I think what is mistaken as "loyalty" in theory (2) is really "experience." I don’t think JT was being "loyal" to Longshore, but I do think JT continued to start Longshore over Riley because of experience. I suppose someone might try and argue that JT was being loyal to NL because of NL’s experience. But the idea that JT chose Longshore to start over Riley for so long for the reason of experience is hardly a "loyalty" thing or playing-favorites act. It’s a calculated decision premised on sound reasoning that the more experienced guy gives Cal a better chance to win than the less experienced guy in the experience department.
(4) JT started Longshore over Riley because Longshore gives Cal a better chance at winning. I know most readers probably are going to say this theory is a bunch of bat guano. And I can understand why. But I actually think it’s much more plausible than people would like to think and admit. If Riley really gave Cal a better chance to win than Longshore, and JT knew this, then why didn’t Riley start for the latter half of the season? If Riley really gave Cal a better chance at winning than Longshore prior to the bowl game, then why didn’t Riley start the bowl game? Assuming Tedford acts rationally and starts the QB that gives Cal a better chance to win, based on Tedford’s actions, we are more or less led to the conclusion that in fact Longshore is better than Riley.
So a quick review before I jump into more thoughts.
JT was punishing Riley for his OSU mistake? I personally can’t buy this argument. There is really no evidence to suggest this. No quotes. Nothing. Just speculation.
JT was being loyal to Longshore? Again, I personally can’t buy this argument. And again, there is really no evidence to suggest this. No quotes. Nothing. Just speculation.
JT didn’t start Riley because of his inexperience? Possible and likely, especially when compared to Longshore’s experience. This theory wasn’t probably the only reason in Tedford’s mind, but at least a significant component.
JT didn’t start Riley because Longshore gave Cal a better chance at winning? Possible and likely. Especially considering the significance of Tedford’s quotes which I analyzed here, then re-analyzed and slightly modified here.
Actually, I’ll put the quotes into this post since they’re so important. This is text taken straight from Okane’s Blog dated December 4th, on why Longshore started over Riley "Tedford went on to reiterate what he has said all year, that although the injury may have an effect on Longshore’s mobility, it’s not enough to knock him out of the lineup because of his intangibles and grasp of the offense."
And even more recently, Glenn Dickey wrote this on his latest column dated January 2, 2008: "Since Longshore came back from what was called a high ankle sprain, though it apparently was a fracture of a small bone in his foot, Cal head coach Jeff Tedford had stuck with him because he felt Longshore had a more complete understanding of the offense than Riley."
Two huge quotes from reputable media sources relaying what Tedford said to them. Longshore started while injured because he has a better understanding of the offense than Riley. Nothing about loyalty or punishment. Nothing about experience either but I’m sure that is a factor. But Longshore started because he has a better understanding of the offense than Riley.
Does the bowl game prove that Riley has a better understanding of the offense than Longshore? No. Certainly, it’s possible that Riley might. Although Tedford would seem to disagree. But Riley’s All-American performance against Air Force doesn’t necessarily mean he has a better grasp of the offense. Now don’t get me wrong. I didn’t say Riley’s grasp of the offense is inadequate. But that it’s just not as good as Longshore’s. Afterall, one can have an adequate grasp of the offense but not just as good as someone else.
But the results of the bowl game are hard to ignore. When Longshore was the quarterback, the Cal offense sputtered. When Riley came into the game, the Cal offense changed dramatically and started scoring. What gives? Well, it certainly wasn’t Longshore. Longshore was 5/8 with one incompletion being a drop by Desa. So Longshore was really like 6/8. Another one of Longshore’s incompletions (the overthrow to Stevens) was overthrown because of QB pressure - which is the OL’s fault and not Longshore’s. Consider that pass a throw-away pass which doesn’t really count. Longshore is now 6/7. The other incompletion was the jump-ball to Cunningham in the end zone. I can’t remember if there was a blocking breakdown that play so I won’t comment on whether the incompletion was Longshore’s fault or not. Either way, Longshore was 6/7 or 7/7 for the bowl game which is really good. Let’s not forget that Longshore didn’t have Jackson and Jordan to draw Air Force’s defensive attention away from Forsett. So Cal’s offensive woes in the bowl game when Longshore was the QB were hardly any fault of Longshore’s.
So why did Riley’s entrance into the bowl game produce such quick offensive scores? Well, I’m sure most readers would say it’s his mobility. And yes, Riley is more mobile than Longshore. Riley has faster acceleration and top speed. Riley’s mobility definitely helped him escape coverage sacks, as well as producing a first down by foot, and a touchdown throw. Physically, Riley is superior than Longshore not only in the legs, but probably in the arm too. Riley probably has the stronger arm. He might even be more accurate. Physically, Riley is superior than Longshore. I think the bowl game really showed the difference between the physical attributes of Riley compared to Longshore.
If Riley was so physically superior to Longshore, then of course, that begs the question of why didn’t Riley start over Longshore in the latter part of the season? And why didn’t Riley start the bowl game?
Well, as we all know, or should know, quarterbacking isn’t all physical. It’s mental too. And as we’ve already been told by Okane and Dickey, Tedford started Longshore throughout the latter part of the season because Longshore has the better grasp of the offense. And Longshore was chosen as the starter by Tedford despite the fact that Riley was superior in the physical attributes department. The fact that Longshore was chosen as starter for the latter part of the season and the bowl game suggest that the difference between NL’s grasp of the offense compared to KR’s grasp of the offense is greater than KR’s superior physicalness compared to NL’s phyiscalness. Let’s use numbers to illustrate this idea just to make sure I’m getting my theory across. Let’s say NL’s grasp of the offense is 9 out of 10. KR’s is 6 out of 10. There is a difference of 3 between the grasps of the offense. Now let’s also say KR’s physical abilities are 7 out of 10, and NL’s are 5 out of 10. There is a difference of 2 between the physical abilities. So even though KR has a better rating in physical department than NL, NL brings more to the table in the mental department than KR, and does so by more than KR beats out NL in the physical department. Adding up the two players’ mental and physical ratings, Longshore has a score of 14/20 and Riley has a score of 13/20. Longshore gives Cal the better overall chance at winning.
Now, the above example with numbers comes to the conclusion that Longshore gives Cal the better overall chance at winning. That conclusion assumes that the grasp of the offense is just as important as the physical abilities of the players. But that assumption might not be true. In fact, I believe that Tedford believes it’s not true. I believe Tedford thinks the mental aspect of quarterbacking is more important than the physical abilities of the player. I can’t find the article, but in an article on Tedford, Tedford says that he teaches his QBs the coverages and schemes first (mental aspect) and only when the Quarterback has mastered the mental aspect of the offense do they move on to proper throwing/dropback technique (physical aspect). That statement by Tedford clearly suggests that he believes the mental aspect of quarterbacking is more critical than the physical aspects. Meaning that a player’s grasp of the offense is more important than a player’s mobility, and mechanics. Thus, Longshore’s superior mental grasp of the offense was even more influential and determinative in Tedford’s decision to start Longshore over Riley.
So to recap. JT started Longshore instead of Riley throughout the latter half of the season because he felt Longshore has a better grasp of the offense (as well as more experience). JT values a QB’s mental attributes more than a QB’s physicaly attributes. Thus, Longshore > Riley in JT’s mind. Thus JT thinks Longshore gives Cal a better chance at winning than Riley.
That being said. It is possible that Tedford was wrong. It’s possible that Tedford was wrong in evaluating who gave Cal a better chance to win. It’s very possible. Afterall, he’s not god (as much as we refer to him as one on this blog), and he’s only human. It’s also very possible that Tedford was right, that Longshore gave Cal a better chance to win and Riley just performed much better in the bowl than Tedford imagined and anticipated.
So why did Tedford finally allow Riley to play in the bowl game as opposed to in the latter part of the season?
Well, I think it’s because of a multitude of factors. (a) After Longshore’s slump, he has no choice but to open up the QB competition next year and needs Riley to get experience for the QB competition. (b) Riley had a whole month to prepare for Air Force’s 3-4 defense. (c) Tedford wanted to see if Riley could spark the offense.
(a) After Longshore’s slump, he has no choice but to open up the QB competition and needs Riley to get experience for the QB competition next year. This is pretty straightforward. Longshore was in a 4th quarter slump. Cal needs a QB that can play 4 consistent quarters of football. If Longshore can’t, then Riley is the next option. But Riley needs experience. So let Riley play to get experience.
(b) Riley had a whole month to prepare for Air Force’s defense. The bowl game, unlike the other games throughout the season, gave the Cal QBs four weeks of preparation. With all that time to prepare, Riley proved to Tedford that he understands the gameplan and Air Force’s 3-4 defense and is ready to play.
(c) Tedford wanted to see if Riley could spark the offense. Here are my thoughts on this reason which I had originally posted as a comment in our Armed Forces Bowl Live-Blog: There is a time when you may be starting the guy who gives you a better chance at winning, but he’s in a slump or things just aren’t working out and a change is needed. Maybe the guy’s in a slump, or maybe he just has a limitation. Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s his arm strength, or accuracy, or experience, or maybe his lack of mobility. And there can sometimes come a time when a change, or a “spark”, as the commentators call it, is needed - even if the change doesn’t provide you with a better chance at winning. There comes a time when you have to go with that “spark” guy instead of the better guy. I think we saw that with Ayoob/Levy. And I think we saw that today. If Riley really was better, or gave Cal a better chance at winning, then why didn’t Riley start the bowl game? Longshore starting makes me believe that JT thinks Longshore still gives Cal a better chance to win. Without superior knowledge of Cal’s QBs, I defer to JT’s opinion. But the fact that JT was willing to play Riley (in the first half nonetheless!) despite starting Longshore suggests to me that JT realized it was time for that “spark” even though the guy who gives Cal a better chance at winning was starting.
So did Tedford make a mistake in not playing Riley earlier in the season?
Yeah, probably. Tedford might have errored in evaluating when Riley should come in for an injured Longshore when Longshore was still starting. For example, there were some instances in games when Longshore started but had later taken a few hits and clearly looked to be in pain and very shaky on his bum ankle. In those situations when Longshore looked to be in a lot of pain and even more immobilized, Riley, despite his inferior grasp of the offense when compared to Longshore, probably would have made up for it with his mobility. Probably. We’ll never know. We can only speculate.
Likewise, Tedford might have also erred on evaluating Longshore’s ankle and Longshore’s ability to start games in the first place. The prime example might be the game against UCLA. Maybe Longshore really was ready to play against UCLA. But then again, maybe Tedford incorrectly assessed Longshore’s game-readiness and should have started Riley.
But let’s not forget what Tedford has told us through quotes: Longshore has a better grasp of the offense. In fact, Longshore is like a second coach on the field. A friend reminded me of a quote that Tedford dropped regarding Longshore. I found it on the internet. In this Oakland Tribune article dated August 14th, 2007, Tedford states: "He’s [Longshore] way more advanced [this year compared to last year] because he understands the speed of the game, he’s like another coach on the field… he just understands the whole thing with regard to timing and all. He’s just a great field general."
So Tedford started Longshore because (1) Longshore has a better grasp of the offense than Riley; (2) Longshore has "intangibles"; (3) Longshore has more experience; (4) Longshore is like another "coach on the field"; (5) Longshore has great timing; and (6) Longshore is a "great field general."
Very high praise from one of college football’s premiere QB-gurus. Longshore is obviously held in high esteem by Tedford. Tedford isn’t the only one with such an opinion. Longshore was thought by some ESPN analysts to be a possible 1st or 2nd Round NFL Draft pick prior to his slump. Obviously, both could be wrong in their evaluations of Longshore. ESPN’s analysts are mostly idiots anyways. And Tedford could have gotten caught up in all of Longshore’s great "grasp of the offense". Tedford could have over-estimated Longshore’s abilities and under-estimated Riley’s. And the majority opinion among Cal Fans that Riley was the answer, could have been right all along. Afterall, fans are unbiased, rational, and don’t need to see the quarterbacks in practice multiple times a week. Thus it wasn’t any coincidence that Riley put on such a dominant performance against Air Force and that seemingly every Riley supporter knew he would. And it’s very hard to claim that the 2nd string guy gives you a better chance at winning when the 1st string guy isn’t doing so well.
So I feel foolish, so very foolish, for not jumping on the Riley bandwagon earlier. I feel foolish for sticking my neck out for Longshore, and defending his incompletions and INTs just like Tedford supposedly did in a meeting with big donors. Because incompletions and INTs are bad. And regardless of the duress that Longshore is under from premature defensive pressure, those incompletions and INTs should have been TDs. Grasp of offense, experience, and intangibles be damned. They don’t mean a thing when you can’t win. Just like the labels "coach on the field" and "great field general" - they’re superfluous and meaningless. Especially coming from a man whose every pupil has been an NFL bust - because we all know Tedford is 100% responsible for their NFL performances.
I should have seen the light. For not seeing the light, I am sorry. I was weak. I was lead astray by an idol - by Jeff Tedford.
In "God" I no longer trust.