Kevin Riley Earns Another Reprieve as Cal Blows out Arizona State
"Have you thought about replacing Kevin Riley at quarterback?"
"Are you replacing Kevin Riley at quarterback?"
"Are you sure you don't want to replace Kevin Riley at quarterback?"
"Is there really no one else you'd like to try at quarterback?"
"No, I mean, really?"
The Bears' fifth-year quarterback knows he has a love-him-or-hate-him thing going with the notoriously testy Cal fan base, and after last week's 48-14 debacle at USC, it was definitely leaning to the latter.
In the early moments of Saturday's game against Arizona State, before he led the Bears to a 26-3 halftime lead with 201 passing yards and two touchdown passes, the crowd made sure he knew he was on a short leash.
"Don't screw it up, Riley!" was followed closely by an exasperated "Pull the trigger!" from a few rows down. When Riley rolled out of trouble and successfully threw the ball out of bounds, he received a hearty round of applause.
And then the jeering turned to cheering as Riley helped lead the Bears to get another home rout, defeating Arizona State, 50-17.
The Bears' offense performed very capably against a team regarded as one of the better defensive units in the Pac-10. The Cal defense did not allow an offensive touchdown.
It was a good makeup for last week's very bad day at USC. The 48-14 loss that included a 42-0 halftime deficit and a healthy dose of criticism in the six days that followed.
"Last week, they jumped us and we did play better in that second half," Riley said. "It's hard to go out in the second half of a game starting 42-0. Honestly, you don't want to go out there. You're embarrassed, you're getting your butt kicked and we came out and played. We gutted it out and we came out today and we beat a team by a lot of points that hasn't lost by that many points this season. I think we showed something today."
Tedford has steadfastly stood behind his senior quarterback. Whether it's loyalty or a lack of viable options, Tedford has refused to entertain the idea of making a change. He's backing him so much that Riley was still in the game with a 40-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter Saturday. Riley finished the game 19 of 28 for 240 yards and two touchdowns. One was a 52-yard connection to Marvin Jones, the other a 4-yard pass to Keenan Allen at the start of the second quarter.
Tedford praised Riley after the game, but not with abandon.
"I thought Kevin did some good things. I still thought he could have thrown the ball away a couple times, especially in the red zone, instead of taking a sack," Tedford said. "He did a nice job throwing the ball deep to Marvin Jones. He did a nice job going down the field in the two-minute offense before the half. He didn't turn the football over which is key. On the surface, there are some places that he can improve, but he definitely made some good plays."
Good. Nice. These are terms of restraint. Maybe it's because Tedford doesn't know which Kevin Riley is going to show up next week when the Bears play at Oregon State, or even the following week in Pullman against a Washington State team that's not terrible anymore?
Because Riley has not sparkled on the road and neither have the Bears.
Cal is 4-0 at home this season and 0-3 on the road. The Bears have outscored opponents 189-34 in Memorial Stadium, and been outscored 110-54 in other people's stadiums.
Riley has thrown for 10 touchdowns and no interceptions at home. On the road, he's thrown three touchdown passes and six interceptions. The Bears rank ninth in the Pac-10 in passing offense (192.2 yards per game) and Riley is completing 58.5 percent of his attempts.
The Bears close the schedule with three straight home games against Oregon, Stanford and Washington. The Bears need two wins to secure their ninth straight bowl appearance.They likely will need to win a game or two on the road to secure the trust of the fan base and prove to themselves that they can play consistently at a high level.
Tedford said his team absorbed a lot of negativity this week. He said he looked around at the empty seats at Memorial Stadium and thought some of that must have stuck with fans. But it didn't stick in the locker room.
"There was quite a bit (of negativity)," Tedford said. "It looked today by the crowd that some people have given up on us, but I'm proud of our team that they didn't give up on themselves. That's what it was about this week. It was about heart, because that got questioned this week and it was a huge challenge to the team."
Negativity ... questioning ... it's all old news for Riley.
"I've grown pretty strong over the past few years about just ignoring everything," Riley said. "I've been doing it since my first year here. I'm very good at it."
• Arizona State (3-4, 1-3) now needs four wins in its final five games to achieve bowl eligibility ... The Sun Devils hadn't given up 50 points in a game since the 2008 season.
Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson said he didn't see this blowout loss coming.
"There was no aspect of the game that we even came close to competing with them," Erickson said. "It came out of nowhere. I'm very surprised that it happened, but it happened."
Erickson considered it "two steps back."
"We have taken a lot of steps forward in this program this year. Then, all of a sudden, you get blindsided."
ASU quarterback Steven Threet came out of the game after halftime in favor of No. 3 quarterback Samson Szakacsy. Threet sustained a concussion late in the first half.