Five Burning Questions: Cal vs. Eastern Washington
1. Will Kevin Riley stay hot?
The junior quarterback had an uneven season last year, but he actually started off the 2008 season well, putting up somewhat similar numbers to his opener against Maryland: 17-for-24, 202 yards and a pair of touchdowns (keep in mind, he was rotating with Nate Longshore).
However, Riley was unable to maintain his consistency, as his completion percentage would top 50 percent just three times the rest of the season.
Yes, the Longshore factor is there, but some of those performances came against mediocre teams—42.9 percent against woeful Washington State and 46.2 against an average Colorado State squad.
Even if the Bears are playing an FCS squad, the Blue and Gold faithful are hoping Riley can be up to where he left off last Saturday, because with road games against Minnesota and Oregon and a home tilt against USC on the horizon, he'll need to be at his best.
2. How long (or how little) will Jahvid Best play?
Best played a little over one half last Saturday, but if Cal gets off to an even hotter start than they did against Maryland, he may be done even earlier—Heisman highlight reel be damned.
Fans remember Best's third-quarter elbow injury last year against Colorado State, which happened with the game well in hand, and kept him out the following contest.
They will likely have no problem missing a few more runs from him, if it means knowing he will be in top shape for Cal's tough aforementioned three-game stretch.
And as for competing for that stiff-armed statue, it's not like Best is going to disappear in one weekend; he will have plenty of big games down the road to earn it.
Plus, there's nothing wrong with seeing Shane Vereen get more involved.
3. Which reserves will shine for the Bears?
This isn't meant to be a slight to the Eastern Washington, but the Eagles shouldn't hang around for too long in this contest, especially against a Cal squad that looked so determined last week.
If the Bears go out and take care of business early, this game should turn into valuable playing time to up and coming role players.
On offense, look for receivers Alex Lagemann (who had one catch for 23 yards last week) and Isi Sofele (a small reserve with big play potential), and third-string running back Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson (54 yards rushing) to get increased touches.
On the defensive side, expect coordinator Bob Gregory to give reserve linebackers like Jarred Price (a sack last week), Charles Johnson, and Jerome Meadows even more valuable experience—adding depth to the unit.
In addition to seeing if Ernest Owusu can replicate his break-out game Saturday night, look for backup defensive backs like safeties Sean Cattouse (returning from a concussion) and D.J. Campbell (a special teams fumble recovery last week) to see the field more.
4. Will Syd'Quan Thompson finally return a punt?
Cal's senior cornerback showed what he can do on the defensive side of the ball last week, but Thompson, who broke off some big returns last year, was kept in check in the return game by Maryland's punter.
This isn't to say he will run one all the way back, but this could be the game he breaks a big return (or at least a run back of some kind).
5. Will Cal stay out of the headlines on Saturday?
As was articulated nicely in the Daily Cal today, games that feature top 10 squads hosting FCS squads or other underdorgs usually don't capture the headlines unless a giant upset happens (see: Appalachian State-Michigan, USC-Stanford).
With that said, let's hope the Bears keep out of the spotlight this weekend. Cal just needs to come out focused, play their game, and take care of business.
No slip-ups, no big injuries.
USC and Ohio State will likely garner all the airtime on ESPN. If it means starting 2-0, the Bears will be more than happy to let them have it.
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