No. 23 Cal Hosts Air Force Saturday
Sept. 15, 2002
Fresh off perhaps its most significant win in over a decade, Cal returns home to Memorial Stadium to host the Air Force Falcons at 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon.
The 3-0 Bears, who are off to their best start since beginning the 1996 season with five consecutive victories, made national headlines last weekend with a 46-22 dismantling of then-No. 15 Michigan State in East Lansing. Cal had not defeated a Top 15 opponent outside of Berkeley since crushing No. 13 Clemson, 37-13, in the Jan. 1, 1992 Citrus Bowl. And it had been 28 seasons since the Bears defeated a Top 15 foe on its home turf, dating to a 31-14 triumph at 14th-ranked Illinois in 1974.
As a result of its success, Cal earned a No. 23 spot in this week's Associated Press poll. It is the Bears' first ranking since they were 25th in the Oct. 21, 1996 ratings.
The road ahead still provides plenty of challenges for Cal. Not only does Air Force come into Saturday's tilt undefeated with a 2-0 record, but the Bears' subsequent four opponents are all ranked in the Top 25 this week - No. 16 Washington State, No. 13 Washington, No. 11 USC and No. 20 UCLA.
Cal has achieved its lofty status with a steady offense behind a veteran quarterback, an opportunistic defense and a special teams unit that has produced a number of significant plays.
Senior QB Kyle Boller owns a 142.42 quarterback rating, completing 61.5 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and just one interception.
With 12 turnovers already, the Cal D has helped the Bears to a +10 turnover margin, just one season removed from a Pac-10 worst -17 differential.
Not to be outdone, the Bears' special teams have produced a touchdown, blocked a punt and averaged better than 27 yards on kickoff returns.
Cal-Air Force Series
This weekend's game between Cal and Air Force is the sixth meeting between the two clubs, with the last being a 24-14 Cal win in Berkeley on Sept. 17, 1977. The Bears own a 4-1 record vs. the Falcons, with the only loss coming in Berkeley on Nov. 11, 1961.
A Quick Look at Air Force
Air Force enters the Cal game off a bye week after disposing of its first two opponents - Northwestern (52-3) and New Mexico (38-31 OT). Senior HB Leotis Palmer leads the team in rushing with 178 yards on 22 carries (8.1 ypc) through two games. He guides a potent Air Force rushing attack that is ranked No. 1 in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 368.5 ypg on the ground.
Quote of the Week
'They give you a lot of different formations and personnel groups. They can run the football or throw it and will take shots down the field ... This team will be the surprise team in the Pac-10, if not in the country.''
-- Michigan State head coach Bobby Williams on Cal
Jeff Tedford, California (Fresno State '83) is in his first season as head coach of the Golden Bears, taking over as the program's 32nd head coach last December. Tedford, 3-0 as a head coach, arrived at Cal after four highly successful seasons at Oregon, where he served as offensive coordinator and helped the Ducks to a combined 38-10 record, including an 11-1 mark last fall when Oregon won the Pac-10 championship and earned a No. 2 national ranking. Tedford began his coaching career in 1989 as an offensive assistant with the CFL's Calgary Stampeders. In 1992, he returned to his alma mater, Fresno State, as quarterback coach. A year later, he was elevated to offensive coordinator, a position he held through 1997. A native of Downey, Calif., Tedford was a record-setting quarterback as a player at Fresno State, graduating with a degree in physical education in 1983.
Fisher DeBerry, Air Force (Wofford '60), in his 19th season as head coach of the Falcons, is the winningest coach in school history with a 143-78-1 mark. He is in his 23rd year at the Colorado Springs school after spending four years as an offensive coordinator there. Prior to Air Force, he served as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Wofford (1968-69), and as an assistant coach at Appalachian State (1970-79). DeBerry ranks among the Top 10 winningest active Division I coaches with 143 victories. He is also third on the list for the longest tenure at one school, behind Penn State's Joe Paterno (37 years) and Florida State's Bobby Bowden (27 years).
IKON Office Solutions Play of the Week
Each week throughout the 2002 football season, IKON Office Solutions salutes the Golden Bear Play of the Week. For the Michigan State game, Jemeel Powell returned a punt 90 yards for a TD - the third-longest punt return for a touchdown in school history.
The Times Player of the Game
Each week throughout the 2002 football season, the Contra Costa Times will recognize the Cal Player of the Game. The winner for the Michigan State game is QB Kyle Boller, who completed 19-of-33 passes for 232 and two touchdowns, ran for a score and also caught a 14-yard pass for a TD.
California Has Jumped on Opponents Early and Often This Season
One of the keys to Cal's early season success has been its ability to claim large scoring cushions in the first half. Through three games, in fact, the Golden Bears have out-pointed their opponents by a whopping 91-10 margin. Tedford's club has spewed out 59 points in the first quarter alone, which is only nine points shy of Cal's total season first-period output (68) for all of last season. The Bears' modern day school-record 35 points scored in the first quarter of their Aug. 31 debut against Baylor were the most points scored by the school in any full regulation game dating back 50 previous contests (63-37 loss at Washington State in 1997).
Spurred by Resurgent Defense, Bears Rank 2nd Nationally in TO Ratio (+10)
When new defensive coordinator Bob Gregory arrived from Boise State this year, he promised the Cal faithful that this year's defense would be a swarming, attacking unit that would create turnovers. Most people rolled their eyes over that comment, as last year's 1-10 Bears allowed a school-record 431 points (39.2 ppg) and forced the fewest turnovers (18) in Cal history. After three games, however, Gregory sounds like a genius. His senior-laden defense has bagged 12 takeaways-six interceptions and six fumble recoveries-and boasts the second-best turnover ratio (+10, +3.3 per game) in the nation. Last year, the Bears were saddled with a -17 TO margin (-1.55 per game), which ranked 114th out of 115 NCAA Division I-A colleges. Gregory's defense, which received a stellar effort from junior cornerback James Bethea (team-high 7 tackles, 4 pass breakups including 2 INTs) in East Lansing Saturday, has been perfect in the takeaway-giveaway battle in the first half this season. The unit has forced 10 turnovers and committed none for a +10 TO ratio before intermission. In Pac-10 rankings, the Bears' defense ranks fifth in points allowed (19.0) and tied for first in takeaways (12, fifth nationally).
Tedford's 2002 Club Could Vie for Biggest Turnarounds in School History
When you finished last season with the worst record (1-10) by a Cal team in 104 years, you know there's only one way to go-up. But with their blazing 3-0 start, Tedford's Bears have a chance to produce one of the biggest one-year turnarounds in school history. They have already bettered last year's mark by two games, which is the best one-year turnaround at Cal since the 1996 season posted a 6-6 mark following a 3-8 record the previous year. The greatest one-year flip by a Cal team came in 1947, when a man named Lynn 'Pappy' Waldorf assumed the head coaching reins and promptly led his Golden Bears to a 9-1 record-a six-and-a-half game improvement from the previous season (2-7 in '46 under Frank Wickhorst).
Banta-Cain Ties for 7th Place on Sack List, Could Climb Further This Week
Although limited to one-half sack by an often double-teaming Michigan State defense last weekend, senior defensive end Tully Banta-Cain continues to climb up Cal's career ladder in career sacks. With six sacks thus far in 2002, he currently shares seventh place with Natu Tuatagaloa and Sekou Sanyika on Cal's all-time list with 19.5 sacks. Banta-Cain, who has bagged 10 sacks over his past four games (dating back to a four-sack effort at Rutgers in the '01 finale), needs only one more sack to vault past Joel Dickson into sixth-place on the Cal chart and a mere three to eclipse the legendary Ron Rivera into the No. 5 position.
Bears' Perfect Red-Zone Mark a Trademark of Team's Offensive Efficiency
Cal's early level of offensive execution is beginning to mirror Oregon's success under Tedford last year. In their three game this year, the Bears have committed only two turnovers, allowed just three sacks and are a NCAA-best 16-for-16 (12 TDs, 4 FGs) in red-zone scoring opportunities. In 2001, Tedford's Ducks turned the ball over a NCAA-low 11 times and led the Pac-10 in both fewest sacks allowed (11) and best red-zone offense (37-of-39, 94.9%). While the Bears are perfect in offensive red-zone situations this year, their opponents have managed to score on only six of 10 red-zone chances and have committed three turnovers inside their 20-yard line.
Boller Among Pac-10's Best Passers as Leader of Cal's Revitalized Offense
As the cornerstone of Cal's souped-up offense, senior quarterback Kyle Boller has proven to be one of the Pac-10's top field generals of the early season. Completing 61.5 percent of his passes (56-of-91) for 625 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception, Boller has accounted for 11 of the Bears' 19 TDs this year. Besides his seven TD missiles, he's also rushed for three scores and tallied another six-pointer on a 14-yard reception at Michigan State last week. He has been aided greatly in the passing game by the solid work of such pass-catchers as wideouts Geoff McArthur (18 for 178 yds., 1 TD), Jonathan Makonnen (10 for 109) and LaShawn Ward (9 for 166, 18.4 avg., 3 TDs), tailback Joe Igber (9 for 118, 2 TDs) and tight end Tom Swoboda (7 for 56, 1 TD). Boller, who completed 50% (or more) of his passes for a career-best fourth straight game against MSU (19-of-33)-which dates back to the 2001 finale at Rutgers-enters this week's Air Force game with a 142.42 efficiency rating to rank 27th nationally. His no-interception streak was halted at 89 passes (going back to the Rutgers game) when his first attempt in the second half was picked off by Michigan State's Jason Harmon. Boller enters this week's clash ranked No. 4 in TD passes (43) and No. 6 in passing yardage (5,790) on Cal's all-time career lists.
Igber Just Shy of No. 5 Spot on Career Rushing List
Joe Igber, the Bears' jitterbug all-purpose tailback, played a major role in Cal's 24-point victory in East Lansing on Saturday. The 5-8, 190-pound senior darted for 108 yards on 21 carries and added another 44 yards and a TD on four receptions for a combined 152 all-purpose yards. He's rushed for 260 yards on 52 carries this season, averaging 86.7 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry-both team-leading figures. The Nigerian native inched ahead of Lindsey Chapman (2,190) into undisputed sixth place on Cal's career rushing ladder, now with 2,254 yards. He needs a mere three more yards to climb another rung on the ladder, as No. 5 Reynard Rutherford stands at 2,256.
Parson: Protector of Democracy during U.S. Naval Stint
While Cal defensive end Monte Parson will know where the battle lines are drawn on the Memorial Stadium playing field this Saturday, he certainly shares much in common with the Air Force football. Parson, a 6-3, 270-pound transfer from L.A. Harbor Junior College this year, spent 100 days on a U.S. Navy battleship in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Strike. He originally accepted a football scholarship to attend Kansas, but never played a down with the Jayhawks. Then after his stint with the Navy, Parson enrolled at L.A. Harbor, where the head coach was his old mentor at Carson High School. Parson, an first team All-City choice at Carson, pummeled opponents for 57 tackles, seven sacks, 12 tackles for losses, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in earning JC Gridwire first team All-America honors last year at L.A. Harbor. During his naval stint, Parson traveled to such international stops as Singapore, Tokyo, Australia, Hong Kong and Tazmania.
Led by Special Teams, Bears Uncorking a Bushel of Big Plays in Early Season
Another contributing factor to Cal's mercurial start has been the big play. In their first three wins, the Bears have unleashed no less than 10 plays that have measured 50 yards and beyond. Special teams have paved the way, churning out large chunks of yardage with almost alarming regularity. Cal is the current Pac-10 leader in both kickoff and punt return average, boasting the top individual in both categories. The Bears are averaging 27.9 yards per kickoff return this year-which ranks 11th nationally-while the punt return unit is averaging 18.7 yards per attempt, the seventh-best mark in the country. Kick returner LaShaun Ward, who sprung loose for a season-best 56-yarder last week, owns a 36.8-yard average to date (sixth in the NCAA), while Jemeel Powell-the school's all-time punt return leader (14.5 avg.)-has brought back eight punts for 145 yards for an 18.1-per-attempt clip (13th in the NCAA). Powell's 90-yard TD punt return in the first quarter Saturday was the longest punt return by a Cal player in 43 years. Meanwhile, Cal's coverage units have been very respectable, limiting their foes to an 18.2-yard kickoff return average and 7.9 punt return figure. The Bears' kicking game has also been solid, with placekicker Mark Jensen converting 19 of 19 extra point attempts and banging through five of seven field goal tries, while punter Tyler Fredrickson has averaged 41.4 yards per boot (fifth in the Pac-10) with five of his 11 punts landing inside the 20-yard line. Both kickers set career-highs at Michigan State. Jensen boomed a 51-yard field goal, the fifth-longest in Cal history and the school's first 50-yarder since Ryan Longwell hit a 53-yarder vs. San Diego State exactly six years ago to the day (Sept. 14, 1996). With last week's 13-point effort inflating his career total to 170 points, Jensen has moved into ninth place on Cal's all-time scoring list (next up: Longwell at 177). Fredrickson launched a 66-yard punt, the 10th longest in school annals.
DeBerry Trails Only Paterno, Bowden for Longest Active Tenure
The national reputation of Air Force head coach Fisher DeBerry continues to grow. Entering this season, DeBerry's Falcon teams had cashed in 43 wins since 1997-the 12th most in the nation- including a 10-3 mark in 1997 and 12-1 record in '98. DeBerry, who ranks third behind Penn State's Joe Paterno (37 years) and Florida State's Bobby Bowden (27 years) for the longest active coaching tenure in the NCAA Division 1-A, has steered 15 of his previous 18 Falcon clubs to winning records. Eleven of those 15 clubs earned bowl game bids, posting a 6-5 ledger in postseason play, including wins over such national juggernauts as Texas, Ohio State and Washington. However, last year's 6-6 showing marked the first non-winning season at Air Force since 1993. With a 143-78-1 overall mark (.644), DeBerry is not only the winningest coach in Air Force history but also the winningest coach in service academy annals. The last time Air Force visited the Bay Area was two years ago, when DeBerry's forces edged David Carr and Fresno State, 37-34, in the 2000 Silicon Valley Football Classic in San Jose.
Air Force Kickers Come from Leadership Bloodlines
When it comes to leadership bloodlines, few college football kicking games can compare to this year's Air Force team. Kicker Joey Ashcroft is the nephew of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, the former U.S. Senator from Missouri, while punter John Welsh is the son of U.S. Brigadier General Mark Welsh III, who was a 1976 Air Force graduate and former commander of the academy's cadets.
Palmer Triggers Air Force's Triple-Option Running Game
One of the Mountain West Conference's premier all-purpose backs, halfback Leotis Palmer is the primary threat in Air Force's triple-option running game that ranked third in the nation last year. Palmer rushed for 516 yards on 106 carries for a 2001 club that averaged 273.2 yards on the ground. That figure was far-and-away tops in the MWC, where second-ranked Utah netted 218.9 rushing yards per contest. Bursting loose for 125 yards on 15 carries Sept. 7 against Rice, Palmer leads the Falcons with 178 yards and two TDs on 22 carries after two games.
Two Falcons Return to Northern California This Week
The Air Force Falcons feature two players who hail from Northern California, starting right halfback Anthony Butler (Newark, Palo Alto's Gunn High School) and starting cornerback Wes Crawley (Sacramento, Elk Grove High School). Butler, whose older brother, Howard, played defensive line for San Jose State and the Arena Football League's San Jose Sabercats, averaged 5.7 yards per carry in gaining 375 yards and four touchdowns on 66 attempts as a freshman last year. He hopes to return this week after separating his right shoulder in the Falcons' 2002 opener against Northwestern. Crawley ranked first in solo tackles (39) and interceptions (3), and third in overall stops (57) for the Falcons last year.
Four knee injuries were reported from the Michigan State game: LB John Klotsche and Sid Slater, FS Bert Watts and CB Powell. The injuries to Klotsche and Slater were considered significant, with Klotsche out at least two to four weeks and Slater lost for the season ...Talk about a one-year turnaround: Cal has scored 19 touchdowns and 150 points after three games this season; in comparison, the Bears tallied 24 TDs and 201 points for the entire 2001 season (11 games) ... While Swoboda's seven grabs at tight end may not sound like much, consider that last year's Cal tight end corps caught only 16 combined for the season ...Powell's 90-yard TD punt return was the fourth-longest in school history and the longest by a Cal player in 43 years ... Two of Cal's TD passes this year have been thrown by non-quarterbacks-WR Ward's 14-yard pass to Boller Saturday and RB Williams' 71-yard strike to David Gray vs. Baylor ... After scoring on each of their six possessions in first quarters through the first two games, the Bears failed to score in both of their first-quarter drives ...Cal's current four-game winning streak (dating back to its 20-10 win at Rutgers in the 2001 finale) is the second longest in the Pac-10, only bettered by Oregon's present eight-game skein ...Prior to this season, the Bears had not scored 30 or more points in three straight games since 1996, when Mariucci's club opened the season with four straight 30-or-more-point victories ...Former Oregon QB Joey Harrington, the Lions' No. 1 draft pick this year, traveled from Detroit to visit with his old offensive coordinator, Jeff Tedford, last Friday night at the Bears' team hotel in Lansing before the Cal-Michigan State game ... Air Force has made kick blocking an art form during DeBerry's tenure. The Falcons have blocked 76 kicks since 1990-including at least one block in their last 13 seasons-to lead all NCAA Division 1-A schools during that span ... Cal defensive line coach Ken Delgado is perhaps best equipped to prepare the Bears for Air Force's high-powered running game, as he has coached against the Falcons in seven previous meetings while he was either a defensive coordinator or defensive line coach at San Diego State (1994-2001) or Utah (1993). Delgado's teams were only 2-5 in those games, although his Aztec teams lost two games by reed-thin margins (24-18 in OT in '97 and 23-22 in '99) ... Cal's backup right guard David Hayes celebrates his 22nd birthday this Saturday ... California has chiseled out a 12-7 all-time record against Mountain West Conference schools, with its only losing mark coming against BYU (0-2).
RELATED NEWS & VIDEOS
TOMORROW | 1:30pm PTLive