By Jared Green
Daily Planet Staff
Quarterback: Sophomore Kyle Boller took nearly every snap this season, and he showed some progress, moving around the pocket more comfortably and throwing the ball away to avoid sacks. But he once again completed less than half of his passes, and he regressed in the season-ending Big Game, throwing four interceptions, three of which he threw up for grabs into double coverage.
The struggles in the passing game don’t all rest on Boller’s shoulders, however, as his receivers dropped an awful lot of passes, and freshman Geoff McArthur in particular seemed to break off routes early.
Running backs: The triple threat of tailbacks Joe Igber, Joe Echema and Saleem Muhammed combined to provide a solid running game for most of the season. Igber is a constant threat to break a huge run, as his jitterbug moves can shake defenders anywhere on the field. His 181 yards against ASU was a season-high for the Bears, and he also put in solid efforts against Washington, USC and Oregon State. Echema provided a good change-up for Igber early in the season, and Muhammed finished strong against Oregon and Stanford. All three should return next year, so the battle for playing time should be fierce.
Fullback Ryan Stanger ran the ball sparingly, but is a solid blocker and will also return. Senior H-back Keala Keanaaina was a surprising threat in the passing game, catching 15 balls, mostly off of play-action fakes, and will be missed, but the return of Marcus Fields from injury should offset the loss.
Wide receiver: The combination of inexperience (freshmen McArthur and Chase Lyman) and juco transfers (Charon Arnold, Derek Swafford and Chad Heydorff) never really came together to give Boller consistent targets. Swafford led the team with 25 receptions and three touchdowns despite playing only the last six games, and McArthur and Lyman showed potential with 20 and 19 catches, respectively. Arnold played well before missing the final seven games with an injury, and Heydorff never fully recovered from a training camp injury and never made an impact.
But every one of those players dropped a few balls during the year, and Boller never looked truly comfortable with any of them.
Offensive line: This unit was supposed to be a team strength, but injuries caused so much shuffling that the line never got set. As a result, the running game never saw consistent holes, and Boller felt a lot of pressure from pass rushers. Lone senior and unit leader Reed Diehl started at three different positions (center, left guard, left tackle) and was a true warrior, playing through numerous injuries.
The only player to start every game was right tackle Mark Wilson. Left guard Brandon Ludwig missed three games, right guard Scott Tercero two, and huge left tackle Langston Walker missed the final seven games. Reserves Robert Truhitte, Chris Chick, Marvin Philip and Nolan Bluntzer all played adequately, and the experience they gained gives the line a lot of depth for next year.
Defensive line: Clearly the best unit on the team, the defensive line held up in just about every game. Probable top-10 NFL pick Andre Carter tallied 13 sacks and was a force in every game, drawing double-teams and opposing offenses’ focus. Fellow senior Jacob Waasdorp did his damage from the inside, bullying running backs and creating havoc in his reckless style. Although tackle Daniel Nwangwu was a disappointment, failing to step up as expected, redshirt freshman Josh Beckham stepped into the starting lineup and made some big plays. The battle between sophomore Tully Banta-Cain and senior Shaun Paga for the other end spot went back and forth all year, with Paga making an impact early and Banta-Cain coming on strong at the end, including a dominating Big Game, and finishing with 5.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss.
Linebacker: Scott Fujita was the only full-time starter in the linebacking corps, and he had a solid year playing behind stalwart Carter. Undersized inside guy Matt Nixon made big plays, but was pushed by John Klotsche and Chris Ball. Klotsche is a good run-stuffer, while Ball lives to blitz the quarterback. Senior Jason Smith made some plays in his part-time role, as did J.P. Segura, and Calvin Hosey was never healthy enough to have an impact. With all but Smith coming back, this group should be better next year.
Defensive backs: This is a hard group to evaluate. This group made very few big plays, and gave up a lot of big ones. But individually, they didn’t play too badly. Cornerbacks Chidi Iwuoma, Jemeel Powell and Leshaun Ward provided solid coverage the majority of the time, although their tackling was a bit suspect. Powell in particular looked like a future star, and Ward has a ability if he can tame his emotions.
Safety Nnamdi Asomugha had several big games and provided solid run support, but needs work in coverage. The weak link was safety Dewey Hale, who missed tackles and didn’t do much in coverage. Senior cornerback Harold Pearson lost his starting job early and never got it back.
Special teams: Spoiled by the big plays of Deltha O’Neal in 1999, the Bear special teams didn’t produce much in the way of returns in 2000. No touchdowns from kick returns and just one punt returned for a score (although that score by Jemeel Powell helped beat USC).
But the real failure was in the punting game. Nick Harris was once again spectacular when he got good snaps and had time to get his punts off. But blocked punts led directly to losses to Washington State, Washington and Stanford. That’s the difference between 3-8 and going to a bowl game with a winning record.
Coaching: Watching a Cal game was like watching two different teams play the same opponent. The defense always came out fired up, looking to make plays and be aggressive. Defensive coordinator Lyle Sentencich and the position coaches must be commended for keeping their unit in games even when the offense was giving them no help. But the offense was tentative and disorganized. Receivers ran the wrong route, the offensive line had trouble opening holes, and Boller looked unsure of himself about half the time. No consistent strategy emerged: were they a passing team or a running team? Did they want to spread the field with four or five receivers, or use a traditional set? There’s something to be said for variety, but when you can’t do the basics well, why try so many complex things? The firing of offensive coordinator Steve Hagen this week was a step in the right direction. Holmoe needs to bring in someone with a proven track record who will give the offense an identity. Someone who could get Boller and his receivers on the same page would also be ideal.
Grade: Offense – D Defense – B