Cal's Riley puts hard lessons to work as he becomes a leader

2009-11-05T23:30:00Z Cal's Riley puts hard lessons to work as he becomes a leaderBy Kevin Hampton, Gazette-Times Reporter Corvallis Gazette Times
November 05, 2009 11:30 pm  • 

The last time Kevin Riley led a last-minute drive, he made a critical mistake.

It was 2007 and Riley, starting for the first time as a freshman quarterback for the University of California, was moving the Golden Bears down the field against Oregon State.

Trailing 31-28, Riley drove the team 84 yards to the OSU 10, but he became known for what turned out to be the final play. Riley was chased out of the pocket and decided to scramble down the field as seconds ticked away.

Time ran out.

Not this time. This was an older, wiser, more experienced Kevin Riley.

Riley had to drive the Bears into field goal range for a chance to take a win at Arizona State last Saturday. He stepped in and calmly led Cal 74 yards in 11 plays, hitting five of six passes, all for first downs.

When kicker Giorgio Tavecchio knocked through a 24-yard field goal with 21 seconds left, Cal had a 23-21 win and Riley had his game-winning drive.

Riley took it all in stride.

He said the team moved the ball well on the previous drive.

"We got the ball back with some time left and we were clicking," Riley said. "I was just seeing the field well and had confidence that we were going to pull it off."

Riley finished the game with 351 yards passing and two touchdowns. Not even three fumbles could faze him.

It was his best game statistically since throwing for 298 yards and tossing four touchdown passes in the season-opening win over Maryland.

"I think anytime you can have an experience like that, it kind of lays the foundation to draw from that experience and that confidence that it's been done," California coach Jeff Tedford said. "And I thought he handled it really well. I thought coach (Andy) Ludwig did a great job of calling that series and everybody had played a role in making that possible.

"But I don't think that that's anything new for Kevin. I think Kevin has all the confidence in the world to do that. It just gave him an opportunity to do that and it's something we can draw from as far as a team, that experience."

Riley should have the confidence. Now a junior, he has completed 126 of 227 passes for 1,805 yards and 13 touchdowns with two interceptions.

He spent the offseason working on his footwork and tweaking his throwing motion, which had become like a baseball windup.

"Compared to what I used to have as a throwing motion, the ball is coming out of my hand smoother," Riley said. "And that's made a big difference in my game."

His decision-making and ability to avoid mistakes throwing the football have helped the Bears to a 6-2 overall record and their third straight win after two tough blowout losses to Oregon and Southern California.

Riley threw three touchdown passes in wins over UCLA and Washington State in the two games leading up to the win over ASU.

"You're going to see quarterbacks mature," OSU linebacker Keaton Kristick said. "It's not to say that he hasn't had a couple of really good games back when he was a freshman or sophomore, but you can definitely see it (through) the way he commands the offense. He's got more maturity and he's grown up in the sense in that he can make those big-time passes and lead a team. So it's going to be exciting to play against him."

Riley has had some bumps in the road through the past couple of seasons, two of the biggest coming in losses to the Beavers.

Last year he completed 11 of 25 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown and had another tough ending to the game when he was intercepted by Keenan Lewis, who returned it 25 yards for a touchdown with 31 seconds left to ice a 34-21 OSU win.

It doesn't make it any easier that Riley is from Beaverton.

"I just want to get a win because I haven't beat them," he said. "I have tremendous respect for Oregon State. It's another good team and it's going to be a battle."

Tedford said Riley has matured and has done a strong job of preparing for each game.

Riley has gone through the growing pains that come with being a young quarterback and he's now taking the steps needed to succeed.

"Just the amount of preparation that goes into game-planning week in and week out, and understand what we're trying to get done, he does that a lot faster now," Tedford said. "It's natural to kind of grow that way. Playing quarterback, there's a lot to it besides just throwing the football.

"He's really turned into a great leader."

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