Over at the Gopher Football Blog we interviewed the author of Excuse Me For My Voice, Ken Crawford, for our weekly podcast. Ken's blog is a Cal football specific blog following the Bears and, obviously, still reveling in the memory of "The Play."
The interview was conducted by my buddy and counterpart at the blog, Jeff. Here is a recap of the interview which you can also listen to at the Gopher Football blog site.
Gopher Football Blog: Explain to us first what the heck the name of your blog means?
Ken Crawford: It goes back to the most famous play in Cal Bear history, "The Play" as we call it. In the call, not long after the touchdown is scored, the video announcer, Joe Starkey, busts through and his voice has completely destroyed itself and he is pretty much inaudible when he yells "EXCUSE ME FOR MY VOICE!!!" And then continues on. A Cal fan will have listened to that audio enough times that they would know that right off the bat.
GFB: That’s a cool story. How did you become a Cal Bear fan and how long have you been doing the blog?
KC: I’m a Cal Bear fan from birth, my dad is Berkley alum. He raised me as a good Cal alum. I got it from the cradle, so to speak. I’ve been blogging in various different forms since 2003 or 2004, but I didn’t start really doing Cal stuff until, I think it was, the 2005 season. By the time 2007 rolled around I actually had enough of a following that I actually started a separate Cal blog as opposed to discussing other topics, and that’s when Excuse me for my Voice got started.
GFB: It’s a great blog, we were checking that out this week in preparation for the interview. Is it true you record the podcast on the way home from the games?
KC: I sure do. In the car, if it’s a game that I travel to by car. I live a couple of hours away from Berkley, so it gives me plenty of time to give my thoughts. In fact, occasionally you will hear a small child’s voice. I do my best to edit it out, but once in awhile you will hear one of the kids from the backseat giving their thoughts.
GFB: Well you’re grooming future Bear fans! They and you both have a lot to be excited about this year. You started just outside the Top 10, you’re 8th now. What is this team doing? You’ve had high expectations before and haven’t always lived up to them, what is this team doing differently?
KC: We’ve done this before, so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Both of the opponents that we’ve played so far appear to be very week. Maryland needed overtime to beat a I-AA opponent last week. A big part of Cal’s on the field success so far is that they haven’t had that strong of an opponent, so we’ll see how good they are when they face at team as good as the Gophers, or better. But the reason they were ranked so high is because they had so many players coming back. 8 on defense and I think 8 on offense as well. And players who are Heisman candidate potential type of guys, like Jahvid Best and returning QB who is getting better in Kevin Riley. They’re in that right place to be that 2nd team in the Pac 10, and if you look historically, the second team in the Pac 10 is traditionally a top 10 team when the season starts.
GFB: You mentioned Jahvid Best, he’s certainly making a name for himself. He’s had two monster games so far, averaging 10 yard per carry. What can Gopher fans expect to see from him on Saturday?
KC: Well, he’s fast. That’s his trademark. He’s a very quick accelerator as well. There’s some guys that are fast, but they can’t get out of breaks real quickly or can’t keep their speed to make adjustments. He’s very nimble on his feet and fast even when he’s making cuts. The key to Best is to get him bottled up, because he’s not a power runner. If you let him get into the open field he is very dangerous. Usually what happens is he gets enough space through the line and then he explodes into a long run.
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GFB: This isn’t a top 10 team just because of Best. What else are the Bears looking to do offensively?
KC: Offensively they like to spread things around. For Coach Tedford balance is key. He’s actually thought of as a QB’s kind of guy. He insists on that balance of having a good running game. He runs a West Coast offense with lots of options, 3-4 reads in progression, passes to WR’s, TE’s and backs, uses a lot of motion. His playbook is supposedly 140 plays, so he really lives on diversity. I think what you’ll see out of the Bears is that when they win it’s because they’re successful at keeping defenses very honest by throwing a lot of different looks at them.
GFB: Riley has been accurate so far, but hasn’t had to throw a ton. Do you worry that it’s been so run heavy so far?
KC: That’s definitely the case, in fact, one of the questions at the weekly press conference was why the back-ups didn’t get any throwing opportunities even though they went into the game and the answer was "well, we’re already up by 50 points, we’re going to get criticized as it is for potentially running up the score, I can’t have them launching the ball downfield." So that’s definitely true, by halftime they are already just pounding the ball away. There’s question marks left with Riley, but nothing that we’ve seen so far suggests that he’s not capable of living up to the hype.
GFB: What year is Riley? And where does he fit in with theother QB’s that Tedford has coached (Aaron Rodgers, Kyle Boller)?
KC: He’s a Junior, and if he delivers this year, he’s a first or second rounder after his senior year. I doubt he’d be considered a first rounder after this year, especially considering how many other good QB’s there are graduating this year. McCoy, Bradford, Tebow.
GFB: Defensively, Syd’quan Thompson is an All-American CB, Eric Decker is an All-American candidate at WR, do you see those guys going 1-on-1 all game, or how do you think Cal will defend Decker?
KC: Most definitely they will but Syd on his side of the field. But Cal is more of a zone defense than a man defense so Syd is going to get his help with Decker. From what I’ve seen on film so far they’re not going to forget about Decker in the backfield. That match-up will exist, but because Cal likes to play a lot of over/under zones, it won’t be that exclusive.
GFB: What have you seen from the Gophers so far and what do you think the Cal Bears see as they walk into a new stadium on Saturday?
KC: Having faced the Gophers a couple of years ago in 2006, the team (Gophers) is a lot more diverse than it was back then. That team was a run-first kind of team, and when that didn’t work, run again. The Bears were able to shut that down pretty effectively. This team looks much more balanced and much more dangerous. I think for the Bears the key is going to be much more to shut down the passing game, whereas in the past slowing down the run was probably sufficient.
GFB: It’s a 9am west coast kick-off time, and an early start time was a problem for Cal last year in Maryland. Do you see that being an issue again?
KC: I think much too much was made of the time difference last year. The bigger issue was that the team flew out on Friday and they weren’t able to do their walk-thru practice until 7pm. So it was just kind of a bang, bang, bang kind of a day. They arrive at 6pm, they practice, the go to bed… no time to slow down, no time to really even think. So Tedford switched things up this year, and the Bears are already in Minneapolis, so the time change shouldn’t be an issue this time. The other thing that got the Bears in Maryland was the heat and humidity. Coming from the West Coast we just don’t get humidity. It was 95 degrees and 80% humidity when the Bears played in Maryland last year and we aren’t expecting that in Minnesota.
GFB: On the road, Cal hasn’t won a non-conference game against a BCS conference opponent since 2003, but the Pac10 is the most aggressive conference as far as traveling to play people. Do you think it’s a fair criticism against Cal that they have struggled on the road?
KC: It’s not just the non-conference games that have been hard for them. Last year they were undefeated at home, and 1-4 on the road. The year before that they lost 2 at home, and were 2-3 on the road. There’s no doubt that the road has been tough on the Bears the last couple of years. With the non-conference schedule, I would agree, there’s only been 3 (non conference BCS road) games since 2003. In fact, in the Tedford reign there have only been 5, and they are 2-3 in those games. One of those losses was against a very tough Tennessee team, and another was against Kansas State when they were doing very well. So it’s a little tough to look at that record, but there is no doubt that this team has struggled on the road.
GFB: In the Pac 10 USC has dominated, but is this the year that somebody finally gets USC and wins the Pac 10, and can Cal be that team.
KC: I sure hope so. USC is one of those teams that just has so much talent… maybe Florida can compete on a talent level year after year, but they are always a top 5 recruiting class, and usually 1 or 2. When they lose their entire team to the NFL, for most teams that is a disaster, but for them, they’ve got a whole new crop. They’re never a team that you can count out. As much as I think that Cal has a shot at beating them this year, it would be very arrogant to suggest that this is the year.
GFB: What is the key to victory for the Bears this Saturday and what is your prediction?
KC: I think the key will be Kevin Riley coming out of the tunnel fast and throwing the ball well. Reading the Gopher defense well and get the offensive balance early. There’s no way the Gophers are going to lose this game if the Bears don’t beat them through the air. If that happens I’m pretty confident that the Bear defense is going to keep the Gophers enough in check that, with the offense firing on all cylinders, they should win.
GFB: Worst of luck to you this Saturday, but best of luck during the Pac 10 season. Thanks for joining us.
KC: Thank you.