BERKELEY- Turn back the clock to a spooky Sun Devil Stadium last Halloween night. California trailed Arizona State 20-23 with 3:16 to go in the game and the ball on their own 19 yard line. Quarterback Kevin Riley completed 5-of-6 passes on an 11-play, 74-yard drive that would set up a game-winning 23-yard field goal by Giorgio Tavecchio with twenty-one ticks remaining. It was a near-perfectly executed two-minute drill and exactly what head coach Jeff Tedford would try to replicate during the first of two practices Saturday.
Practice ended Saturday morning with a series of two-minute drills that Tavecchio would call a "clutch situation where we need a field goal". Tavecchio shortly found himself staring at a 50-yard attempt on fourth down in the first drive. He blasted an arcing kick that had a lofty hang time before splitting the uprights with five extra yards to spare.
Tavecchio, who is 17-of-25 on field goals during his Cal career, doesn't have much in-game experience on tries beyond 50 yards.
"My first ever attempt was away at Arizona, a 51-yard attempt, and last year at Arizona State we attempted a 51-yarder," Tavechio recalled Saturday after practice. "The first one I missed and next one made."
But he looked all too familiar with such a distance on Saturday when gave the offense the field goal they needed. In fact, not being intimidated by the yardage of a long field goal attempt is one of the things he has worked on the most during the off-season.
"It gives me a lot of confidence because it tells me that I don't have to crush the ball from 40 yards to make it. If I can just focus on the swing and find my own technique on it instead of having to focus on my power. That's what I try to do on all my field goals, not worry about crushing it and just strike it smoothly. That's one thing I've been focused on this off-season, being smooth and just focusing on the kick."
Tavecchio's game-winner in Tempe last season has been the only one of his career, both at Cal and just over the hill at Campolindo High School were he played his prep ball. To Giorgio, there aren't any fancy rituals or routines to calm the nerves in a late-game kick, he just likes soaking up the moment.
"I just breath. If you don't breath, you start tensing up and your heart really starts to pound. It's actually really cool being in the moment because you would think that you would be super nervous, and you kind of are at the beginning, but once you are in the moment you are just kind of focused and zoned in. So, I don't really have a routine, just try to keep every kick the same way. Warming up the same way, kick the same way, follow through the same way and see it go in every time."
The first-team offense started off two-minute drills from around their own 40-yard line. Freshman wide-out Keenan Allen had a 10-yard reception before being brought down quickly by defensive back Josh Hill. Isi Sofele made a few catches from short distance to move the ball across midfield, though his inability to make it out of bounds kept the offense in a constant rush to get back to the line of scrimmage.
With the ball on the defense's 35 yard line, wide receiver Michael Calvin had a costly drop that would have had the offense in the red zone. On 2nd down, Quarterback Kevin Riley tried to hit tight end Jarred Price with a deep ball to the end zone, but defensive backs Hill and Chris Conte had Price blanketed and Conte deflected the ball down. Riley overthrew receiver Coleman Edmond on a flag route the next play, setting up Tavecchio's 50-yarder on fourth down.
The defense may have allowed the long field goal, but they did an excellent job preventing the big play and are getting a better sense of how to work the field during an imposing late-game drive.
"I think [defensive coordinator] Clancy Pendergast is going to have us prepare," said Conte. "We got really specific calls for everything. Good blitzes, putting pressure on them and knowing where we have to stop them and where we can't let them get to so they don't get a field goal. I think we're going to be prepared for that and ready to stop them."
The defense continued to look impressive as the second team offense had a rough start on their first two-minute drill attempt. Quarterback Beau Sweeney couldn't hit an open Dasarte Yarnway on the flats on first down. The next play, Sweeney couldn't get his hands on the low snap and chased the ball 25 yards down to his own five where the defense would eventually jump on top the ball.
The first team went back on the field, where it would get a lucky break from the defense. On second down from the defense's 40 yard line, Riley went after Conte again with a deep ball intended for Edmond. Conti was able to catch up to the open receiver, but made early contact and was whistled for pass interference.
"You just have to be able to read the receiver and be able to find the ball," explained Conte when comparing the clean play he had made previously to his penalty afterwards. "Sometimes it makes it harder when you can't find the ball. You got to just try and play the receiver's hands and if you mistime it like I did on that second one, it's a little harder. If you don't read the hands right, jump a little early, you get a PI call."
The penalty put the Bears' first-team offense on the 25 yard line, that's when freshmen receiver Keenan Allen came alive with the short attack. Riley connected with Allen on back-to-back inside screens to set up a first and goal from the nine. For the second day in a row, Allen has looked exceptionally quick and deadly in screen plays.
"I feel real confident. We have a lot of weapons and a lot of people we can count on to get down the field and score quickly," said Allen of the offense's ability to execute the two-minute drill. "We just installed the tunnel screens that we keep running. We're just trying to work on that and get it to perfection."
Riley would miss Calvin and Edmond on the next two plays before teaming up with Keenan in the end zone on 3rd and goal. Allen's separation and celebratory jig in the end zone was comparable to former Golden Bear standout DeSean Jackson.
The second team would redeem itself for turning the ball over the first time around. Sweeney hit Sofele on the flats, who made it out of bounds after picking up the first down. But the defense stayed tough every down. Sean Cattouse had a great pass breakup and defensive back Marc Anthony would have broken up a pass to Kaelin Clay had it not been for an extraordinary effort by Clay to hold on. The physical play of the defense did not go unnoticed by those on the other side of the ball.
"I think it gets us more prepared and physical towards what were going to be seeing in the fall," Allen told BearTerritory.net after practice. "First team defense is real physical. They don't put any slack on you. They like to go hard."
Sweeney hit Clay on the next play for a 15-yard touchdown to end practice. Cal's depth of talent at receiver is becoming more and more apparent. And the defense is grateful for the opportunity to train with on of the conference's most promising young receiving corps.
"The faster the wide receiver, the more talented the wide receivers the better because the Pac-10 has tons of athletes, tons of great wide receivers so the more prepared we are in practice the more prepared we will be in games," noted Conte. "I think there's a lot of young talent and young speed, the competition is definitely there."
That young speed and talent will get a chance to prove their worth on September 4. For Keenan Allen, he is certain that he will be getting his feet wet in the end zone again soon enough.
"You're definitely going to be seeing some more dancing," promised the freshman.