When Washington State takes the field against Cal on Saturday, there’s a chance the Cougars might be missing their Heisman-hopeful quarterback, Jason Gesser. But the Bears say they don’t really care.
Gesser suffered separated cartilage in his ribs last week in a win over Montana State and is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game at Memorial Stadium. A second-team All-Pac-10 selection last season, Gesser is one of the nation’s top quarterbacks.
But Gesser’s backup, junior Matt Kegel, is no slouch himself. Although he has limited game experience, there was talk before last season that Kegel might win the starting job away from Gesser. That obviously didn’t happen and Gesser established himself with an outstanding season, but Kegel likely wouldn’t be a huge step down if he were to play.
“They run the same offense with both guys,” Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said. “Gesser’s a slippery guy, but Kegel’s athletic also. It’s not like a big switch with him in the game.”
But Kegel is limping this week as well, as he hurt his knee against Montana State. The third-string quarterback is redshirt freshman Chris Hurd, a Deer Valley High (Antioch) graduate. Hurd finished the Cougars’ game last week and is taking the majority of the snaps in practice this week in case he has to play against the Bears.
Washington State head coach Mike Price said Gesser will most likely start the game, although how long he can go will be up to Price himself.
“[Gesser] is an inspiring guy, and he wants to play no matter what. Even if he’s in pain, he’s playing,” Price said. “The only way he’s not playing is if he’s going to get hurt more by playing. Then it will be my call, not his.”
No matter which of the three quarterbacks ends up playing most of the game, the Bears know they’ll have to get pressure on him to be successful against Washington State’s explosive spread attack.
Cal defensive tackle Daniel Nwangwu said the defensive linemen won’t be paying much attention to the number on the quarterback’s chest; they just want to make sure that jersey just gets dirty.
“I just want to get to the quarterback no matter who he is,” defensive tackle Daniel Nwangwu said. “To concentrate on doing something different with a different quarterback in there is a waste of time.”
Cornerback Jemeel Powell agreed with Nwangwu.
“Who’s at quarterback doesn’t matter to me,” Powell said. “If we don’t cover correctly, any quarterback will hit the open man.”
Those men Powell referred to will be Washington State’s impressive stable of receivers. With Mike Bush, a 6-foot-5 former basketball player, and Florida State transfer Devard Darling leading the charge, the Cougars have one of the most athletic and versatile sets of receivers in the country. They all can go over the middle for short passes or deep for big gains, and Bush excels at winning jump balls away from smaller cornerbacks.
Tedford said he doesn’t expect to completely stop the Washington State passing game, which has been highly effective during Price’s 14 years as the school’s head coach.
“I’m not going to sit here and say we’re going to shut down their receivers,” Tedford said. “We might be step for step with them, but they’re still going to make plays on the football.”