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Cal Football

Mendoza Embracing His Starting Role

October 26, 2023
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Heading into Saturday’s 1 pm contest versus USC, starting QB Fernando Mendoza is now a battle-tested veteran compared to his start two games ago against a Top 20 Oregon State squad in his first start as a redshirt freshman.

"I would say that I'm an entirely different quarterback, as I've gained a ton of experience playing against the top teams in the Pac-12 with Oregon State and Utah," Mendoza noted. "And just everything, especially going from the practice where we're really kind of formulating the practice to get the starters ready, in a sense, not getting many reps as a third and second-string quarterback to all of a sudden, going to game speed reps with Oregon State and Utah.

“I've seen my development, in a sense, expedited and fast-forwarded. So I feel a lot more comfortable going into this game, than I did the Oregon State game. And as well, it's also helped me a lot from preparing for the Oregon State and Utah games leading up to the USC game in a way. And now I kind of know how to manage my schedule of film, manage school now when I'm actually playing, and kind of all those different things. So it's really been more of an experience aspect."

Mendoza went from being a somewhat unheralded 2 star prep recruit to suddenly being the starting QB against a string of ranked opponents not much more than a year after graduating from Columbus High School in Miami. After a bit of a nervous start, the 6-4/215 QB got things rolling, completing an impressive 21-of-32 passes for 207 yards, 2 TDs and 1 interception along with 41 yards on the ground in 4 attempts. Things didn’t go quite as smoothly at Utah where he went 10-for-17 for 149 yards and 2 TDs along with one INT.

"Throughout those two games, although you could say that they were decent games on paper," Mendoza said. "I mean, the first thing is that we didn't win those games so my play was not up to par. And the second thing is, I realized that watching the film throughout with all the offensive staff coaches, I was like, 'Wow, I could be a lot better. And so that was a very exciting thing, as although it was deemed to have both decent games against Utah and Oregon State, I saw large areas of improvement in different aspects.

“For example, just processing speed, you see the best quarterbacks in the league, and in college football, they go through the progressions lightning fast, and I believe that I am getting through my progressions, however, you could always do it faster and that just comes with experience and playing. And then also, there's there's a ton of different keys and kinds of things to key on the defense, things that you go through during the week and talk about with the offensive staff, Coach Spav and the other offensive staff coaches and say, ‘Oh, when they're in a bear front, you need to look at this’ or etc, etc. So those are kind of things that I've been more aware of and kind of just growing every day with."

Though the other USC - South Carolina - is much closer to Mendoza’s stomping grounds, this week’s opponent - the USC Trojans - were squarely on the college football junkie’s radar.

"Although I lived on the east coast and in Miami, USC has always been the Trojans as a national program growing up and just seeing the highlights of Reggie Bush and all those prominent players over there, especially as they were on a prominent scale as just I was getting into college football and watching more and more of it," Mendoza noted. "So I would say that those letters have meant USC -the Trojans- however no disrespect for the Gamecocks as one of my best friends and my roommate, Michael Luckhurst, both of his brothers do attend USC in South Carolina. So they're both great universities and have the utmost respect for both of them."

One area where the Bears and Mendoza will need to improve on if they’re to turn a corner this season is getting top receiver Jeremiah Hunter back as a centerpiece of the offense as the junior receiver has seen his number of targets drop in recent weeks significantly. 

"At the end of the day, JHunt is a super talented player, I believe that he's going to be playing well on from Saturdays and into Sundays," Mendoza said. "And I have I've always thought really, really highly of Jeremiah. And at Oregon State, he definitely had a lot of opportunities. However, personally, on my end, I wasn't able to get him the ball, like the first play, I was trying to throw an out route to him, and didn't throw the best throw, hence, nerves and just other distractions with that being my real first throw of college football. So I could have definitely gotten him the ball more in the Oregon State game. And then Utah, it was really tough situation. However, JHunt's a great individual and a great player as he really cares.

“His number one goal is winning. However, to win, we need to get JHunt the ball more. So I think that those are two things that coincide with each other. And I think that's definitely a learning point moving forward and how to distribute the balls evenly, but at the same time, not force it because you don't want to have in your mind predetermined, 'Oh, I want to throw this guy.' And although he's not open in your progression, you're already thinking about it. So naturally, you throw it to him. So that's something that you want to avoid as well. But he's a great player and I have all the respect for him and I think that he's going to get the ball more these upcoming games."

USC comes into this week as the second-rated scoring offense in the country, averaging an impressive 45 points per game. Unless the Bears' defense steps up and plays well above their recent production level, it’s likely that Mendoza and the Bears will need to score a lot of points to have a chance in this weekend’s game.

"At the end of the day, the goal for us is - big picture, I believe that scoring the most points, whether it's 40, 50, 60, or whatever how many points it is, I think that's probably first in the priority scale," Mendoza said. "However, as an offense, our focus is just getting a check mark, every single play. As offensive staff coaches talk about, all you need to do is do your job play one, play two and play 20, etc. So if we do our job, and to have a checkmark every single play, I believe that will put up a lot of points and be efficient. And if we put up a lot of points, and we're efficient, I think we would put ourselves in a really good chance. But as an offense, we also have a lot of respect, going against our defense every single day, and we just see how our defense handles itself. S so we have a lot of confidence in our defense to hold up against a great offense."

On the flip side, the Trojans’ defense hasn’t been stellar as they’ve averaged giving up just a half point less than Cal’s struggling defense this season at 30.5 points per game - a fact that Mendoza is not sleeping on, knowing that what the Trojans defense does best could cause him and the Cal offense problems.

"So first off, I want to state that I think Coach Grinch is a great defensive coordinator," Mendoza said. "And although they have had a bad rap in the national media of college football and things, I believe a lot of people overlook how great they are. And I know that people are talking about how they give up explosive plays, but they also have in a sense explosive plays on defense with a ton of sacks and a lot of tackles for loss. So that's something that you want to minimize as an offense, especially as they do have racked up a lot of sacks and a lot of tackles for loss. So seeing that, it can be kind of in a way explosive on both ends. That's one thing you see with the USC defense they are they're really talented all across the board and you don't want to give them those plays. But in all I think they're pretty good defense."

No one will outwork the eager redshirt from QB in the preparation category as Mendoza is a constant fixture in the film room, in coaches' offices and after practice, putting in every possible minute he can to prepare himself for the challenges of being a successful collegiate quarterback.

Mendoza was asked what his feelings were about how to prepare a backup QB to play and when the best time ideally would be to make the move to get a young QB playing time in games.

"My philosophy in kind of everything, whether it's especially in this case, football, everyone always wants to, especially with young quarterbacks, they want to ease them in by getting them reps, kind of garbage time reps, and then getting them into lower competition games and then putting them into the fire. However, I think the best way to develop someone is just pushing them into the fire and I think for me, that's the case and I believe that it was great to be in put in against two of these top defenses in Oregon State and Utah - to then now go against against two more ranked opponents, USC and Oregon. So I think it presents itself a great challenge.

“And I do agree with your saying maybe in the Oregon State game in the beginning of the game, I was a tad flustered. But now going back from the Utah game, which had a great crowd - I'd say it was really loud over there. So going from those two experiences, a home experience and an away experience at I'd say a hostile environment, it's great to take that kind of an experience and going on to these next two ranked games that I think we have an amazing shot at winning."

Discussion from...

Mendoza Embracing His Starting Role

2,551 Views | 2 Replies | Last: 6 mo ago by StillNoStanfurdium
Oakbear
How long do you want to ignore this user?
per the depth chart he is the backup QB, pretty sure the depth chart is wrong??

one of the reasons I stopped being premium is the lack of upkeep on this site

didn't check today, but yesterday no roster for women's BB up

they still showed Jaylon on the men's roster??

guess I should not be surprised this is Cal-Berkeley in a nutshell
StillNoStanfurdium
How long do you want to ignore this user?
Oakbear said:

per the depth chart he is the backup QB, pretty sure the depth chart is wrong??

one of the reasons I stopped being premium is the lack of upkeep on this site

didn't check today, but yesterday no roster for women's BB up

they still showed Jaylon on the men's roster??

guess I should not be surprised this is Cal-Berkeley in a nutshell
The website depth chart clearly says it was last updated in late August. So while you can mention that you think the site should maintain those other pages more if you seriously read that and was confused about what to believe compared to this recent article then that's on you.
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