Best’s combination of size, speed has Oregon worried
After the Washington Huskies knocked off powerhouse USC last week in Seattle, Wash., the No. 6 California Golden Bears moved in as the early season favorite to win the Pacific-10 Conference title and make their first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1959.
And with one of the nation’s top contenders to win the Heisman Trophy this season — running back Jahvid Best — Cal will look to stretch its current six-game winning streak as it takes on the Oregon Ducks tomorrow in Autzen Stadium.
Oregon linebacker Eddie Pleasant said the team is gearing up to face Best on the field.
“We know we need to stop him and that’s one of the things we’ve been working on,” he said.
Best, now in his junior season, is leading the nation with nine touchdowns and ranks third in rushing with 412 yards through three games — only 29 yards less than the Oregon’s 441-yard season total. Last week at Minnesota, Best set a school record with his five-touchdown performance, and it helped break a four-game road losing streak for the Bears.
“He’s got tremendous speed and he’s got good size,” said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. “A lot of times you’ve got a kid that can run, but he’s not that big. (Best) can break tackles, he’s got great vision.”
While Cal head coach Jeff Tedford understands what a gifted player his running back is, he also commented that he and his squad — especially Best — are very team-oriented.
“It’s team first, all the way, and everybody knows that,” he said. “Jahvid understands that, Jahvid appreciates that and Jahvid appreciates the tandem of him and Shane (Vereen), of keeping him fresh and healthy.”
Equally impressive for the Cal offense through the first three games has been the play of junior quarterback Kevin Riley. The Beaverton High School graduate has thrown for 698 yards on 46 of 71 passing, while reaching the end zone five times and has yet to throw an interception.
“I like the way he plays,” Kelly said of Riley. “He’s a student of the game. He doesn’t really try to force the issue, he really takes what the defense gives him.”
California receivers Verran Tucker and Marvin Jones will also look to contribute to the Golden Bears’ potent offense. Tucker has pulled down six receptions for 128 yards through three games, while Jones has recorded seven receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown. Cal’s mark of 488.7 total yards per game ranks them 11th in country, while also ranking second in the NCAA in points per game with 48.7.
The Bears will be without wide receiver Nyan Boateng for the next four-to-six weeks after having surgery on his broken right foot this past Monday. Boateng had recorded five receptions for 78 yards and a touchdown as Cal’s third receiver.
Defensively, sophomore linebacker Mychal Kendricks has led the way for the Golden Bears thus far having recorded 30 tackles, one pass deflection, one forced fumble and he also recovered a fumble.
Senior Tyson Alualu will has been a force to be reckoned with on the defensive line having recorded 13 tackles and 2.5 sacks while also deflecting two passes and forcing a fumble. Alualu started in 27 games over his first three years with Cal, playing in all 39, and was selected as a preseason honorable mention All-American after recording a career-high 62 tackles in 2008.
Although the Bears are favored to win, Tedford said they aren’t taking Saturday’s game lightly. The Bears have been focused on the Ducks since last week’s game in Minnesota, he said.
“It was very serious on Sunday,” Tedford said. “It was almost like we’d lost the game the day before. They were very focused, very serious about what we’re getting ready to get into.”
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