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September 3, 2008

Olin's Notebook: Best is good enough for Cal

RELATED: Cal's Riley matures in wake of mistakes

BERKELEY, Cal. The California Bears' Best was good enough.

Ordinarily, teams replacing a tailback with the second-greatest rushing season in school history could expect a decline in production.

But Cal sophomore tailback Jahvid Best doesn't appear ordinary. When coaches and teammates discussed him after Saturday's 38-31 season-opening victory over Michigan State, a specific description was repeated.

"He's a special player," Cal quarterback Kevin Riley said. "Too bad on one play he ran up on a receiver or he would have been gone. You'll see how special he is."

Coach Jeff Tedford was equally impressed.

"Jahvid is a special player," Tedford said. "The touchdown run that he ran around the edge it looked like it was going nowhere and he just beat everyone with speed. He's a tough guy. He ran hard. Not only is he fast, but I thought he ran inside pretty well, too."

Against the Spartans, Best rushed 24 times for 111 yards and a 2-yard touchdown. He also caught five passes for 63 yards and had 103 yards on three kickoff returns.

He didn't just run with the football. He also ran with the purpose of someone intent on making up for lost time.

As an effective backup to Justin Forsett, who rushed for 1,546 yards last season, Best often showed a flash of brilliance with "flash" being the key word. He ran 100 meters in 10.31 seconds to win the California state championship as a high school senior and he was a Junior Olympics gold medalist in the 200 meters. He used that amazing speed to average 7.6 yards on 29 carries and had a 64-yard touchdown run.

But a hip injury forced him out of the final three games. It also kept him out of spring workouts, so Best was eager to back in action.

"It was great being out there," Best said. "I felt like I did my part to help my team win. This is what I was waiting for."

Cal fans at Memorial Stadium didn't have to wait long again see his big-play ability. Early in the second quarter, Best quickly burst up the middle and into the secondary. The only problem? He was too quick.

He collided with wide receiver Sean Young, which slowed Best down enough that Michigan State safety Otis Wiley was able to catch up and make the tackle.

"I was frustrated after that play," Best said. "I was trying to get to the sideline and Sean wasn't yet on the guy. I was waiting for Sean to set up a block, but I got there too quick."

That play led to a field goal that staked the Bears to a 10-0 lead.

Later in the first half, Best turned a screen pass into a 42-yard gain and followed up with his 2-yard touchdown run in which he outran the defense to the pylon. In the fourth quarter, he had a 19-yard run that set up a touchdown and helped the Bears stave off a Michigan State rally.

Backup Shane Vereen also helped squelch the Spartans' comeback hopes with an 81-yard touchdown run.

Together, Best and Vereen rushed for 212 yards. That kind of rushing production is vital for an offense with a new starting quarterback and a new set of receivers.

"If we don't get the job done, (the offense) could struggle," Best said. "Every week we feel like we need to carry the load and get things started."

If the running game can be that productive every week, this could be a big season for Cal. And for Best.

"I've been hungry for it," he said of his performance. "Now that it's here, it tastes good."

QUICK HITTERS

Upgrading the running game was a big goal for North Carolina after the Tar Heels ranked 117th nationally in rushing last season. Well, they're still working on it. North Carolina running backs Greg Little and Shaun Draughn combined for just 73 rushing yards in last week's win over McNeese State. "We didn't execute the way that we needed to execute, and that's the bottom line," Tar Heels coach Butch Davis said.

N.C. State doesn't anticipate having quarterback Russell Wilson against William & Mary this week. Wilson was knocked out of last week's loss to South Carolina with a concussion. Daniel Evans is expected to start for the Wolfpack.

Virginia lost linebacker Aaron Clark for the rest of the season with a knee injury suffered in Saturday's loss to USC.

Baylor coach Art Briles announced true freshman Robert Griffin will take over as the starting quarterback. Miami transfer Kirby Freeman started last week's loss to Wake Forest.

Despite a 44-17 season-opening victory, Iowa State coach Gene Chizik was not pleased with his defense's tackling. He estimated the Cyclones gave up 70 extra yards of offense to South Dakota State because of poor tackling.

Oklahoma defensive end John Williams isn't expected to play the rest of the season. Earlier this week, OU coach Bob Stoops said Williams, a former starter, had lost the desire to play. Williams started three games for the Sooners last season before an Achilles' injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.

Alabama's Mike Johnson is moving to left tackle his original position when he was recruited from left guard this week against Tulane. Left tackle Andre Smith has a sprained right knee.

Florida anticipates having wide receiver Percy Harvin and linebacker Brandon Spikes for this Saturday's game against Miami. Neither played last week against Hawaii. Harvin had offseason surgery on his heel, and Spikes suffered a foot injury in fall drills.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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