Best's big day sparks No. 8 Cal over Gophers
The California Golden Bears were on their heels again in a game away from home, tied with Minnesota going into the fourth quarter with a hostile crowd breathing down their necks.
As thoughts of "Here we go again" entered the minds of Cal backers everywhere, Jahvid Best couldn't wait to show them that this year will be different.
"I'm kind of glad they came back and tested us a little bit," Best said.
Best rushed for 131 yards and a modern school-record five touchdowns to help the No. 8 Golden Bears vanquish a road curse in a 35-21 victory over scrappy Minnesota.
Best scored on runs of 33, 27 and 2 yards in a breathtaking first half, but his most important runs of the game came on a pair of 2-yard sprints to the corner of the end zone to hold off Minnesota and snap a four-game road losing streak.
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"I see him as a complete player," offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. "I don't see him as a role player. That guy, we're asking him to do a lot and he accepts his workload and responsibility."
Kevin Riley overcame a shaky start to finish with 252 yards for Cal (3-0), which had lost eight of its last nine on the road.
"We tried to make a statement that we're going to be road warriors this year," defensive end Tyson Alualu said. "It's a different team than last year."
Eric Decker caught eight passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns, and threw another TD for the Golden Gophers (2-1), who gave Cal everything it could handle in their shiny new stadium.
But Adam Weber threw a costly interception late in the game and Best had too much speed for the Gophers, who were in search of their first victory over a top-10 team at home since beating No. 1 Michigan in 1977.
"What I'm really disappointed in is we didn't find a way to win the game," Gophers coach Tim Brewster said. "When you play a great opponent like you're playing today, the team that's going to win is the team that makes the plays at the end of the football game."
Cal rolled into this game after two easy victories over Maryland and Eastern Washington, racking up more than 50 points and 500 yards in each of them, and this one had the appearance of another blowout early.
On Cal's opening drive, Best burst through the middle, cut right and then leaped from the 3-yard line over cornerback Ryan Collado and into the end zone to cap an electric 33-yard run.
On its next possession, Best ripped off a 25-yard run on the first play. That set up a play-action fake, and Riley hit Verran Tucker for a 59-yard completion to the Minnesota 2. Best was in the end zone a few seconds later, and Cal led 14-0 before the game was 8 minutes old.
With the offense reeling, Decker absorbed a brutal hit from Cal safety Sean Cattouse, but somehow held on to the ball for a 26-yard score to make it 14-7.
The hit opened a gash on Decker's chin, and blood poured onto his gold jersey as he rolled on the turf in pain. The gritty receiver stayed in the game and would make things interesting before halftime, hauling in a 12-yard TD to pull Minnesota to 21-14 at the break.
It was also his 199th career reception, which broke Ron Johnson's school record.
"I can't remember the hit," said Decker, who needed four or five stitches to close the cut. "They're a tough, physical team."
He wasn't done there.
Decker took a pitch to the left side and the Minnesota Twins draft pick fired a strike to MarQueis Gray to tie the game at 21 at the end of the third quarter.
After rushing for 114 yards and three scores in the first half, Best had just three carries for 4 yards in the second half when Cal took the ball midway through the fourth quarter with the game tied.
Riley was sluggish much of the game, but he converted a crucial third-and-16 with a 35-yard completion to Jeremy Ross for Cal's first first down of the second half, then hit him again for 31 yards to the Minnesota 1.
Best outran the Gopher defense to the corner for a 2-yard score, putting Cal ahead for good.
"He's probably the fastest running back I've ever played against," Minnesota linebacker Lee Campbell said. "You had to keep him coralled. You saw what happened. When he got outside, he's gone."
Defensive end Eddie Young's pressure forced Weber to rush a throw on the ensuing possession and Mike Mohamed intercepted it.
Best capped his historic day with another 2-yard sprint to the corner, giving Cal some momentum heading into a tough stretch that includes games at Oregon, against USC and at UCLA in the next four weeks.
"It is great to play a tough game and to be able to play well in the fourth quarter and make plays when you need to make plays in all phases of the team," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "I think it will give us a boost and give us a little bit of confidence."