Best Headlines But Riley Is The Story





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It's been hot in Berkeley for the past few days. Hot and muggy. Shades of Maryland hot and muggy.

Like people around here need another reason to remember last year's trip to the East Coast. It isn't enough that the Terrapins re-enter the Cal football team's life tomorrow. Now the weather feels like it has to remind everyone of that ugly morning, too.

For a loss so forgettable, the Maryland game stuck in a lot of minds-if only for the image of Jahvid Best vomiting on TV. That much is clear in how often the hit has come up this week.

Best patiently fields the questions because he's a nice, grounded kid who just happens to be one of the best running backs in the country, who just happened to get popped by an NFL-bound corner with a free shot and a five-yard head start. He puked. It happens. (Never actually seen it happen elsewhere, but it probably has.)

After the hit, Best played scattered downs in the second half and had one of the worst games of his career, 25 yards rushing on 10 carries.

"I got to go this weekend and reclaim my name in Maryland," he said.

In Maryland, maybe. There, he's the guy whose insides are green. But this game is in the Bay Area, where Best averaged over 200 yards in his final three games of 2008. People around here are pretty confident about what he can do.

The player who really has something to prove on Saturday is the guy who checked to that bubble screen.

A couple days ago, Kevin Riley explained that the play was reacting to a Terrapins' defensive look that the Bears weren't prepared for. There was a mix-up over which defensive back Cal's receiver would block.

"With more experience, now I'll probably call timeout because that's not a look that we'd like at all," Riley said.

And there again is the word that has followed Riley around since the beginning of fall camp. Coaches and players have gone on about Riley's experience, Riley's confidence, Riley's comfort level in the offense. He acts more like a leader. He's got that charisma.

"When we come out to practice and he steps in the huddle, everybody stops talking and listens to him," Best said. "He just has that control over people."

It was a good story in camp, how Riley emerged as a leader during spring, honed his footwork and mechanics with coach Jeff Tedford, spent hours over the summer improving his chemistry with the receivers, played consistently enough in camp to win the starting job and never questioned why the decision wasn't made until last week.

But come kickoff, the offseason improvement won't mean a thing on its own. It'll be about results-fruition of that chemistry, completions stemming from those mechanics, consistency against a defense not wearing blue.

It's no secret that consistency through the air was a problem last season. It's also no secret that Cal has great running backs and a solid defense, and that a good passing game could be the key to a special season.

"A lot of (our success) depends on the passing game, what I do and how I control the offense," Riley said. "I have a good grasp on that."

Saturday is his chance to prove that last year is truly in the past, and that he's the guy to resurrect the air attack.

He'll be facing a brand new Terrapins defense that, under attack-minded coordinator Don Brown, is reportedly still almost indecipherable for the Maryland offense-which saw it every day in camp. His poise, then, will be tested. So will his handle on Cal's offense.

And even if he isn't spectacular, he can still make sure to do one thing:

Try not to get the tailback killed.

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Is Kevin Riley the key to Cal's success? Tell Matt at [email protected]



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