Minutes to Spread Against Eagles

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After scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter against Maryland, Jahvid Best enjoyed much of the second half of last weekend's game from the sideline.

Indeed, the Cal football team didn't need the talented tailback for much of its commanding win over the Terrapins.

One week later, Best is slated to start as usual, but he might not be needed at all.

If the Bears surge out to a similar start this Saturday at 2:30 p.m., when they host Eastern Washington at Memorial Stadium for the second of three non-conference duels this season, Best might find himself off the field again.

That's probably because Cal coach Jeff Tedford doesn't want to risk an injury to his Heisman candidate, who turned 10 carries into 137 yards in the team's season opener, in a game that should be a breeze for the No. 10 Bears.

"It's a game we should win," quarterback Kevin Riley said. "It's just us trying to be as perfect as possible on the field."

Against the Eagles, a Football Championship Subdivision team from the Big Sky conference, Best probably won't be the only player with a lighter load. Cal might have the luxury of utilizing many of the players on its depth chart throughout the game -- much like it did after building a comfortable margin last week.

Wide receiver Alex Lagemann caught one pass for 23 yards in the third quarter against Maryland. Jeremy Ross reeled in a 24-yard catch minutes later. Shane Vereen, who took most of the second-half handoffs in lieu of Best, recorded 48 rushing yards on 10 carries.

The production from reserves was also noticeable on the Bears defense, which had six sacks and limited the Terrapins to 3.2 yards per rush. Usual suspect Tyson Alualu forced a fumble and assisted on three tackles, while sophomore Ernest Owusu emerged with four tackles and two momentous sacks.

"Everybody stepped up -- second string, third string," junior Cameron Jordan said. "Everybody who got in was playing to their fullest potential."

It's likely that those players will see the field again Saturday against Eastern Washington, the 18th-ranked team in what was formerly known as Division I-AA. Eagles coach Beau Baldwin, who nearly led his team to an upset of Colorado last year, called tomorrow's game a "huge challenge."

That assessment could be true even if players like Best aren't on the field. Vereen, in addition to his work on the ground, caught three passes for 46 yards and a touchdown and seems comfortable in his role as backup for Best. Riley is comfortable with either.

"Jahvid's amazing, but when Jahvid's out and Shane comes in, Shane's one of the better backs in the country," Riley said. "He has speed to make plays, catches the ball well out of the backfield and (defenses have) to be ready for both of them at all times."

Vereen will be expected to step in for Best as a potent second option, even during conference competition. As such, there's a psychological component of his gameday preparation.

"(Running backs coach Ron Gould) wants me to play with a starter's mentality," Vereen said. "Our offense plays with multiple backs ... so I need to be ready to play when the time comes."

It might not hurt Cal to be ready for Eastern Washington sophomore Taiwan Jones, a cornerback-turned-tailback from Antioch, Calif., who engineered an 87-yard score on his first career carry last Saturday. But the Bears have said all week what many teams say ahead of matchups with less-than-formidable foes: that they are focusing on themselves.

"It's a chance for us to go on the field and get better," Riley said.

Added Tedford: "We respect all of our opponents, so this is mainly about us."


Contact Jeff Goodman at [email protected]

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