Vereen Turns In His Best Performance

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White ink on eye black. Shane Vereen made it that clear where his heart was: "JB" under his right eye, the number four under his left.

Vereen and Jahvid Best were back in the same lineup for a few minutes Saturday afternoon, both captains for the pre-game coin toss. Then Best walked back to the sideline to watch the rest of the game and Vereen went on to carry a career-high 30 times for a career-high 159 yards against the Pac-10's second-best rushing defense, the quiet difference-maker in the Cal football team's 24-16 win over No. 18 Arizona at Memorial Stadium.

Quiet, that is, until the 61-yard touchdown that should have-and ultimately did-put the game away for good. But that was only the end of it.

Thirteen plays the Bears ran from scrimmage in the fourth quarter while they tried to protect a sliver of a lead, then mount a comeback, then protect another sliver of a lead. Eleven went through the steady Vereen, who gained 92 of his rushing yards in the final quarter after clawing for yardage for the first 45 minutes of play. Cal gained 131 yards in the fourth quarter; Vereen had 102 of them.

Averaging 10 carries a game this season, and suddenly thrust into the every-down role by the bitterest of circumstances, Vereen got stronger when he could have gotten tired, got better when he needed to be best. Not Best, but his best. As running backs coach Ron Gould said before the game, Shane Vereen would be good enough.

And the touchdown, again, was only the end of it.

It was an exciting run, a burst through the hole and then a track meet the rest of the way-the kind that Vereen, and Best, usually win. It was a run on which, Vereen said last week, he might start thinking about Best while he covered the final 10 yards.

White ink on eye black made it clear, though, that he wasn't going to wait that long.

"I wouldn't say (I was thinking about Best) the last 10 yards, but I would probably say the whole game," Vereen said. "Coming back to the sideline after drives and seeing him, talking to him, I think everyone had No. 4 in their heads all game."

The tailbacks talked football between offensive possessions. The sophomore asked the junior what he was seeing, how he should run against the Wildcats' defense, and that kind of thing. In other words, they talked about all the stuff that just didn't seem necessary while they texted back and forth early last week, when Best was at home in Vallejo, Calif., recovering from the fall that had rendered him unconscious on the field a week before.

But on Saturday, Best wearing his No. 4 and roaming the sidelines at Memorial Stadium seemed to give some closure to that nightmarish incident. Football could be talked about again. And Best's advice was simple.

"He just told me to hit the hole hard," Vereen said. "That's about it."

So Vereen did. He lowered his shoulder 29 times and fought for yards until his final carry, when he finally found daylight to the outside.

"Shane ran hard and broke a lot of tackles," coach Jeff Tedford said. "Shane was a workhorse today, no question. ... He really rose to the occasion today and ran hard."

In retrospect, with two games left in this 2009 season, not many things have gone as planned for the Bears. Turns out this was the end of USC's reign over the Pac-10. And that it wasn't Cal's turn to occupy the throne.

But the final image of the 2009 Bears' offense at Memorial Stadium will be that of a tailback breaking loose into open field and sprinting 61 yards untouched into the end zone. And that makes all the sense in the world, even if No. 4 was watching instead of streaking down the sideline.

"It was big to have his presence," Vereen said of Best.

Off the field, maybe. On it, nobody was bigger than Vereen.


What do you write on your eye black? Tell Matt at [email protected]

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