Cal All About the Highlight Stick This Year


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PASADENA, Calif. -- Saturday's game against UCLA wasn't three minutes old when the Cal football team distanced itself from a nightmarish start to Pac-10 play.

It had finally found the end zone.

"It was good to have a touchdown," Bears quarterback Kevin Riley said. "It's been a while."

But it wasn't a momentous occasion for Cal simply because the team managed a six-point score for the first time since Sept. 19 against Minnesota.

Indeed, Shane Vereen's 42-yard touchdown run on his team's opening drive was crucial because of the way the Bears scored.

They went big, and they sustained their lust for long yardage throughout a 45-26 victory over the Bruins at the Rose Bowl.

How else would Cal have scored five offensive touchdowns with only one opportunity in the red zone?

How else would tailback Jahvid Best have salvaged a game in which he was locked up by the UCLA defense on nearly all of his touches?

Without a doubt, the offensive opus that Cal engineered in its first conference triumph of the season did not arise out of showmanship.

It arose out of necessity.

It's becoming clear that the offense of this year's team is not one that wins with slow-moving, methodical scoring drives. It's a talented offense with enormous potential, but it's not one that works the ball downfield with gains in the short game.

Working with less-than-optimal field position for much of the game, the Bears would have been doomed without their long-range landings.

Their offense thrives on big plays. It has to be a highlight reel.

"It's real important for us," Best said. "It just energizes the team, especially on the road when you don't have a big crowd. It's vital."

Best should know. Carries of 11 and 13 yards in the Bears' previous two blowout losses against Oregon and USC, respectively, were his longest in those games, as the junior was unable to find seams in their defenses. And in those dreadful defeats, Best was part of a team-wide epidemic of big-play futility.

That changed Saturday, when Cal traveled long distances on its first four trips to the end zone.

The trend reached an apex when Best caught a pitch in the backfield and weaved craftily through the Bruins' defense, juking his way to a 93-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

The Bears watched in amazement as the play, which was featured that night in the Top 10 on ESPN's SportsCenter, unfolded.

"Jahvid was breakin' people's ankles," junior Darian Hagan said.

After awe, though, came an admission.

"Those explosive plays, we do need," wideout Marvin Jones said.

The Cal offense got what it needed in the first half, following Vereen's touchdown with a string of smooth rides to the goal line:

A perfectly timed 43-yard touchdown pass from Riley to Jones with less than five minutes left in the first quarter. A 51-yard bomb from Riley to Best in the second. A spectacular 24-yard touchdown reception by Jones near the close of the half.

A simple acknowledgement from coach Jeff Tedford.

"When you make the long play in the pass game like we did a couple times," he said, "it's critical to success."

And a nod of agreement.


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