Best gets better of the Gophers

No. 8 Cal’s junior running back scored five touchdowns en route to a victory.

Austin Cumblad

Fast. Faster. Fastest. Best. University of California-Berkeley running back Jahvid Best planted himself firmly in the middle of the Heisman Trophy race âÄî and firmly in the memory of MinnesotaâÄôs defense âÄî Saturday with a 131-yard, five-touchdown (a modern-era school record) performance. He sliced through holes, spun off tackles and generally made the Gophers look like they were playing football in slow motion. Bears head coach Jeff TedfordâÄôs response to the performance: âÄúTypical.âÄù âÄúHe played like he always plays. ItâÄôs typical of Jahvid. I thought he did a nice job of running hard. He broke a lot of tackles today.âÄù That was when he was actually touched. On first-half touchdown runs of 27 and 33 yards , Best was into the secondary and gone before MinnesotaâÄôs defensive backs had time to react. And on both his 2-yard scores in the fourth quarter, it looked like free safety Kyle Theret had an angle, but Best shifted to a gear only he seems to have and snuck inside the pylon. âÄúHeâÄôs fast,âÄù Gophers linebacker Lee Campbell said. âÄúHeâÄôs probably the fastest running back IâÄôve ever played against. We had to try to keep him corralled; you saw what happened when he got to the outside âÄî he was gone.âÄù Can anyone keep up? âÄúVery few,âÄù Tedford said. âÄúNo one on our team can catch him.âÄù Few in the nation can catch Best, although in the second half the Gophers did manage to slow his production. In the third quarter, Best touched the ball only twice as the Bears offense gained just 22 yards . Apart from his two touchdowns, Best was quiet in the fourth as well, and SaturdayâÄôs 35-21 final doesnâÄôt do justice to the upset scare Minnesota gave the Bears; the game was knotted at 21 entering the fourth quarter. But those 35 points are indicative of just how unstoppable Best was when he needed to be. âÄúI donâÄôt know if IâÄôve seen a better back,âÄù Gophers head coach Tim Brewster said. âÄúHeâÄôs got size, heâÄôs got speed; he can hurt you in so many different ways.âÄù In 2009, Best is already putting together quite a résumé as a Heisman hopeful. His eight touchdowns are tops in the nation among running backs, and he ranks third in rushing behind Fresno StateâÄôs Ryan Mathews and PurdueâÄôs Ralph Bolden, averaging 137.33 yards per game. Best had comparable numbers in 2008; he averaged 131.67 yards per game and 8.14 yards per carry and scored 15 touchdowns in 12 games . But he did so on a 9-4 team that finished the season unranked and fourth in the Pac 10. Now heâÄôs on a top-10 team that may well give perennial favorite USC a run for the conference title. If Cal runs the table with Best as the catalyst, presumptive favorites Tim Tebow (Florida) and Colt McCoy (Texas) could be watching Best take the stage at the Nokia Theatre in December to accept college footballâÄôs most prestigious award. But the Heisman is the farthest thing from BestâÄôs mind. Instead, minutes after he walked away from the collective glare of 50,000 Gopher fans at TCF Bank Stadium, Best had turned his attention to CalâÄôs next road test a week from now at Oregon. After that, itâÄôs the BearsâÄô homecoming against the Trojans. If the Bears come out of those games 2-0, a BCS bowl will be a real possibility. Though he gives credit where itâÄôs due âÄî his offensive line for opening up lanes and quarterback Kevin Riley for moving the ball through the air when needed âÄî Best accepts and relishes his role as the focal point of the offense. âÄúI hope that every gameâÄôs a big game for me,âÄù he said. âÄúThatâÄôs the way I come into it.âÄù