The week’s preparation is over for WSU. They’ll get on their charter and head to Oakland tomorrow before going through one last workout in Berkeley. We have some notes from today’s Paul Wulff press conference and the practice. Plus we have the unedited version of our story on Cal’s star running back Jahvid Best. Read on.
• We’re starting, once again, with our daily report. The news about linebacker Louis Bland wasn’t good – remember when we said yesterday about his leaving practice early and Paul Wulff saying they would have to wait to see how his knee responded? – and it’s pretty likely he won’t be playing Saturday. The middle linebacker will be replaced by Mike Ledgerwood in the starting lineup because Alex Hoffman-Ellis has been slightly limited this week recovering from staph infection surgery. … The offensive line is still in a state of flux. It looks like freshman Alex Reitnouer will start at left tackle and Joe Eppele at right guard. But usual starter B.J. Guerra will take some snaps in Eppele’s place and Steven Ayers might – might – be able to go some at tackle. Because of the uncertainty, the Cougars have tried to get two groups ready for Saturday, something even Wulff admitted is less than ideal. But with no way of knowing how much Guerra and Ayers can play, it was a necessity. … Tyson Pencer, who started twice while Ayers was hurt, was not suited up today and won’t play Saturday. He’s still suffering from an ankle sprain. … One thing Cal brings to the field is a traditional 3-4 front on defense. Not many college teams, and no one else in the Pac-10, plays it the way the Bears do. Which makes it a challenge to prepare for. “It’s different,” Wulff said, but more than the scheme what really worries him is the players. He thinks defensive end Tyson Alualu is a beast and the linebackers are all tough to handle. … Punter Reid Forrest was back at practice today.
• Here’s the story …
PULLMAN – There may not be a more aptly named college football player than the University of California’s Jahvid Best.
When it comes to running backs in the Pac-10 Conference, and possibly the country, he’s simply unsurpassed.
“In my eyes, he probably is the best tailback in the country, if not the best,” says Washington State coach Paul Wulff.
“He’s more than good,” says WSU running back James Montgomery, a former Cal teammate. “From the first day I saw him, I knew he was good. He’s the best.”
“He’s a very, very well-versed back,” says USC coach Pete Carroll, who compares him to former Trojan Heisman winner Reggie Bush. “He’s got the magic because he’s got that great speed, and he’s a very consistent player, too.”
If all you know of the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Best is his performance in last year’s game against the Cougars, you might think he is the greatest runningbacks in the history of college football.
On the first play of Cal’s 66-3 rout – the first Pullman game of Wulff’s tenure – Best took a handoff from quarterback Kevin Riley and burst through a hole in the center of the WSU line.
Up came sophomore Chima Nwachukwu, making just his second start at safety. Best juked to the inside, Nwachukwu bit and Best exploded to the outside. Eighty yards and 11 seconds later, it was 7-0 Cal.
“I remember the first run of the game,” says Best now. “It was blocked perfectly. My O-line and my fullback led me to the safety and once I got to the safety, I was able to make him miss and then it was just a race.”
And Best doesn’t lose races. He was the California State 100-meter champion in high school.
As Montgomery jokes, “that wasn’t even full speed.”
“I was just making sure nobody was going to catch me,” Best says, laughing at Montgomery’s comment.
Best finished the day with 200 yards on just 14 carries, including an 86-yard touchdown burst early in the third quarter, the last of his three scoring runs.
“That was one of my better performances from last year,” Best says.
WSU (1-5 overall, 0-4 in the Pac-10) will face the Best test once again Saturday in Berkeley.
“They’re a lot more disciplined,” Best says of the Cougars this season. “They fill their gaps and it’s just a better team defense. They’ve got some athletes out there. So it’s definitely going to be harder, it’s not going to be an easy game. They’re definitely better.”
The junior is averaging 6.1 yards a carry, 102.7 a game, and has scored nine times, including a 93-yard run against UCLA last week.
“You look at the game film and there are plays that are blocked OK, but he makes a 2-yard gain by most backs into a 93-yard gain,” Wulff says. “That’s what really good players do. Those guys help you win a lot of games.”
Best has also caught 13 passes, the longest of which is for 51 yards, also against the Bruins. Cal (4-2, 1-2) won that game 45-26 – the Bears had 494 yards of total offense – snapping a two-game losing streak.
“He’s got the ability to be extremely patient (and) see the hole,” Wulff says. “Then he’s got the physical ability to accelerate through the hole. He’s got good feet and great balance. And he’s physical.
“He’s not a speed runner. You would think he’s a burner, a track type guy. He’s not.”
He’s just the best, with a little b.
• That’s it for tonight. We’ll be back tomorrow. Until then …