Cal Defense Upstages Impressive Heisman Audition By Bears' Best

Delete AccountCorrespondent ISeptember 6, 2009

BERKELEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 05:  Tyson Alualu #44, Cameron Jordan #97, and Syd'quan Thompson #5 of the California Golden Bears celebrate after they caused a fumble during the first half of their game against the Maryland Terrapins at California Memorial Stadium on September 5, 2009 in Berkeley, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

This one was for the Eastern Time Zone.

Taking advantage of his first of four nationally televised games this season, Heisman hopeful Jahvid Best and the Cal football team turned in a highlight reel first half Saturday before heads starting hitting pillows on the East Coast.

Best rushed for 137 yards and two scores on 10 carries, with the bulk of the work coming in the first six minutes following the 7 p.m. West Coast kickoff.

He ripped off a 73-yard touchdown run with 9:54 to play in the opening frame, then high-hurdled his way into the end zone for score No. 2 just 42 seconds later.

With Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford sidelined (shoulder) for most of the third-ranked Sooners’ 14-13 loss to No. 20 BYU, Best should supplant the 2008 Heisman winner in balloters’ hypothetical Week two Top-3, along with Florida’s Tim Tebow and Texas’ Colt McCoy.

But for those that were tucked in and soundly sleeping after Best’s Heisman audition put Cal up 14-0, they slept through what might be the more impressive debut Saturday night.

The Cal defense finished with six sacks, two forced fumbles, and 11 tackles for loss. They allowed just 3.2 yards per carry to one of the best backs in the ACC in Da’Rel Scott—who had just 18 yards rushing in the first half. They spent the evening camped out in the Terps’ backfield, forcing Maryland quarterback Chris Turner to throw early, or not at all, as the Terps converted just four of 17 third downs.

The Bears secondary was stout throughout, especially in single coverage. Syd’Quan Thompson had a pair of where-did-he-come-from pass breakups, reminding fans what made him an All-Pac-10 first teamer in 2008. His NFL stock should rise in Week three if he can do the same against potential first round draft pick Eric Decker of Minnesota.

Cal’s defensive line was reminiscent of Andre Carter’s pre-Tedford Hit Squad. Defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Tyson Alualu both drew frequent double teams, leaving backup lineman Ernest Owusu with Sather-Gate sized holes in the line. Owusu recorded two sacks on the evening, a team-high and the first of his career.

The Bears haven’t blinked at linebacker after losing starters Zack Follett—a seventh-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions—Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder.

Mike Mohamed, for one, might be the most underrated linebacker in the Pac-10. He finished second on the team in tackles last season despite rotating between four linebacker spots and had All-Pac-10 stuff Saturday night (nine total tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack).

Michyal Kendricks (team-high 12 tackles), D.J. Holt (two pass breakups) and Devin Bishop all looked comfortable in the middle against Maryland and all contributing to a defense that swarmed throughout.

Believe it or not, a defense that returns eight starters, the 23rd ranked scoring defense (19.9 points per game) and 26th best total defense (315.2 yards per game), has gotten better.

Enough to challenge Taylor Mays and the Trojans for top honors in the Pac-10.

Enough to keep the East Coast out of its pajamas for an extra couple hours.

Follow Grant Marek on Twitter: @Grant_Marek