BY Steffi Chan
Last year, Justin Forsett was a second-string running back who showed talent in the daylight but seldom the ability to gain yardage when faced with the wall that was any opponent’s defense. But questions over whether Forsett could carry the load of the Bears’ rushing attack in his debut as the every-down back were resoundingly dashed when, on Cal’s first offensive play of the game, Forsett took the handoff from quarterback Nate Longshore in the backfield and powered his way right up the middle for 10 yards and a first down. The running back—who had just a year ago tallied one yard in five carries as part of a 64-yard Cal rushing effort in the Bears’ dismal loss to the Volunteers—sprinted, bulldozed, and juked his way to a 156-yard rushing, one-touchdown, and six yards per carry performance Saturday in the No. 12 Bears’ 45-31 win over No. 15 Tennessee. “He’s been a great player here since day one,” Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. “He carried the load today in the fourth quarter. He was very, very strong—his strength and conditioning has a lot to do with that.” Indeed, Forsett had worked hard in the offseason, gaining an extra 20 pounds of muscle. That offseason training and extra muscle seemed to make him look like a new man on the field.
Five plays following his 10 yard gain to open Cal’s drive, Forsett took the handoff from Longshore, turned the corner, and spun to evade a tackle around his ankle for 15 yards and a first down. The Bears had been working on that play all week, and its effectiveness seemed to be representative both of Cal’s running game and Forsett’s newfound agility.
“I think I was pretty good,” the typically reserved tailback said with a grin. “I was able to break a (few) more tackles. I definitely feel good. The offensive line opened up some holes for me so that I wasn’t getting touched until the secondary. They did a great job up front and I was just running in the daylight.” But the 5-foot-8, 196-pound senior wasn’t just running in the daylight—he was running through the Vols defense even when it was diving at him and clinging onto his body to stop him. Six minutes into the third quarter, Forsett gained nine yards by juking a defender and then carrying heralded 5-foot-11 freshman cornerback Eric Berry on his back for a few extra yards. Two plays later, Forsett ran up the left sideline and forced two missed tackles, one of whom was a diving Tennessee defender who touched nothing but air, before being forced out of bounds with a gain of six yards. He only seemed to get stronger as the game progressed. In the fourth quarter, with the ball on the Cal 48 yard line, Forsett rushed for 13 yards right up the middle, breaking three tackles on the way and then dragging Berry and fellow cornerback Antonio Gaines a few extra yards. The normally stoic back popped back up and pumped his fist three times.
“I have a lot of experience in my years here. I've played before so I think that helped,” Forsett said. “I wasn't out there shocked by anything new. (I just had) to have more carries and be more consistent—it was fun.” Freshman running back Jahvid Best and fullback Will Ta’ofu’ou also made key plays contributing to the Bears’ 230 rushing yards on the day. In the second quarter, Best was slammed hard to the ground by linebacker Rico McCoy after carrying the ball two yards. On the very next play, Longshore pitched the ball to the freshman, who ran off right tackle past All-American linebacker Jerod Mayo, jumped over a defender and blazed up the right sideline before finally getting pushed out of bounds for an electrifying 34-yard gain. “We were pleased about how Jahvid responded (to that hit),” Tedford said. “That drive was good for him to see what college football was all about.”