You had some questions about the 2008 Cal football team? How about these answers? Yes, tailback Jahvid Best can handle a heavy workload throughout all four quarters. Yes, the Bears defense can be effective against a power running game in its new 3-4 alignment. Yes, Kevin Riley is the starting quarterback. Despite these positive developments, the Bears still had trouble putting away Michigan State before finally holding on Saturday night for a 38-31 season-opening victory in front of 62,956 at Memorial Stadium. "It's the first one," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "We feel good that we're 1-0, but we have a lot to improve on. I'm very proud of our kids. They've invested a lot of time and energy to create good chemistry. "When you invest as much time and energy as we have, you're just really proud that they come away with a victory." Best, playing in his first game since suffering a season-ending hip injury last year that forced him to miss the final three games, amassed 277 total yards. He rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries and caught five passes for 63 yards. He also ran up 103 yards in kick returns.
"Jahvid is a special player," Tedford said. "He prepared himself very well this camp. Jahvid is a no-nonsense guy. He really prides himself on knowing what he's doing and executing. It's really great to see him in full action and taking a load of the offense on his shoulders." Best saw only spot duty last season as a true freshman but is expected to be the focal point of the offense this year. His 24 carries are just five short of his total rushes from last year. "There was never any doubt in my mind," Best said. "I'm sure there were some doubters out there. I felt really confident I could do the job. I've been hungry for it. It tastes good." Cal's defense gave up 402 yards, but the Bears were thrilled to see they allowed Michigan State star tailback Javon Ringer just 81 yards on 27 carries. Cal's biggest concern about the 3-4 is stopping the run.
"I felt really good about how we played the run," Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said. "Can we stop the run against a downhill running team? That was our biggest challenge." The Spartans gained much of their total yardage in the fourth quarter as they attempted to come back. Quarterback Brian Hoyer threw for 186 of his 321 yards after the third quarter. The Spartans averaged just 2.6 yards per carry. "Stopping the run was a point of emphasis for us," said linebacker Anthony Felder, who led the Bears with 12 tackles. "This is going to give us a ton of confidence. There was a little question how we would do against the run in the 3-4. This is going to give us the type of confidence that guys are going to be flying around the field even faster next time." There doesn't seem to be any question now that this is Riley's team. The redshirt sophomore completed 17 of 24 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns, consistently leading Cal on scoring drives immediately after the Spartans had gotten on the board.
Fifth-year senior Nate Longshore entered the game in the second quarter by design and ran the team for two possessions, with each drive ending in an interception. In one of the more awkward moments at Memorial Stadium in some time, Longshore walked off the field to a chorus of boos after throwing interceptions to safety Otis Wiley on back-to-back passes, the second of which was returned 31 yards for a touchdown. Longshore, much-embattled for a good portion of last season, replaced Riley on the Bears' fourth possession and actually got off to a hot start. On his first play, he made a nice pass under pressure to tight end Cameron Morrah that went for 50 yards down to the Spartans' 28. He completed two more passes in a row for 12 yards to the MSU 16, but Wiley then picked him off in the end zone and returned it 53 yards. The Bears were able to stop the Spartans on three plays on the ensuing possession, and Longshore came back out with the offense to start a drive at the Cal 7. After two running plays, Longshore made an ill-advised pass that Wiley easily picked off and returned for the score. As Riley warmed up on the sideline after Longshore's second interception, he motioned to the student section to stop booing. "I don't think it's really respectful for our own fans to boo a player," Riley said. "Nate went in there and played well. They don't even know what happened on that play. He's a friend and a teammate. He went in there and did his best. Things didn't work out the way he wanted to. People don't even know what happened."