Cal's season-opening rout of Maryland was an all-hands-on-deck effort. No hand was as handy as the Bears' catch-me-if-you-can tailback who averaged 10.6 yards on a team-high 16 touches, and who accounted for five first downs in addition to his two touchdowns. And you know, Jahvid Best didn't have such a bad game either. OK, that was a shameless backdoor ploy, but we did it to make a point. Shane Vereen, a redshirt sophomore, had a whale of a game Saturday night. And it surprised precisely no one.
Vereen rushed for 48 yards on a team-high 10 carries (tied with Best), including an 11-yard touchdown. He caught three passes for 46 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown. He had a 39-yard kickoff return.
He also excelled at the finer points of the game, such as, well, coach Jeff Tedford knows more about this stuff than we do. "He really did a lot of nice things," Tedford said. "Returning kicks, caught the ball well out of the backfield, ran between the tackles very well, ran physical, did a nice job on pass protection. We're really fortunate to have two quality backs. There's really not a drop-off there."
That would be our finer point. Best, a junior, is the guy being trumpeted as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Understandably, since he's coming off a season in which he rushed for 1,580 yards and 15 touchdowns. On his second carry against Maryland, he bolted 73 yards for the game's first score. Best has a sprinter's speed and a magician's sense of the confoundingly spectacular. He wears No. 4 on his jersey; "OMG!" might be more appropriate. The expectation is that Cal will finish this season holding some of the biggest, shiniest trophies college football has to offer. To this end Vereen is equally as valuable as Best, if marginally less invaluable.
For starters, he's just that good. While backing up Best last season, the 5-foot-10, 198-pound Vereen ran for 715 yards and gained 221 yards receiving. So while it's debatable how many other Division I programs he'd be starting for ("Most, I would guess," was Tedford's estimate), this much is fact: Vereen's rushing total for last season would have led 36 of Cal's 63 post-World War II teams.