Best in the Country

Oregon's Chip Kelly might have a slight chip on his shoulder as he prepares this week for Jahvid Best and the California Golden Bears. Best is a Heisman Trophy candidate and could be the top draft pick next spring in the NFL draft. However, Kelly isn't looking any farther than this weekend when the Bears come to Autzen Stadium for a 12:30 p.m. kickoff.

"Not a one-dimensional team," emphasized Kelly about California. "It's not just Jahvid Best."

Kelly feels that the Cal Bears have many weapons on offense besides the back most consider the tops in the country. Quarterback Kevin Riley is averaging 232.7 yards per game passing including five touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Marvin Jones has been Riley's top target with seven catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. Verran Tucker has six catches for 128 yards. In all, 11 Bears have made catches in the first three games.

While Cal may not be all about Best, he certainly leaves a big mark on what the Bears do. So far this season Best leads the Pac-10 in rushing at 137.3 yards per game and eight touchdowns in just three games. Best was named Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against Minnesota last Saturday in which he recorded 131 yards rushing on 26 carries and five touchdowns.

Best is also the second leading receiver for the Bears with seven receptions for 59 yards and a score.

Cal also has two running backs, Shane Vereen (four touchdowns, 40 yards ypg) and Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson (one touchdown, 48.7 ypg) who have seen significant action so far this season.

California is the scoring leader (48.7 ppg), total offense (488.7 ypg) and passing efficiency (169.3) in the Pac-10.

On Oregon's side of the ball, the Ducks have found a budding star in LaMichael James. Last week James had the biggest day of his young career with 157 yards on 27 carries and a touchdown. James' longest run was for 40 yards. James effort helped the Ducks knock off Utah, 21-24 and ended the Utes 18-game win streak.

"He'll end up being a premiere running back in this league," said Kelly of James. "It didn't surprise me that he ran for 150 yards last weekend. He can start and stop -- has great change of direction, he's got really good speed. He's a lot tougher than people give him credit for just because he's small, but he's a tough sucker."

Despite the notion that some players should stay within a set amount of carries during a game, Kelly hasn't placed limits on the number of times his backs will touch the ball.

"We don't ideally have a certain number of carries for each back," admitted Kelly.

Kelly went on to say that the coaching staff monitors the players to see how healthy a player is but the staff makes no conscious effort at pre-determining how many carries each back will have during a game.

Interestingly, most of yardage came by running between the tackles indicating that the Oregon offensive line has also made a big jump in performance since game one. In the first game of the season Oregon had just 56 yards of rushing, however against Purdue the Ducks jumped up the 230 yards and against Utah the Ducks racked up a total of 255 yards of rushing plus scoring three times.

"Our offensive line has improved from game one to game two to game three," commented Kelly. "The same core guys are playing ... they're getting better."

On paper the Cal Bears (3-0) should waltz in and out of Eugene without breaking a sweat in notching up another win. Cal has an outstanding team and has played up to its potential in the first three games of the season. The Ducks (2-1) on the other hand stumbled out of the gate and have been a work in progress. There has been progressive improvement for both the offense and defense yet there is still a long way to go for Oregon's passing game. Kelly becomes a bit defiant though when it comes to talking about how well his team will be prepared.

"We're ready for a challenge, we'll show up on Saturday," announced Kelly. "They're not going to go home. We'll be ready to play."

Added to that is a note of optimism that Duck fans should take to heart when considering what will happen this coming Saturday.

"You don't have to be the best team in the country," observed Kelly. "You just have to be the best team to show up on Saturday."

Oregon and its followers hope that the improvement continues on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. when the ABC broadcast game kicks off and the Ducks find themselves the best team for at least one afternoon.

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