NCF Nation: Bears-Gophers 091909


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


MINNEAPOLIS -- There are more famous wide receivers in college football than Minnesota's Eric Decker. There are faster ones and flashier ones.

But after Saturday's game against Cal, it'd be hard to believe there's a tougher one.

Only a handful of receivers could take the hit Decker absorbed from Cal safety Sean Cattouse in the second quarter and hold onto the ball for a touchdown. Even fewer would return to the game.
AP Photo/Paul Battaglia
Eric Decker had a hand in each of Minnesota's touchdowns, catching two and passing for one.

Decker didn't miss a single play.

"I was just happy that I didn't kill him," Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber said.

Decker's head snapped back to the turf and he lay there for several moments before walking to the sideline. The senior received four or five stitches in his chin but returned for Minnesota's next series and threw a pass on the first play.

"He's as tough a kid as there is," Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster said. "Obviously again today, he showed up really big."

His 26-yard touchdown catch despite the Cattouse hit tied Ron Johnson's team record for career receptions. Decker broke the record with a 12-yard touchdown grab in the third quarter and became the first Gophers player to eclipse 200 career catches.

"We needed a spark and we got some more consistent drives together, a couple big plays," Decker said. "Then we finally punched it in to the end zone."

Decker's play has been both a blessing and a curse for the Gophers, who still have yet to establish another offensive option.

The senior entered Saturday having accounted for 43.1 percent of Minnesota's offensive production. Against Cal he had a hand in all three Gophers touchdowns, catching two and passing for one, and represented 46.7 percent of the team's offensive output.

Despite its "Pound the Rock" motto and a pro-style offense, Minnesota has yet to return to its rushing roots in games. The Gophers finished with just 37 rush yards Saturday, a 1.8 yards-per-carry average. They entered Saturday ranked 10th in the Big Ten and 91st nationally in rushing (110 yards per game).

"Especially when we get into the Big Ten, we're going to have to run the ball," Weber said.

For now, the Decker show will have to suffice.

Decker might not get much recognition nationally, but he won a few backers in Berkeley with his play Saturday.

"Decker made an unbelievably great catch and a play," Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said of Decker's first score. "He's a great player. Somebody said afterward he had a whole bunch of stitches in. That tells you what type of guy he is.

"He came right back and kept playing."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


MINNEAPOLIS -- After finding all the answers on the field, California quarterback Kevin Riley struggled to find the words to describe what had just taken place.

Cal proved Saturday it can win a road game, something the Golden Bears had done just five times in their last 16 trips away from Strawberry Canyon. The Bears won a nonconference road game several time zones away, which they failed to do in embarrassing fashion last year at Maryland.

Perhaps more importantly, Cal won the hard way, breaking a fourth-quarter deadlock against Minnesota to prevail, 35-21.
Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire
Running back Jahvid Best's five touchdowns made a big statement on the road for Cal.

If only the Bears quarterback could pinpoint the reason ...

"Offensively, we're just more comfortable with each other," Riley said. "We have a tremendous amount of, uh, I don't know, I lost a word. I'm just lost. Go ahead, Jahvid. I can't think of the word."

Fittingly, running back Jahvid Best was there for the save.

"It's about belief," Best said.

"That's it," a smiling Riley said. "There ya go."

Cal is starting to believe it can do special things this season, and Saturday's victory only reinforced the sentiment. The Bears have been here before under head coach Jeff Tedford. Ranked in the top 10. On the cusp of a real breakthrough. They've had the talent, the game-changers on both sides of the ball, but for one reason or another, it hasn't worked out.

Whether it's expectations, me-first stars, chemistry issues or lack of execution between the lines, Cal hasn't taken the step from very good to great.

The Bears might finally be ready.

"I like this team," Tedford said. "I like this team's chemistry, I like this team's leadership, I like their work ethic, I like their togetherness.

"It's a special group that way."

(Read full post)


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


MINNEAPOLIS -- California senior wide receiver Nyan Boateng suffered a fractured foot in the first half of Saturday's 35-21 victory against Minnesota.

Boateng, a transfer from Florida who entered Saturday with three catches and one touchdown, had two receptions for 30 yards before the injury. He didn't play in the second half.

Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said he didn't know whether Boateng's injury will require surgery.

Junior Jeremy Ross filled in for Boateng and made two huge catches for 66 yards on Cal's go-ahead scoring drive midway through the fourth quarter.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Jahvid Best is no longer a throw-in for the Heisman Trophy race.

He scored all five of California's touchdowns in the Bears 35-21 win at Minnesota, rushing for 131 yards on 26 carries.

He did most of his damage -- almost all, in fact -- in the first half, but it's hard to argue with five touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter to break a 21-21 deadlock.

The Bears ended a four-game losing streak on the road.

Next week, they can start a road winning streak -- they head to Oregon for a critical Pac-10 showdown.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


MINNEAPOLIS -- It was too much Jahvid Best as California's offense ignited in the fourth quarter to beat a scrappy Minnesota team.

Best set a modern-era team record with five rushing touchdowns, putting himself in the Heisman Trophy mix, and quarterback Kevin Riley made several huge throws down the stretch for the eighth-ranked Bears. Cal received tremendous defensive play from linebacker Mike Mohamed (two INTs), end Tyler Alualu and others.

Minnesota senior wide receiver Eric Decker played his heart out (two receiving touchdowns, one passing touchdown), but the Gophers once again found no other options besides No. 7. Without any consistency in the run game, quarterback Adam Weber was under pressure for most of the game and couldn't avoid the rush nearly enough.

The Gophers defense played well in the second and third quarters but couldn't stop Cal when it counted. After exorcising their demons on the road, Bears can now turn their attention to Pac-10 play with Oregon and USC the next two weeks.video

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


MINNEAPOLIS -- Forget about the quarterbacks for a minute. Cal's Jahvid Best has put himself in the thick of the Heisman Trophy race.

Best set a Cal modern-era record with his fifth touchdown run, which put away with the game with 2:59. The previous record had been four, which Best recorded last year against Washington.

The junior has 23 carries for 133 yards in the game.

Minnesota's defense has had no answer for Best on the edges. Then again, no one does.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


MINNEAPOLIS -- After dominating the first half with three rushing touchdowns, Jahvid Best disappeared in the third quarter, only to be revived by his quarterback in the fourth.

Kevin Riley might have won the game for Cal in leading on an 8-play, 72-yard touchdown drive. Riley went 3 of 4 on the drive, including a 35-yard completion to Jeremy Ross on third-and-16 from deep in Cal territory. Minnesota has got to be kicking itself after seemingly stopping Cal on the previous play (a false start penalty was called).

Riley responded from a shaky third quarter and threw a beautiful ball to tight end Skylar Curran, which set up Best's fourth touchdown run, tying a modern day school record (Best also had four scores against Washington last year). Best will get most of the credit if Cal wins today -- and he deserves it -- but Riley has looked pretty solid as well.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


MINNEAPOLIS -- Eric Decker is doing it all for Minnesota, which has gotten right back into this game.

The Golden Gophers finally put together a somewhat balanced drive, as pass plays to Decker set up the run game, which had been dormant until this point. Minnesota's offensive line finally generated some push for sophomore Duane Bennett, who had runs of six and nine yards on the drive.

It's amazing how Decker continues to get free in the Cal secondary despite his value to Minnesota's offense. The senior wideout finished the drive with a touchdown pass to backup quarterback MarQueis Gray, completing the rare quarterback to wide receiver to different quarterback score. Decker has now accounted for all three Minnesota touchdowns (2 receiving, 1 pass).

The home crowd is really into this one at the end of three quarters, and Cal might be feeling here-we-go-again on the road.

Cal finally gives it away

September, 19, 2009
9/19/09
2:17
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


MINNEAPOLIS -- After going two and a half games without a turnover, Cal finally gave one away.

And while no turnovers are easy to watch, Cal's first giveaway had to be especially frustrating for head coach Jeff Tedford. Cal held Minnesota to three-and-out on the first possession of the second half, but a short punt hit Cal's Charles Satchell and Minnesota's Nick Tow-Arnett recovered.

The Bears were one of six FBS teams that entered Saturday without a turnover on the season.

With a great chance to grab momentum, Minnesota mirrored Cal and give the ball back as Hayo Carpenter fumbled in Bears territory.

On the plus side for Minnesota, senior wideout Eric Decker recored his 200th career reception. Decker broke Ron Johnson's school record for receptions with his second touchdown catch in the first half.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


MINNEAPOLIS -- Quick analysis from halftime at TCF Bank Stadium, where California leads Minnesota 21-14.

Turning point: After Minnesota stopped Cal deep in its own territory, Bears safety Jesse Brooks drew a 15-yard penalty for crushing Gophers punt returner Bryant Allen, who was knocked silly trying to catch the ball. The foul gave Minnesota great field position and the Gophers converted for their second touchdown with 40 seconds left, reducing their deficit.

Stats of the half: Cal has outgained Minnesota 277-112, recorded seven more first downs and held the ball for 19:56 vs. 10:04.

Best player in the half: The best is Best, as in California running back Jahvid Best, who strengthened his case for Heisman Trophy consideration with 114 rush yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries in the half. Honorable mention goes to Minnesota senior wide receiver Eric Decker, who has caught two touchdown passes.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


MINNESOTA -- Eric Decker just showed why he's one of the best wide receivers in the country. Whether the Minnesota star continues to show it today remains to be seen.

Decker made an incredible catch and managed to hang on for a 26-yard touchdown. He absorbed a huge hit from Cal safety Sean Cattouse, whose helmet went into Decker's chin. Decker's head snapped back as he hit the turf, and he remained down for several minutes before walking away.

Decker had his jersey off on the sideline and was getting examined by the training staff. He looks like he'll be OK, but I'll post an update when I get one.

Penalties killing Gophers offense

September, 19, 2009
9/19/09
12:41
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


MINNEAPOLIS -- When you script an offensive game plan all week, the worst thing that can happen is a penalty on the first play from scrimmage.

Minnesota not only drew a flag on its first offensive play, but guard Matt Carufel was whistled for a 15-yard chop block foul on the first play of the Gophers' second possession. So the Gophers started their first two drives with first-and-15 and first-and-25.

Those miscues just can't happen against a team as good as Cal. Minnesota entered the game averaging just 5.4 yards per play, and there hasn't been a ton of explosiveness in this offense. Penalties have been a problem, as the Gophers drew 18 flags in their first two games. They need to end that trend immediately.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


MINNEAPOLIS -- Cal just put on a clinic in its first drive, immediately putting Minnesota back on its heels.

The key for the Bears was staying out of long-yardage situations. Cal faced two third downs on the nine-play, 80-yard march, but both were extremely manageable (two and three yards). Jeff Tedford ran a ton of formations at Minnesota and exploited the middle of the Gophers defense several times, including on Jahvid Best's 33-yard touchdown run.

Minnesota needs to shore up the middle and force Cal into third-and-long. Otherwise, it'll be a very long day for the Gophers.

Cal-Minnesota pregame

September, 19, 2009
9/19/09
11:51
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


MINNEAPOLIS -- The public-address announcer at TCF Bank Stadium warned fans that pyrotechnics will be used during the game today.

We'll see who sets off the fireworks on the field remains to be seen.

Just got back from watching warmups. It was not a surprise that Golden Gophers quarterback Adam Weber and wide receiver Eric Decker were two of the first players out there. I was impressed with Cal quarterback Kevin Riley's passing mechanics and backup quarterback Brock Mansion's size.

Special teams will be critical today. Minnesota thinks it can exploit some weaknesses with Cal, though the Bears are awfully talented on returns.

It's game day at TCF Bank Stadium

September, 19, 2009
9/19/09
11:16
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


MINNEAPOLIS -- Greetings from the Big Ten's newest stadium, which definitely lives up to the hype.

Minnesota finally has a real home stadium, but whether the friendly surroundings pay off today remains to be seen. The Gophers face an enormous test in eighth-ranked California, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Jahvid Best at running back.

For the first time in my journalism career, I'm happy to provide a weather forecast for a Minnesota home game (instead of the standard room temperature joke at the Metrodome). It looks like a gorgeous day, with temperatures around 70 degrees at kickoff, working their way up to 77 during the fourth quarter.

A couple of personnel notes for Minnesota: cornerback Marcus Sherels (ankle) isn't expected to play, and Dom Alford will start at left tackle over Matt Stommes.

THREE KEYS FOR CALIFORNIA

1. Stay awake. Head coach Jeff Tedford hates hearing about how the early kickoff last year against Maryland doomed his team, which looked utterly lifeless in College Park. A strong start on offense, especially from quarterback Kevin Riley, would prove the Bears are ready this time and could take the crowd out of the game.

2. Find Eric Decker on every play. The Gophers senior wide receiver has been the team's only consistent offensive weapon so far. Talented Bears cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson likely will be assigned to Decker (the game's best matchup, in my opinion), but he could use some safety help against the Biletnikoff Award candidate.

3. Pressure quarterback Adam Weber. Cal ranks sixth nationally in sacks (4.5 spg), and the Gophers' offensive line is still adjusting to a brand-new system. Weber will make mistakes under pressure from time to time, so Cal should take an aggressive approach with defensive end Ernest Owusu and others.

THREE KEYS FOR MINNESOTA

1. Make Riley win the game. Minnesota's linebackers have been fabulous so far, but Best and Shane Vereen can take over a game with their big-play ability. The Gophers need to load up the box and force Riley to make tough throws. Riley has been extremely efficient this season, but Minnesota can't let Cal's running backs take over.

2. Diversify the offense. Decker can't beat a team like Cal by himself, and he'll need help from his fellow wideouts, tight end Nick Tow-Arnett and running backs Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge. This needs to be the game where wideout Hayo Carpenter becomes a difference maker for the Gophers.

3. Make plays on special teams. The Gophers rank among the top 20 nationally in both kickoff and punt returns, and sophomore Troy Stoudermire can be a game-changer Saturday. Stoudermire should give Minnesota's offense good field position, and the Gophers need continued excellence from punter Dan Orseske and kicker Eric Ellestad.

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