NCF Nation: Emerald 0827

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Jahvid Best and Zach Follett saved California from an embarrassing loss in the Emerald Bowl, what amounted to a home game against a young Miami team starting a true freshman quarterback.

 
  AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
  California running back Jahvid Best carried the majority of the load -- and the credit -- for the Bears Emerald Bowl win over Miami.

Best's 186 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries represented nearly all of Cal's offense in the 24-17 win, while Follett's second sack of the night forced a fumble from Hurricanes quarterback Jacory Harris and set up with winning score with 2:41 left.

That winning score came on a Nate Longshore pass to Anthony Miller on second-and-goal from the 2. It appeared Longshore was throwing to tight end Cameron Morrah, but Longshore will take any smidgen of good fortune he can get.

The final start of Longshore's career was mostly forgettable. While he didn't throw an interception, he completed just 10 of 21 passes for 121 yards, 74 of which came on dump to Verran Tucker that turned into a big play and set up Best's first score.

Longshore, who's been in a sometimes strange, season-long battle for the starting job with Kevin Riley, also tripped and fell to the ground on a third and goal play from the Miami 1-yard line with the score tied 14-14 late in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, Harris completed 25 of 41 for 194 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He outplayed Longshore for much of the game before the late fumble and some remarkably bad clock management at the end that prevented Miami from mounting a potentially game-tying drive in the final two minutes.

Said the Cal fans: Whew.

And so Longshore, after a star-crossed career that included more than a few boos from the home fans, finished with a win. That counts for something.

Cal fans will be eager to see what Best will do next fall, hopefully with just one quarterback handing him the ball. The sophomore had runs of 42, 32, 28 and 25 yards, and probably earned a spot on most short lists for the 2009 Heisman Trophy.

He hurt his thumb with nine minutes left in the game and didn't gain another yard, but was on the field when Longshore notched his redeeming moment.

Cal's win, though underwhelming, makes coach Jeff Tedford 5-1 in bowl games. The Bears finish the year at 9-4 and could enter the final top-25 poll.

The win also makes the Pac-10 2-0 in the bowl season.

Harris poised in defeat

December, 27, 2008
12/27/08
11:41
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

It's still too early to deem Jacory Harris Miami's starting quarterback for 2009, but even in defeat, the true freshman proved Saturday night he is definitely capable of the job.

 
  Phil Carter/US Presswire
  Playing well in an Emerald bowl defeat, Miami's Jacory Harris proved he is the quarterback of the future for the Hurricanes.

With suspended starter Robert Marve momentarily in the background, Harris played with poise in his second career start and further validated what coach Randy Shannon has been trying to tell everyone all along -- he's got two quarterbacks.

Harris grew up right before our eyes, and the 24-17 Emerald Bowl loss might have been different had the Hurricanes had better clock management and not wasted precious seconds in the final minute of their final drive. That, though, falls on the shoulders of offensive coordinator Patrick Nix, not his young quarterback. Nix has to have a two-minute drill Harris can handle as a true freshman, and Harris proved all game he can handle the pressure.

It was hardly a flawless performance, as Harris showed his youth with the interception, and should have held onto the ball more tightly in a critical fourth-quarter fumble that led to Cal's game-winning touchdown. But Harris' future is bright, as is Miami's. He finished with 194 yards and two touchdowns on 25 of 41 completions.

The biggest difference in this game was youth, and for the Hurricanes, that's hardly a bad thing.

Harris was occasionally a step slow with his timing, but for the most part did a good job recognizing coverages and was able to make plays out of nothing with his feet. He also threw the ball away instead of taking sacks. He gave his receivers catchable balls, but they didn't always return the favor (see Javarris James' drop in the end zone). As the game went on, Harris' confidence grew, and he began to take more chances.

Miami's offensive line struggled with both pass protection and run blocking early in the first half, and Cal controlled the line of scrimmage. As they settled down, though, so did Harris, and things began to open up for Lee Chambers and the running game in the third quarter.

As expected, Cal running back Jahvid Best racked up enough mileage to run back to campus.

Best was Mr. Inside AND Mr. Outside. He rolled off tackles, broke tackles, juked defenders and flat-out beat Miami with his speed in the open field.

He had to, because Cal's passing game was ineffective, and Miami's defense had a little something to do with that.

Miami wrapped up and tackled better than it did in its last two regular season losses to Georgia Tech and NC State, and the Canes got pressure on quarterback Nate Longshore as the game progressed.

Harris was easily the more productive of the two quarterbacks.

Aside from the poor clock management at the end of the game, Miami had nothing to be ashamed of in this game -- including the five suspensions.

The bowl appearance, the improvement on defense and Shannon's unwavering discipline all marked signs of positive change in his second season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

The Emerald Bowl functions as basically a home game for California while Miami couldn't travel much farther and stay inside the continental United States.

So let's look at the three Ws for the Pac-10's second game of the bowl season.

Who to watch: Cal running back Jahvid Best

Best won the Pac-10 rushing title with a dominant 311 yards rushing -- in 2 1/2 quarters -- in the season-finale vs. Washington. Sure, the Huskies defense is terrible, but ... gosh, 311 yards! Moreover, Miami's defense has given up an average of 345.5 yards rushing over its final two games. If Best posts a big day -- like by, say, getting his eighth run of 60 or more yards this season -- he could position himself as a budding 2009 Heisman Trophy candidate.

What to watch: Miami quarterback Jacory Harris vs. the Cal secondary

While Harris is a true freshman making only his second start of the season, many folks believe he is a better player than suspended starter Robert Marve. Harris has completed 61 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions, while Marve completed 55 percent with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Cal's defense, however, has a knack for pressuring quarterbacks into making mistakes -- see 33 sacks and 23 interceptions, which is tied for third in the nation. Moreover, Harris will be playing under conditions that basically equate to a road game. Will he keep his poise?

Why to watch: It's a showdown between BCS conferences, so regional pride is on the line. Best, perhaps the most dangerous, big-play running back in the nation, is hard to take your eyes off. Folks in Miami believe their young team has future All-Americans on both sides of the ball. And both teams have visions of better things in 2009, so both figure to be motivated to play well in order to amp up the momentum heading into the offseason.

Emerald Bowl preview

December, 27, 2008
12/27/08
11:13
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

  

WHO TO WATCH: Junior tight end Dedrick Epps. He has been a bright spot in the Canes' last two losses. Epps caught four passes for a career-high 101 yards and a touchdown in the loss at NC State. He had eight catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia Tech and NC State.

WHAT TO WATCH: Miami quarterback Jacory Harris vs. the Cal secondary. The Golden Bears are third in the nation with 23 interceptions this season, and the Cal defense will be looking to rattle Miami's rookie quarterback.

WHY TO WATCH: It's Randy Shannon's first time coaching in a bowl game, Harris' first time starting in a bowl game, and the program's return to the postseason after a dismal 2007 season.

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