Yes, you read that right.
All week, all I've heard is, "Wow, Jahvid Best is awesome," "Holy cow, Jahvid Best is fast," and "No. The Cougs don't have a prayer (of stopping Jahvid Best)."
The Cougs do have a prayer of stopping Best and his friend, Shane Vereen. In fact, I think it's much better than a prayer -- I believe the Cougs can severely limit what Best and Vereen are able to do, at least on offense. (I wouldn't even pretend to tell you what the Cougs can do on special teams to limit these guys, except to kick the ball out of bounds.)
Please watch the following highlight reel of Best and Vereen from last Saturday's game, and I'll tell you just how the Cougs are going to stop these two guys. (CougCenter suggests watching with the volume off.)
Now, your first impression, as most people's will be, probably was this: "Wow, those guys are fast! They're awesome!"
And I don't disagree. They are fast and awesome. But let's be real. There is one reason and one reason alone those two guys had the success they had on Saturday: Their offensive line was spectacular.
If you didn't notice it the first time around, I suggest going back and rewatching it: Michigan State's defensive line routinely was pushed three to five yards downfield on just about every running play. When Paul Wulff talked this week about Cal being a physical team, this is the kind of stuff he was talking about.
So why do I think the Cougs can, at the very least, contain these two guys?
Last Saturday, the Cougs were facing what was purported to be one of the better offensive lines they were going to see all year long. I expected the defensive line to get shoved around and run all over for three hours -- I told anyone who would listen that my over/under for rushing yards by Oklahoma State was 275.
To my surprise, the unit of Matt Mullenix, Kevin Kooyman, A'i Ahmu, Matt Eichelberger and Adam Hineline more than held their own. Yes, they gave up 4.1 yards per rush, but that number was inflated somewhat in the fourth quarter as the Cowboys salted the game away against a fatigued defense.
If those guys can repeat that performance and be stout at the point of attack -- and I do realize Ahmu will miss the first half, so the job is tougher -- I think they have a very good chance of limiting Cal's backs, neither of whom are downhill runners who can make holes for themselves. Both operate best in space, and my goodness, there was a ridiculous amount of space against Michigan State.
Take away that space, and you take away their effectiveness.
The other thing I noticed is that there were a fair amount of missed tackles by MSU, especially by linebackers. That won't happen with these Cougs; our linebackers are the strength of the defense, and these guys are excellent tacklers.
However, I will finish this off with one word of caution for the linebackers and secondary.
Go back to the video, and fast forward to the 3:17 mark. It's a goal-line set. Michigan State actually did a decent job plugging the hole, so Best did what he does ... um, Best: Used his speed to bounce it out to the goal line, cruising into the end zone.
What stood out most to me was just how poor of an angle the safety took to Best -- he had no prayer of making that tackle. It happened over and over again throughout this highlight reel. That tells me that Best's speed is special, something that just can't be appreciated by watching film, or duplicated on a practice squad (apologies to James Montgomery).
And therein lies the rub. If the Cougs can reasonably control the line of scrimmage (which I think they can) and if the linebackers can take good angles to the ball carriers and wrap up when they get there (which I think they can), they can contain Best and Vereen.
With a little bit of help from the offense, this game is going to be a lot closer than people think.