Best ready for Autzen noise

EUGENE — California tailback Jahvid Best isn't one to get intimidated.

But two years ago when Best visited Autzen Stadium last, he was struck by the noise.

"From my memory it feels like it was like 10 feet between the sideline and the crowd. No crowd usually gets to me," he said. "Oregon's the only one that stands out in my mind that got to me."

Best and the No. 6 Golden Bears visit Autzen and the Oregon Ducks today, the Pac-10 Conference opener for both teams.

Back in 2007, Best only took a couple of handoffs against Oregon in Cal's 31-24 victory. Now Best is considered one of the top running backs in the country and a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Best ran for 131 yards and tied a Pac-10 record with five rushing touchdowns to lead the Golden Bears to a 35-21 victory last weekend at Minnesota, for which he earned Pac-10 player of the week honors.

He is the nation's third-best rusher with an average of 137.33 yards a game and has seven straight games with 100-plus yards dating back to last season.

Last year, Best rushed for 93 yards on 16 carries in Cal's 26-16 victory over Oregon in a driving rain at Memorial Coliseum.

"I remember that it was raining. And it was a physical game," he said. "They had a good defense, and we're expecting the same thing this year."

Oregon, however, is struggling there. The Ducks are ranked second-to-last in the Pac-10 for overall defense and eighth for rushing defense.

The Golden Bears rank among the nation's leaders in three major offensive categories. They are 11th in total offense, averaging 488.7 yards, second in scoring offense with an average of 48.7 points and 10th in rushing offense at 250.3 yards.

Quarterback Kevin Riley, who went to high school in Beaverton, has thrown five touchdowns this season with no interceptions.

Oregon's offense hasn't really been able to escape turmoil since the season-opening 19-8 loss to Boise State.

Following the embarrassing loss on the Broncos' trademark blue turf, Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount punched defensive end Byron Hout, knocking him to his knees.

Blount, the Ducks' top returning rusher, was suspended for the season but was allowed to remain on scholarship and practice with the team.

Oregon rebounded with a victory over Purdue, but faced criticism of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli following last weekend's 31-24 victory over then-No. 18 Utah.

Masoli, who has yet to throw a touchdown this season, completed just four of 16 passes against the Utes. The performance left many Oregon fans calling for backup Nate Costa.

Masoli admits to being in a "little funk" for the first three games.

"We definitely weren't on the same page if you look at the film. Some of the receivers aren't coming back or I'm trying to lead them," Masoli said. "It's just different things here and there and we're trying to get on the same page right now."

A positive for the Ducks is running back LaMichael James, who made his first career start last weekend against Utah and rushed for 152 yards, breaking the school's single-game record for a freshman. James is one of the players Oregon is looking toward to replace Blount.

And of course Oregon has its home-field advantage, even though the Autzen effect could be tempered a bit because of Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who used to be the offensive coordinator for the Ducks and knows what his team will face.

"At most stadiums, there's ebb and flow of what goes on. When they're excited, they're excited and then they lull for a little bit," Tedford said. "Autzen stays the same say no matter what, always, no matter if you get ahead by 14 or 20 or whatever, they stay after it."

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