BERKELEY

Consider Jeff Tedford's quarterback decision validated. By two sources.

One, of course, was Kevin Riley, who won the starting job after a spirited competition that raged through spring ball and summer camp.

The other was Nate Longshore, who didn't.

Both played in Saturday night's 38-31 season-opening win over Michigan State. Riley passed for 202 yards and two touchdowns, displaying the poise and maturity you'd expect from a coach's son.

Longshore? He played two series, because Tedford felt it important to keep him involved. Those good intentions had disastrous consequences. Both Longshore's drives ended in interceptions — one at the goal line that killed a Cal scoring chance, the second returned for a touchdown that jump-started a lifeless opponent.

The best you could say for Longshore's cameo was that it led to Riley's finest moment of the game. As Longshore trotted off the field to a cascade of boos, Riley faced the student rooting section and beseeched the crowd to chill.

There was a lot to take from Saturday's game. Tailback Jahvid Best, who hadn't played since suffering a season-ending hip injury last year, and who hadn't carried the every-down load since high school, ran 24 times for 111 yards. His backup, Shane Vereen, rushed for 101 yards — 81 on a scorching touchdown run late in the game.

Cal's new 3-4 defense did a nice job stopping the run. The Bears withstood a spirited Michigan State fourth-quarter rally, answering the Spartans' 17 points with 14 of their own.


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"I'm very proud of our kids," Tedford said. "They've invested a lot of time and a lot of energy to create great chemistry."

Ah, the C-word. That was a concern after 2007's late-season meltdown. The Cal locker room was bursting with talent, but burdened with competing agendas.

The Bears have insisted for months that the ego problem no longer exists. What Riley did spoke louder than words.

The quarterback thing could well have been a divisive issue. Longshore opened the 2005 season as the starter, but suffered a broken ankle in the first half of the first game. He has been the unquestioned starter, when healthy, the past two years.

So having Riley win the quarterback's job could have been awkward for Longshore. And it might have been awkward for Riley, who could have been conflicted by his desire to play and his respect for Longshore. It could have been dreadfully difficult for the team, had the two competitors developed an adversarial relationship.

Frankly, the scene Saturday could have been a morale-breaker for a team that hadn't made such a point of rebuilding its interpersonal relationships.

Instead, it looks as if that effort was the biggest offseason development for Cal. And don't forget, this is a team that changed to the 3-4 defense, changed offensive coordinators, is introducing two new kickers and a whole fleet of unproven receivers.

So in one respect, Riley probably didn't even need to address the fans the way he did, asking them to show the same respect to Longshore that Cal players show each other. Then again, it would never have occurred to him not to.

Asked about it, Riley paused for several seconds, no doubt trying to decide how to present the situation to those outside the program.

"I don't think it's really respectful of the fans to boo one of our players," he finally said. "Nate went in there and played well. They don't even know what happened on the (interceptions). He's a teammate, a friend. He went in there and did his best. Things didn't work out the way he wanted them to. That's about it."

Not if the Bears are as good with each other as they say they are. There's only one way to sell that claim: Better football through chemistry.

Contact Gary Peterson at gpeterson@bayareanewsgroup.com.