MINNEAPOLIS

FOR STARTERS, there were the five touchdowns scored by Jahvid Best — the most in one game by a Cal player since the advent of talking pictures. Then there was the breakout game by receiver Jeremy Ross — three catches for 73 yards, including a third-and-16 lifesaver in the fourth quarter.

There was quietly terrific quarterback Kevin Riley, occasionally spectacular punter Bryan Anger and a stout defense that held an opponent to less than 50 yards rushing for the second consecutive game.

Yes, there was plenty to like about Cal's 35-21 win at Minnesota on Saturday, even taking the 11 a.m. (local time) kickoff into account. It was the Bears' first road win in more than a year, and locked them into the AP Top 10 another week.

Oh, there was the small matter of the yawning and desultory stretch from the mid-first quarter to the early fourth, 41:10 of playing time during which Cal allowed a 14-0 lead to degrade into a 21-21 tie while recording barely more first downs (6) than three-and-outs (5). But you'd have to be 10 kinds of Scrooge to bring that up after a game like Saturday's.

So we'll let Best do it.

"That's a good test for us," said Best, who advanced his Heisman Trophy candidacy another 131 yards on a career-high 26 carries. "Next week, we're going to Oregon and that's going to be another hostile environment. I'm kind of glad they came back and tested us a little bit. Now we have that under our belt, so if another team does that to us, we know how to handle it."


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It would be picking nits for us to note that for much of Saturday afternoon, there was no guarantee Cal in fact could handle what Minnesota had to offer. So Mike Mohamed, you're up.

"At halftime we were kind of down a little bit even though we were winning (21-14)," said Mohamed, who had two fourth-quarter interceptions. "The coaches and some of the other players, we all had to assure ourselves that we were still winning this game."

To suggest the stats didn't match the tenor of the game, well, that would be just mean-spirited.

"It was a struggle all day," Mohamed said. "I felt like we should have won the game by more."

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Of course, Cal did rebound to wrestle the momentum away from Minnesota. Passes of 35 and 31 yards from Riley to Ross led to the tie-breaking touchdown. Mohamed's first interception led to the clinching score. His second killed the Gophers' final drive.

Cal's offensive line, dominant early in the game before being knocked back on its collective heels in the second and third quarters, found its footing when it mattered.

If you're thinking of chatting up coach Jeff Tedford about Saturday's game, you might want to keep those talking points in mind.

"Things happen in games," Tedford said. "You're not going to score every time you have the ball, and stop (the opponent) three-and-out every time. The test is, how you finish the game, how you handle adversity. I thought our kids stayed poised."

Tedford's tone suggested an impatience with questions regarding Cal's ability to win on the road (which they'd only done once in their past nine tries before Saturday) or to redirect a game headed south (the Bears' inability to do so at Maryland, Arizona, USC and Oregon State last year accounted for the only blemishes on their 2008 record).

Which is understandable. Most coaches are reluctant to cop to their team's fundamental and bedeviling shortcomings, perceived or otherwise. You wouldn't expect Tedford, then, to make a fuss over something he didn't necessarily believe was a big deal in the first place.

He did agree, however, that Saturday's experience can only help Cal in this season of great expectations.

"It is great to play a tough game and to be able to play well in the fourth quarter and make plays when you need to make plays," he said. "Yes, I think it will give us a boost."

Because the Bears know something about themselves now that they didn't know on Saturday morning. Mind you, you didn't hear that from us.

Contact Gary Peterson at gpeterson@bayareanewsgroup.com.