Oct. 24, 2009
By Jennifer Starks
Special to Calbears.com
Ask Jeremy Ross to describe his role on the Cal football team, and chances are he'd have to pause to fully consider his options.
Ross could lean toward the wide receiver tag given his solid hands and ability to haul in passes. Or he could lean toward the special teams label given his capacity to set the table for the Bears' offense.
Ross has evolved into a jack-of-all-trades for Cal, a chameleon capable of filling the need wherever it arises. He did a bit of everything Saturday afternoon, including finding the back of the end zone, as the Bears clobbered Washington State, 49-17, at Memorial Stadium.
"I'm just trying to do my job," Ross said. "I'm just trying to make plays, go in there and make something happen."
Against the overmatched Cougars, he wasted little time. Ross opened the game with a 54-yard kickoff return that not only eclipsed his previous career-long return of 47 yards (last season vs. UCLA) but also set the tone for what was to come for Cal. The Bears (5-2, 2-2 Pac-10) continued to march down the field, and two plays later, junior quarterback Kevin Riley found junior tailback Jahvid Best with a 27-yard scoring strike.
Cal toyed with Washington State (1-6, 0-5) from the outset, burning the squad in nearly every facet of the game. As a team, the Bears amassed a season-high 559 yards of total offense. Riley completed his first three passes - all for touchdowns - and finished 12-for-18 for 229 yards, while Best ran for 159 yards and two touchdowns.
But it was Ross who provided what coach Jeff Tedford deemed the momentum changers.
With one lengthy return already in the books, Ross was intent on making more noise. The opportunity to do just that came midway through the first quarter when he collected a punt, fooled two defenders and scored on a 76-yard return to put Cal in front 21-0. It was his first career punt return for a touchdown and the 11th longest punt return in school history.
"I've been waiting a long time to make a big play like that, so it was definitely exciting for me to take that back," said Ross, who finished with a career-high 228 all-purpose yards. "It was really fun. Back-to-back scoring, back-to-back big plays. We were rolling; I was juiced."
What's more, he wasn't done.
Already enjoying a career day, Ross showed he was more than just a special teams maverick. He took the field with the offense, ran down the left sideline, and Riley hit him in stride for a 61-yard gain. Ross' grab put the Bears back in business, moving them deep inside Washington State territory and all the way to the 2-yard line.
Best finished the job with a short scoring romp to give Cal a sizable 42-17 advantage with 11:07 remaining in the third quarter.
"He's a good player," Tedford said of Ross. "Jeremy has great speed. He's tough and strong. If you give him a crack, he can make people miss. He's doing a good job on special teams and on offense."