Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Win to Soothe the Soul

In real life, no matter how hard you try, clear cut redemption is a very difficult thing to come by. Thank goodness for sports and home and home contracts. By any measure, last season’s campaign was a great success. Ten wins, co-Pac 10 champions, and a blowout win over Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl. But nationally, nobody ever gave Cal any attention or respect after the Bears got pounded by Tennessee to start the season.

This lack of respect and the need to expunge the shame of last season fueled the Golden Bears in Saturday’s season opening win over the #15 ranked Tennessee Volunteers. While the game pretty much unfolded according to most people’s expectations (that the Bears would have too much offensive talent for the Vol’s to keep pace), the 45-31 victory was still as satisfying a win as I’ve ever experienced as a Cal fan. And if not for the gutty performance by the Appalachian State Mountaineers, Cal’s win would be the talk of the college football nation.

Full Recap of the Game (for those who didn’t watch, for those who did, skip down to the next section)

First Quarter

Sick of hearing how much more physical Tennessee is, the Cal defense was anxious to show that they can bring it just as hard. On the fifth play of the first quarter, LB Zack Follett buried his helmet into QB Erik Ainge’s blindside, absolutely crushing him. The hit bent Ainge backwards and forced a fumble that LB Worrell Williams scooped up and returned 44 yards for a touchdown. To Ainge’s credit, he got back up from that hellacious hit and methodically led the Vols down the field and hit RB Arian Foster on a little hitch for a score. Cal 7 UT 7.

It wasn’t until 10 mins remaining in the first quarter that the Bear offense finally took the field, and the Longshore led Bears didn’t disappoint. With Coach Tedford reclaiming the play calling duties, the offense also demonstrated that they were ready to smack people in the mouth. The first drive featured several strong runs by RB Justin Forsett, and was capped off by a 2 yd QB sneak for a TD. Cal 14 UT 7.

RB Arian Foster took the ensuing kickoff 68 yards to the Cal 24 and set up the Vols with great field position. Showing the poise of a QB with 23 starts under his belt, Ainge hit a 15 yd completion to WR Austin Rogers, and after two runs by RB Montario Hardesty the Vols pulled even again. Cal 14 UT 14.

Cal’s second possession stalled after picking up one first down on a pass from Longshore to Lavelle Hawkins, and the first quarter ended with the score still tied at 14.

Second Quarter

Tennessee quickly returned the favor by doing almost nothing with their possession, and, more importantly, by stubbornly punting to All-Everything WR/PR DeSean Jackson. Jackson fielded the punt on about the Cal 24 with a Tennessee player right in his face. One quick sidestep disposed of the first defender, the blockers took care of the next two, and Jackson paralyzed the remaining defender with a devastating step-back juke move. Jackson gracefully ran the remaining 77 yards towards the endzone for his sixth career punt return for a TD. Cal 21 UT 14.

After the furious pace of the first 17 minutes of action, the game slowed down somewhat as both teams went three and out on their next possessions.

However, with about 9 minutes remaining in the half, Ainge connected on his longest completion of the day for 43 yards to Lucas Taylor putting Tennessee at the Cal 4. Ainge then hooked up with big Chris Brown for a touchdown evening the score yet again. Cal 21 UT 21.

Not to be outdone, the Cal offense took the field and Coach Tedford decided that this was the time to give freshman phenom Jahvid Best his chance. After absorbing his first NCAA Division I level hit, Best showed his toughness and natural ability by promptly running for 34 yards down to the Tennessee 4 yard line, setting up Longshore’s 4yd TD pass to WR Robert Jordan. Cal 28 UT 21.

The Bear Defense stepped up on the next possession putting an end to the constant see-saw action. LB Worrell Williams forced a fumble on 3rd and 1, forcing the Vols to punt. With only one minute remaining in the half, Longshore quickly drove the Bears down the field with a 49 yd completion to Forsett and a 21 yd completion to Hawkins. Unfortunately, Cal could not cash in with a touchdown and settled for a 27 yard FG to end the first half. Score at halftime Cal 31 UT 21.

Third Quarter

Cal came out of halftime firing, moving down the field in big chunks. The drive was highlighted by a 12 yd run by Forsett, a 21 yd end around by Jackson, and a 25 yd pass to Hawkins. With the ball on the UT 3 yard line, Longshore quickly recognized some confusion in the Tennessee secondary, rushed his players to the line and threw a dart to an uncovered Hawkins for a 3 yard score. Cal 38 UT 21.

The next Tennessee possession proved to be the most critical as far as the Bear defense was concerned. After giving up a huge 42 yard run to Arian Foster, the Golden Bear defense stiffened up on the goal line. The defense stopped Tennessee four times from the Cal 3 yard line, forcing a turnover on downs.

With momentum shifting almost completely in their favor, the Bears could have put this one away here. However, after DeSean Jackson sprained a thumb and left the game, the Bears seemed to lose some of their momentum. Tennessee further shifted the momentum back in their favor by driving 73 yards and scoring on a 5 yard pass from Ainge to Brown. Cal 38 UT 28.

The third quarter ended with Tennessee driving yet again after a quick three and out by the Bears.

Fourth Quarter

The Bear Defense forced three incomplete passes, but the Vols drew within seven points after a 41 yard FG. Cal 38 UT 31.

DeSean Jackson re-entered the game at this point, but the Bears went three and out again giving Tennessee the opportunity to tie the game.

If the goal line stand in the 3rd quarter was the most critical defensive possession, this next series proved to be the ultimate turning point in the game. Helped out by a false start penalty and a very conservative play call on third down, the Bear defense forced the Vols to go three and out.

With the game seemingly starting to slip away, the Golden Bears came up huge on this drive. Longshore misfired on first down, but then connected on his next three attempts for gains of 24, 23, and 10 yards respectively. Forsett capped off this impressive drive with a powerful 13 yard touchdown run which sealed the deal for the Golden Bears. Cal 45 UT 31.

After forcing Tennessee to go three and out, the Bears got the ball back and proceeded to pound the Vols with the running game. Forsett and the offensive line powered the Bears down the field; consistently gaining big yardage on every carry despite the fact that everybody knew that Cal was only going to run. A scary moment occurred when Tennessee DE Xavier Mitchell was injured while trying to bring down Forsett. Mitchell had to be carted off the field on a stretcher, but was able to give an encouraging wave as he was being taken off. The Bears plowed all the way down to the Tennessee 1 yard line, but instead of humiliating their opponent further, they graciously decided to fumble the ball away.

The rest of the game was pretty uneventful. Tennessee went three and out again, and the Bears just ran out the clock with a couple of runs and every coach’s favorite play, a kneel down in the victory formation to end the game. Final score Cal 45 UT 31.

Thoughts & Comments


I was pretty impressed with how Cal fans showed up for this game. Despite the recent success of the team, it hasn’t been uncommon to see empty seats even in the student section during the first quarter. Good job Cal fans in actually showing up early enough to pack the stadium from whistle to whistle.

The noise level was really very good throughout most of the game as well. I couldn’t tell from the TV broadcast if the free megaphones were being used, but if they were…make sure you guys bring them to every game, and if they weren’t….then even greater job on making noise to support your boys.

The one gripe I have about the Cal fans really falls more on the shoulders of the yell leaders. During the seemingly interminable moments when the young Tennessee defensive end lay motionless on the field, I could clearly hear the yell leaders exhorting the Cal student section in the chant of “Pac 10 football!” Now, I’m as die hard a Cal fan as you will ever find, I know all the reasons behind the chant, and I’m hella glad that we got the chance to do the chant. But I ask you, yell leaders, was that really the appropriate time for that? Show some class, show respect for the game and for your opponents. If it was a spontaneous chant, driven by fans unaware of the situation or its severity…that would be understandable. But for the yell leaders to get on the mic and start that chant, while a young man lies prone not more than 150 feet from them, was disgusting.

On to more positive thoughts…

Cal Team

On Offense:

There were a whole lot of positives to take from this game; even apart from the whole revenge/redemption angle. The offense proved the pre-season hype about its maturity and abundance of depth at the skill positions. Longshore showed the poise and leadership that can only come from experience, DeSean cemented his place as the most electrifying player in the nation, and most importantly, Forsett proved he has what it takes to fill the starter’s role.

While I always liked Forsett, I never fully believed that he could be a big time runner for Cal. Most of his yardage in previous years came after a huge dose of big Marshawn, and it seemed to me that Forsett was capitalizing on worn down defenses or defenses keyed to stopping the more physical style of Lynch. But today’s game proved that Forsett can be the hammer too. Not only did he grind out 163 yards on the ground, he also picked up 49 yards receiving proving that he can be a threat in the passing game as well.

As far as the passing game goes, the Bears seemed mostly content to be patient and take what the defense was giving them. I’m guessing that this was for several reasons. First, because it was the first game of the season, and Tedford was more focused on rhythm and consistency over the home run ball. Second, the Tennessee offense was totally without a big play threat this year; they were the ones playing catch up to Cal and so there wasn’t a need to take unnecessary risks. Finally, the importance of securing this win over Tennessee probably caused Tedford (combined with the first two reasons) to call things a little more conservatively. That being said, Cal still put up big numbers in the passing game today, and that was without getting big TE Craig Stevens any catches. Once this team gets more in rhythm and Tedford decides to open it up, beware.

The superstar freshman streak continues. Jahvid “the Jet” Best blasted onto the scene in tonight’s game; following in the footsteps of Marshawn Lynch and DeSean Jackson. I remember the days when the only big time freshman Cal fans got excited over was Kyle Boller…and he stunk it up until his final year when Tedford came along.

Not really about the offense, but DAMN I love hearing that victory chant. Also not strictly offense related, but the new kickoff rules are going to be playing havoc with teams all year. Teams end up at or near midfield with just one first down...kind of crazy, but maybe benefits teams like Cal...especially against defenses like usc...

Clutch kicking by the backup kicker Jordan Kay.

Final thought on the offense…I absolutely love how Tedford recruits, coaches, and utilizes our fullbacks. They always seem to get at least one run and one catch per game, and they almost always cash in on their opportunities. Tonight, Will Ta’ufo’ou (coming back from an injury that was supposed to keep him out of this game) caught a pass, ran for 15 yards, and then knocked the helmet off the Tennessee defender who tried to tackle him. There’s just something great about giving those big guys their chance and seeing them always come through. Great job.

On Defense:

So we all knew that the defense was going to be the big question mark this year, and yes they could’ve done more to make Cal nation feel more secure. But there were a lot of positives on that side of the ball as well. The overall scheme looked like it was set up to just keep Tennessee from gaining anything big, and for the most part they succeeded. There was some sloppy tackling and two big plays given up, but other than that, the defense did it’s job, especially in the second half.

Syd’Quan Thompson got his own measure of personal revenge by coming up with a couple of big hits and tackles for losses. The linebackers looked real solid, and the loss of Desmond Bishop doesn’t look like it’ll be a big factor this year. The defensive line still wasn’t able to generate much of a pass rush, but they did do a decent job against the run, and DE Rulon Davis definitely looks like the real deal.

While it’s usually offenses that take a few games to get going and gel into a unit, I really believe that this year’s defense will evolve into a very solid team after a few more games. The most important thing to remember is that we have big play ability on defense, and with our offense, the D won’t be called upon to win games for us.

Berkeley in Prime Time

This game represented a lot more than just a chance to get off to a great start for the football team. Don’t underestimate the fact that this game was in prime time, the only matchup of ranked opponents this weekend, and televised nationally. As Cal continues to have success, its recruiting base reaches further and further out, so this game really represented a chance for Cal to make a favorable impression on recruits nationwide; and Cal knocked it out of the park. Everything great about Cal was on display during tonight’s broadcast. The picturesque beauty of the Bay Area was emphasized by the cut shots before and after every commercial break. The Cal faithful were out en masse to support their beloved Bears. The stadium renovation plan and the new athletic facility got mentioned. The sideline reporter did a spot on the more…uh…colorful side of Cal life when she mentioned that the fans on tightwad were partying “Berkeley California style.” Hell, even the damn commercials advertising Cal have improved this year. Obviously, all these other extra things would’ve been rendered moot if the Bears didn’t win, but they did. And they did so convincingly, against a ranked opponent from the best conference in college football, on a weekend where other highly touted programs were playing and losing against Div IAA cupcakes. Helluva statement, helluva game, Go Bears!!!


Jason said...

"If it was a spontaneous chant, driven by fans unaware of the situation or its severity…that would be understandable."

It was this one. The chant seemed to start from fans alone, and as soon as we saw them bring out the backboard it stopped immediately. I think we gave three rounds of applause to the injured player as well, in penance. Bad timing, but we really thought it was a twisted knee when we saw the replay on the board. Only later did we realize the injury was not the guy who got hit in the knee, but the guy who made that hit.

Anonymous said...

I could also attest to what jason said. It was clearly w/o a doubt that one.

fairviewbears said...

If that's how it was, then that's cool. It just didn't seem that way on TV.

Ken Crawford said...

To add on the pile, yeah, no bad motives there. I also had no idea it was the guy delivering the hit's neck instead of the guy who looked like his leg got taken out from underneath him.

HydroTech said...

I was on the south side of the 50 and none of us were even aware of the injury for 5 minutes. We just heard the student section chanting "Pac-10 Football" and then our section started chanting it too. We all turned towards the Tennessee fans (to the south) and thus our attention and eyes were not anywhere near the injured player on the north end of the field.

fairviewbears said...

Hydro. Just to set the record straight...the criticism of the yell leaders had nothing to do w/ the fans in general. Like I said in the post, I wasn't criticizing fans who couldn't see the injury, or were understandably caught up in the emotion of a great game. I was just making a comment on how it looked/sounded on TV.

Based on what I've read in the comments, it seems like it was the fans who started the chant on their own, and the yell leaders followed along...which is fine. The criticism only applied if it was the other way around.

I was just commenting on the one annoyance in what was otherwise a great game. About 5 sentences out of several hundred were devoted to this topic. Wasn't attacking the fans...take it easy.

lilbambina said...

thanks for the update! you should be a sports writer.

HydroTech said...

My previous post might have sounded like I was defending the fans and thus leading some people to conclude that I felt you were attacking the fans, but I was not. I was merely giving a recap of my experience because I felt that most fans in my general section, like me, were unaware of the injury due to a bad view and our attention being drawn elsewhere. I gave that anecdote with full intention of just illustrating our ignorance of the situation to support your theory that some fans were unaware of the situation and not as a defense to an attack.

fairviewbears said...

And that comment illustrates the difference between the discourse found on a Cal sports blog vs. just about any other blog. I love Cal. Go Bears.

Brandelyn said...

I have to say that I love this blog! Thank you so much for your "Go Bearness"! Everyone said it correctly when it came to the chant. I was in the student section and honestly had no idea what was going. Most of us were paying attention to the man who fell in down the stadium steps and got injured, which initially stopped our chant and THEN we saw the cart come out. It was a whole mess! But the Tennessee player is alright and my Golden Bears are number 10 so Life is beautiful. Go Bears!

my-cal said...

Awesome write-up and great analysis.
While the offense is getting much of the glory (obviously), I don't think it would be farfetched to say that the 2 td's by the defense and special teams were what set Cal apart from Tennessee.
I hate to admit it but Ainge was pretty solid.
And come on, who didn't call that PR TD by DJ?