Tedford has plenty of playmakers to choose from in Cal's quick-strike offense
By Jonathan Okanes
BERKELEY -- Alex Mack just isn't getting the same workout that he's used to. Cal's All-Pac-10 center is finding that he doesn't have to sustain blocks quite as long as normal, because the Bears' playmakers are blazing past him at a sizzling rate. "It makes our job easier when you only have to block someone for a couple of seconds and then run downfield for 30 or 40 yards," Mack said. "It's easier for us having the ball move so quickly down the field. It's fun to see what Coach is going to call next." Cal's vast array of offensive weapons were on full display in Saturday's season-opening, 45-31 win over Tennessee -- a victory that helped the Bears climb two rungs in the AP rankings, from No. 12 to No. 10. Running back Justin Forsett rushed for 156 yards with an average of 6.0 yards per carry. True freshman Jahvid Best had 46 yards on four carries. Wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins had seven catches for 90 yards and a touchdown. DeSean Jackson had four catches for 45 yards and added a 21-yard run on an end around. Coach Jeff Tedford has had some speed and skill in his six seasons at Cal, but none of the previous ones can match the depth and explosiveness of the 2007 edition. "You're always trying to find ways to get all of them the ball," Tedford said. "There's only one ball. That's the way it goes."
With Robert Jordan complementing Jackson and Hawkins at wide receiver, and with Jackson, Hawkins and Best making an impact on special teams -- Jackson opened his Heisman Trophy candidacy with a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Vols -- the Bears are able to utilize their team speed in a variety of ways. Cal's 2004 team, which featured running backs J.J. Arrington and Marshawn Lynch, wide receiver Geoff McArthur and kick returner Tim Mixon, is the only other former Tedford team that may rival this one in terms of explosiveness. "Our 2004 team was pretty explosive," Tedford said. "We're pretty similar to that team. Our team speed is better than that one." Jackson has become the face of Cal's big-play ability, but Saturday's game demonstrated so much more. Jackson certainly made his impact, mostly on the punt return. Forsett's running, Hawkins' catching, and Best and Hawkins' production on kickoff returns were too much for Tennessee to withstand. Best and Hawkins combined to average 24 yards per return.
"I've never really played on a team with this much speed," said Jordan, who played on the 2004 squad as a true freshman and finished second on the team with 29 catches. "There is a lot more speed. The leadership of that 2004 team was incredible. I'm really trying to carry it on. With the new talent that we have, we can do great things." Forsett is the undisputed No. 1 back in Cal's rushing attack, but Best could emerge as the next one in a string of part-time rushers that have excelled in Tedford's offense. Forsett flourished as a backup the past two seasons behind Lynch, and Lynch did the same in 2004 as a true freshman when Arrington was the starter. "We're very deep," Forsett said. "Jahvid is a special guy. There's more to come. Jahvid displayed his speed Saturday. We had all seen it, but the whole nation saw it. He's an exciting player." Redshirt freshman James Montgomery emerged from training camp as the No. 2 running back on the depth chart but didn't get a carry Saturday. He was on the field for a few plays and caught one pass for 1 yard. Tedford said Montgomery is more qualified to be an every-down back while he will use Best in special situations. "(Best) will continue to contribute in certain ways, and James Montgomery, as well," Tedford said. "We're playing Jahvid this year, so he's not just going to play on special teams. He needs to contribute on offense. I still think that James would be the every-down back. I don't know that Jahvid is ready to be the every-down back. That would be the big difference right now."
Notes: Jackson was named the Pac-10 Special Teams of the Week. ... The Bears benefited from Michigan's upset loss to Appalachian State and also leapfrogged Ohio State to claim their new spot in the AP rankings. The Wolverines plummeted from No. 5 to out of the Top 25. The Buckeyes fell from 11th to 12th after a 38-6 win over Youngstown State.