Sunday, September 02, 2007

Oakland Tribune: Bears hit Vols with offensive tour de force

Column by Carl Steward

BERKELEY — Now that's what you call off and running.   Unleashing an arsenal of offensive weaponry that was both dizzying and frightening at times, Cal made a powerful opening statement that it may be the country's most exciting college football team if not yet its best.  Big scoring numbers were commonplace in the opening weekend among many of the top teams around the nation, but let's face it — most of the heavyweights were blowing away dandelions.  By contrast, when you come a half-yard from dropping a 50-spot on a Southeastern Conference power like Tennessee, you've substantially outshone and outperformed your Top 25 peers.  The Golden Bears not only accomplished that Saturday night in a 45-31 victory over the Vols at Memorial Stadium, butthey also did it in spite of a third-quarter lull that left the outcome in doubt five minutes into the fourth quarter. It wasn't exactly the royal rout it could have been.  But this was still a remarkable reversal from getting knocked around in Knoxville a year ago. The Bears were loaded for bear this time. They held their own at the line of scrimmage, and even with Marshawn Lynch now removed from the offense, Cal flat-out overwhelmed Tennessee with speed, skill and an ability to strike for a score anywhere on the field.  "It was a big win, no question  about it," coach Jeff Tedford said. "We've been carrying this for a year, and I thought our guys played very, very well. They were ready emotionally, physically and mentally to play, and I'm just real proud of our guys."

Indeed, one hesitates to say wow. But wow. In a prime time game that was clearly the best match of college football's opening weekend, Cal established a national identity before a national audience: high-voltage electric.  Justin Forsett. DeSean Jackson. Lavelle Hawkins. Robert Jordan. All fast, all fantastic on this fine first evening of the 2007 campaign.  Throw in an impressive performance from sophomore tight end Cameron Morrah and a couple of eye-opening cameos by freshman tailback Jahvid Best, and you have to know some folks down at USC are already breaking down this game film.  Good luck, fellas, because Cal has so many offensive options now, Tedford must get goosebumps every time he calls a play. All that's required is for quarterback Nate Longshore to keep everything taut and together and the Bears present an unbelievable, unstoppable, unreal machine.  Tennessee put up a good fight in this game, largely a result of a terrific performance by its quarterback Erik Ainge, but the Volunteers simply couldn't keep up on the scoreboard after matching Cal for touchdowns on three separate occasions.  "We have very, very good team speed. From our backs to our tight ends to our wide receivers we have excellent speed," Tedford said. "It's nice to have all those playmakers. Everybody was real involved in the game, and when that can happen, we're pretty hard to hone in on one guy."  Cal's offense sputtered on occasion last year, notably in the USC game, when the Trojans were able to double- and triple-team Jackson and keep containment on Lynch. But the Bears have so much more to offer now, and it's the speed element beyond Jackson that really gets your attention. It certainly got Tennessee's.

Jackson, of course, is the pre-eminent punt returner in the country as well as one of the top receivers, and he picked up where he left off last season when he scored an amazing four times on returns. In the second quarter, he eluded at least four tacklers while taking a circuitous route around his blockers and 77 yards later, was in the end zone on his first return of the year. Not a bad way to jump-start your Heisman campaign against a top SEC foe.  "Tennessee's a fast team, so that just gives us a good feeling about anyone we're going to play in the Pac-10," Jackson said. "If we can outrun a good SEC team, we should be able to run with anybody."  Senior Justin Forsett, who rushed for 156 yards on 26 carries in his first start as an every-down back, was a critical component to making Cal's attack so balanced and potent. There appears to be no dropoff from Lynch, and Forsett has plenty of help in Best.  About the only time Cal found itself in trouble was when it got up 38-21 and eased off the pedal. After three consecutive series in which the Bears went three-and-out, Tedford sensed the play-calling was a getting conservative, so he made a point of stepping up the aggressiveness and the Bears clicked right back into gear.  The Bears just might stay in the fast lane the rest of the season.

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