BERKELEY — There is no way the atmosphere at Tennessee's Neyland Stadium can be replicated at Memorial Stadium tonight, even if all the folks sitting in trees suddenly decide to climb down and stump for the Golden Bears. There is no louder sports stadium in the country than Neyland, and no more intimidating atmosphere. Cal was thoroughly discombobulated by it a year ago and suffered what might have been the most embarrassing defeat of Jeff Tedford's tenure as head coach. The Bears have had to live with the humiliation for a year and now have a chance to show it was all a fluke of vexing venue. It says here that'll be the case in a 30-20 Cal victory, one that puts the Bears on the good foot toward a memorable season. It remains to be seen if Jeff Tedford's team is better than last year's, but if it's simply as good as it was when it finished last season, it'll be enough to convincingly beat the 15th-ranked Volunteers. Playing at home before a packed house on artificial turf that is unfamiliar to the visitors only adds to Cal's edge, but it's still going to require a first-rate effort to win.
Here are 10 keys to Cal reversing last year's result in Knoxville:
1. Block for Nate Longshore. The reshuffled offensive line can make all the difference for the Bears if Longshore consistently gets four or five seconds to find his targets,because it's highly unlikely Tennessee can cover his multitude of options. If the Vols gang up on DeSean Jackson, as USC did a year ago, Longshore needs time to scan the field for second and third options.
2. Keep defensive containment. The Volunteers are going to make some yards. But the Bears have to avoid giving up the big play like last year, when receiver Robert Meacham broke free for long touchdown runs on what amounted to short hitch patterns. Meacham's gone now, which should make that task easier, but no one quite knows what to expect from Tennessee's young receiving corps.
3. Make a big special teams play. The rule change that moves the kickoff to the 30-yard line is a gift for Cal to break off even more big ones this year. Tedford was still uncertain whether he would utilize Jackson on kickoff returns as well as punts, but as long as he isn't afraid he'll wear him out, it's a slam dunk. Jackson is the most dynamic returner in the country and should be utilized in that capacity at every opportunity.
4. Mix Justin Forsett's workload. The Bears can't just line up and try to hammer Tennessee with Forsett like they did with Marshawn Lynch. Creativity is the key to making Forsett effective through the use of sweeps, screens, counters and draws. If Forsett can get some early yards, it'll open up play-action possibilities for Longshore, and the rout will be on.
5. Force Erik Ainge to make the big plays. A quarterback with a broken pinkie is going to struggle taking snaps, maintaining his passing accuracy, even handing off. Look for Tennessee to try to establish the run early to take the pressure off its QB. Cal needs stops up front to force Ainge into third-and-long situations, where his finger issues almost certainly will deliver a turnover or two.
6. The crowd needs to be jacked. Fans at Memorial Stadium are notorious for only making noise when something happens. As Tedford challenged this week, the decibel level has to stay consistently high whenever Tennessee offense is on the field. Communication is always a concern in a team's opening game. Just ask Cal how troublesome it was at Neyland last year.
7. Work the tight end. You can bet Craig Stevens is highly motivated for this game after getting knocked for a loop at the outset of last year's game in Knoxville. For all the other things the Vols have to worry about, Stevens could give Tennessee a major headache over the middle.
8. Turn the kid loose once or twice. Everyone yearns to see freshman Jahvid Best in the open field. The only question is how the Bears will make it happen.
9. Score fast and first. Nothing will be more effective putting Tennessee on its heels and boosting Cal's confidence than putting a quick seven on the board. Tedford has had an entire offseason to craft an opening-drive script. Count on it being a doozy.
10. Play sharp. Avoid turnovers and stupid penalties. Make first downs count. Execute quality blocks and tackles. Run precise routes. Make the kicks. Play with emotion, but don't bubble over to the point where someone loses his head.
In short, the simple recipe for a Cal victory is doing everything that wasn't done last year at Neyland. Pull it off and those pesky protesters won't be the only ones shouting from the Memorial Stadium treetops.