Sunday, September 02, 2007

San Jose Mercury News: Cal exacts a measure of revenge


By Jonathan Okanes

Cal might not have delivered the same sort of message it received from Tennessee last season, but it proved it has the playmakers to compete with the best teams in the country.  The Bears exacted revenge on last year's whipping in Knoxville, trotting out their numerous talents on offense and scoring touchdowns on defense and special teams in a 45-31 victory in front of an electric sellout crowd of 72,516 at Memorial Stadium. Cal had to work much harder than Tennessee did last season to win, but that didn't prevent the Bears from celebrating what arguably is the signature victory of Coach Jeff Tedford's six-year career in Berkeley. "It feels so good," Cal linebacker Zack Follett said. "We had a great year last year but everyone kept saying, `But what about Tennessee?' Now we can start off the season with the thumping we put on them, and I'm excited about that."

The Bears went 10-3 last season and shared the Pacific-10 title with USC, but one of the lingering memories was the 35-18 drubbing at Tennessee's Neyland Stadium. Cal was manhandled in that game - once trailing 35-0 - and it sparked criticism that perhaps the Bears and the Pac-10 played a softer brand of football. The Bears hit back Saturday, going toe-to-toe with another strong and fast Tennessee team that hung around for most of the evening but never held the lead. "It's a big relief," said Cal wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins, who made seven catches for 90 yards and a touchdown. "We had to hear all season about the whipping they put on us. They were saying we were soft and the Pac-10 was soft. We took that personally."

This time, Cal racked up 471 yards of offense, and the 45 points were the most Tennessee had allowed in a game since 1995. Nate Longshore completed 19 of 28 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns. Justin Forsett, in his first game as the starting running back since the departure of Marshawn Lynch, gained 156 yards and scored a touchdown.  "We've had great players, but top to bottom, there's talent," Longshore said. "Now it's just a matter of improving and getting better." The Bears defense made an impact on Tennessee's first drive. Follett drilled Erik Ainge from behind just before the quarterback attempted a pass, and Worrell Williams collected the loose ball and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown. But overall, Tennessee was able to gain 382 yards. Ainge, playing with a broken pinkie finger on his throwing hand that was taped to his ring finger, was 32 of 47 for 271 yards and three touchdowns. "Tennessee is still a great team," Follett said. "They made a lot of plays. Our defense gave up too many touchdowns and too many long drives. Then again, you have to give them credit. It's not like we went against a soft team." Cal was in command 38-21 early in the third quarter, but then got a little conservative on offense, and the Vols sliced their deficit to 38-31 early in the fourth quarter. The Bears responded with an aggressive drive in which Longshore completed passes of 25, 22 and 10 yards, and Forsett scored on a 13-yard touchdown run with 9:10 left to push the lead back to 14 points.

"We weren't executing very well," Tedford said. "At that point, we were discussing whether we should run the ball. We decided to get aggressive and throw the ball down the field. Our offensive line did an excellent job protecting Nate, and the guys made plays." DeSean Jackson was quiet on offense, but he gave his candidacy for the Heisman Trophy a boost with a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter. Jackson reversed field twice and slipped four tackles on his way to the end zone. Jackson now has returned 27 punts in his career, and six have gone the distance. "The guy is electrifying, as we saw today," Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer said. "We did a good job on him last year, but today he got away from us."

No comments: