Sunday, September 16, 2007

San Jose Mercury News: Cal scores big on the run

How strange was Cal's game against Louisiana Tech on Saturday? The turning point came late in the first half when unheralded Eddie Young and John Allen combined to force a crucial fumble that helped the No. 8 Bears awake on their way to a 42-12 victory. On a day Cal used just about everybody on defense and overcame an inconsistent performance on offense, it got its third consecutive victory in front of 58,057 at Memorial Stadium.  Cal and its high-powered offense entered the game as a big favorite over Louisiana Tech, which features one of the country's worst defenses. But the Bears had just a 7-0 lead midway through the second quarter - on Lavelle Hawkins' 90-yard, game-opening kickoff return. Young, a linebacker who isn't listed on Cal's depth chart, forced a fumble with a sack of Bulldogs quarterback Zac Champion. The ball was recovered by Allen, a reserve defensive lineman. The turnover motivated the Bears offense, which then scored three quick touchdowns to take a 28-6 halftime lead. "As you're going through the game, you want to reach your full potential," Cal Coach Jeff Tedford said. "We can play better. We need to play better. Maybe the first few games, we got some kinks out of our system. As we move into conference, there are some lessons to be learned."

The spotty play didn't diminish a big game from running back Justin Forsett, who rushed for 152 yards and scored three touchdowns. But few of the undefeated Bears were satisfied with the results.  Before Young's sack, the Bears had only 93 yards of offense and five first downs. Forsett gave Cal a 14-0 lead with a 2-yard touchdown run, but the Bulldogs answered to make it 14-6. After Forsett pushed the lead to 21-6 with a 39-yard touchdown run, the defense provided a further boost when cornerback Brandon Hampton intercepted Champion's pass and returned it 37 yards to the Bulldogs 17. Quarterback Nate Longshore connected with tight end Craig Stevens for a 17-yard touchdown pass. "When the defense is making plays, the offense feeds off it," Hampton said. "We feed off each other."

Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory had to dig deep into his personnel because of injuries and the fast pace of Louisiana Tech's no-huddle offense. The Bears lost starting defensive tackle Matt Malele and starting defensive end Rulon Davis to foot injuries; linebacker Zack Follett was knocked out with a neck injury.  Young and redshirt freshman Michael Mohammed, also a linebacker, each saw the most playing time of their careers.  "The tempo of the game was so fast that we were getting pretty gassed out there," Gregory said. "We needed to have all of those guys, that's for sure." Gregory said Follett's injury didn't appear to be serious, but the Bears might not be as lucky with Davis and Malele. Tedford said Davis could have a stress fracture in his foot. X-rays on Malele's foot were negative, but there's a possibility he has a torn tendon in his foot. In their absence, the Bears got productive performances from Allen, Derrick Hill and Cameron Jordan.

Hawkins continues to be the Bears' most productive receiver with seven catches for 87 yards. Longshore finished with respectable numbers - 22 for 33 for 230 yards and two touchdowns. But for the second consecutive game he missed a handful of open receivers with poor passes. He also threw his first interception of the season.  The Bulldogs (1-2) made a bid to stay in the game by taking the second-half kickoff and driving 65 yards on 13 plays and scoring on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Champion to tailback Patrick Jackson. But freshman Jahvid Best returned the ensuing kick 41 yards and later scored on a 16-yard catch and run for a touchdown, getting a superb block from Forsett along the way.

DeSean Jackson, who is hampered by a sprained thumb on his left hand that he suffered in the opener against Tennessee, caught five passes for 28 yards. Tedford said the injury is causing Jackson a lot of pain.


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