Monday, August 27, 2007

Memphis Commercial Appeal: Cal stews over thumping by UT

Golden Bears better prepared for Vols

By Ron Higgins

The orange-clad players were big. "We didn't expect the size of their athletes, which were big, strong and fast," Cal linebacker Zack Follett said. "In the South, they are bred that big." The stadium that seats 102,000-plus seemed to touch the clouds. The sheer size of the place is what got most of us," Cal quarterback Nate Longshore said. "We'd never seen a stadium that big." The final result, a 35-18 victory for No. 23 Tennessee over No. 9 Cal in last year's season-opener at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, was beyond description. "We've been thinking about that game since that day," Cal safety Thomas DeCoud said. "It has been burning in our souls." The Golden Bears didn't exactly crawl in a hole after getting pounded by the Vols. They rebounded with eight straight wins, finished 10-3 as co-champions of the Pac-10 and destroyed Texas A&M, 45-10, in the Holiday Bowl. And they needed no incentive to work even harder in the off-season. They knew that first on their '07 schedule was their home date against the No. 15 Vols Saturday night at 7 (CDT) in Berkeley.

"It's not about revenge," said Cal coach Jeff Tedford, whose team is No. 12 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25. "It's about redemption. We had a rough game at Tennessee last year." Rough is an understatement. The Vols stuffed then-Cal star running back Marshawn Lynch, limiting him to 22 yards on five carries. Longshore, making his first start after missing almost the entire previous season with an ankle injury, threw for just 82 yards, was intercepted and sacked twice before being yanked in the third quarter. Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge zeroed in on Cal freshman cornerback Syd'quan Thompson (who had a cast on his hand), and threw touchdowns passes of 42 and 80 yards to Robert Meachem and 50 yards to Jayson Swain. A couple of the TDs were short 5-yard hitch routes that the Vols took the distance when Thompson failed to wrap up while tackling. "I'll never forget that five-hour plane ride (home to California)," Follett said. "When you work for something so hard, and get beat the way we did on national television, that's going to stick with you. I think it pushed me through every rep the rest of the season. Every off-season workout, we thought of that game.

"We went in there to Knoxville bright-eyed before 108,000 fans, and the atmosphere was something some of our young guys weren't used to yet. We know what to expect now from an SEC team. We're trying to match up to the football they play. The Pac-10 is a bit more finesse, and the SEC is a bit more power." There are a few changes with the '07 Golden Bears. Cal lost four players to the NFL draft, including Lynch as the No. 12 choice overall by the Bills, and three key defensive stars.  The role of Cal's game-breaker shifts to junior wide receiver DeSean Jackson, a first-team all-American punt returner who was also a first-team All-Pac-10 wide receiver last year. The Golden Bears certainly have weapons, but a lot depends on how Longshore uses them. If anyone needs redemption against the Vols, it's him. "I feel like it was more of a combination of why things didn't work out for us," Longshore said. "On offense we needed to be one step quicker. "Now, I think the whole offense has had a year of experience of being able to take reps together. I feel like we're all on the same page, that we understand all situations.

"That (Tennessee) game will always stick with us. At the same time, I feel like we had a great experience there. We got to play in a pretty sweet stadium, and we've learned a lot from that game." DeCoud, who had 13 tackles against the Vols, said Cal is a bigger, stronger and faster team than a year ago. "Sometimes, you've got to take your lickings to know where you stand and what you need to work on as a team," DeCoud said. "It (losing at Tennessee) was very disappointing, but at the same time it was a great learning experience. It made us a better team the rest of the season. "We've devoted a lot of hard work and attention this summer to get ready for Tennessee, to make sure we protect our house when they come to Berkeley."

No comments: