Emptying Out The Notebook - Cal vs. Tennessee

Emptying Out The Notebook - Cal vs. Tennessee

With about 4:10 remaining in Saturday's game and Cal up 45-31, the chant of "Pac-10 Football" started reverberating throughout Memorial Stadium. It was a suitable coda to months of woofing coming from eastern Tennessee and Les Miles, and gallingly, a banner that was flown over Memorial Stadium before the game that read "SEC Rules Pac-10 Drools."

And don't think that Golden Bear players were too busy with pre-game preparation to notice.

"It pissed me off," said linebacker Zack Follett.

While one game wasn't going to demonstrate the relative merits of one conference compared to another, Cal's win helped the Bears a chance to see how they measure up against a top team, and a victory over a ranked team is going to come in handy when it comes time to calculate the BCS standings. 

Although some teams would rather coast into conference play on a steady diet of patsies, an early big win can give a team a boost in the polls and put it into the national spotlight.  During the past two seasons, the winner of the Ohio State/Texas game has ended up playing for the national championship. 

The first week's polls won't come out until Tuesday, but Cal's victory could well put the Bears into the top 10, as well as give them a little more peace.

"We heard it all the time and it got under our player's skin," said cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson.  "We tend to recruit the best players we can and we know that the Pac-10 can play against any conference."

Wide receiver DeSean Jackson noticed the talk carried on into the game.

"They were talking a lot out there. About the SEC and smashmouth football," said Jackson, who said that even as the game progressed and Tennessee's situation became more dire, they maintained their level of chatter.

The Bears were never goaded into any unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, focusing their intensity on the game.

"We kept it going play in and play out," said Jackson. "The staff did a good job of keeping the team calm and collected."

Then there was Tennessee safety Jonathan Hefney who was happy to talk to anybody with a microphone, tape recorder, or notebook about how tough the SEC was and the Volunteers were going to do a number on the Bears.

"Hefney was talking about how we weren't physical and we were the worst team they played," said a somewhat irritated Lavelle Hawkins after the game.

If Hefney had any lingering questions, they were answered late in the fourth quarter.

On a 2nd-and-8 from the Cal 33, Nate Longshore threw a screen pass to fullback Will Taufoou on the right side of the field.  After running downfield for a short gain, three defenders converged on Taufoou, resulting in a major collision. Although Taufoou went down after a 15-yard gain, he easily picked up the 6-9-10 spare, sending one Volunteer's helmet flying.

And the Volunteer soon searching for his helmet, was indeed Jonathan Hefney.

"We showed what the Pac-10 was all about," said Follett.

* * * * * *

So there he stood, after one of his finest performances as a Golden Bear helping lead Cal to one of its biggest victories in the Jeff Tedford era, wearing a blazer over a t-shirt, with his hair fighting a losing battle in its quest to find its original color.

Although playing starting quarterback for a top team can be fraught with tension and pressure, you'd never sense it by looking at Nate Longshore.

While some players are nervous or reluctant when facing the media, Longshore approaches post-game media sessions as if were auditioning for an MC position at The Punch Line, just as happy to answer questions where he gets a chance to laud his teammates as he is those about his blocking ability.

In front of a sell-out crowd against a nationally-ranked opponent, it would be understandable if players might start having butterflies or began getting caught up in the moment. 

With the clocking ticking down in the fourth quarter and the Bears beginning to assert their will on Tennessee, Longshore made sure the offense stayed loose.

"Nate was very, very comfortable [in the huddle]," said Justin Forsett. "In the fourth quarter, he was saying, 'Everybody be quiet, because I've got a story to tell you.'  Then he started to tell this story about him and his girlfriend going out for pizza."

Although Longshore comes across as someone who enjoys what he does, it overshadows the work that he's put in during the off-season to become a better player.

His touchdown pass to Lavelle Hawkins?  The result of hundreds, if not thousands, of similar passes that he's thrown in practice, where he gets the ball, takes a step, and fires a pass that has to be quick, hard, and accurate.

After the game, Tedford praised Longshore's growth as a quarterback.

"He's got more experience, he's got great knowledge of the game. He understands the offense, and for him the speed of the game has slowed down. This year he couldn't wait to get out there. He's done a phenomenal job as a leader and it's great to see him run the game the way he did."

* * * * * *

The Golden Bears have become so used to having tailbacks run for 100 yards that it's easy to take them for granted.  Justin Forsett's 156-yard game against Tennessee stands out when you consider that a) only two running backs ran for more than 150 yards against the Volunteers last year (Arkansas's Darren McFadden and Penn State's Tony Hunt), and b) Forsett's total was exceed by a Cal rusher just once last year - by Forsett himself against Oregon with 163 yards.

Because of his size, there were concerns about whether Forsett had the durability to be an everydown back for the Bears.  Such worries should be tempered because offenses under the Jeff Tedford-coached Bears have rotated their running backs enough that only two have averaged more than 20 carries a game during the course of a season.

Although he had 64 yards on 14 carries after the third quarter, Forsett and the offense line were more than up to the task, as he had gained 92 yards in the final quarter, including runs of 20, 17, 13, and 13 yards.  In addition to showing an ability to hit the hole quickly, Forsett demonstrated an ability to run with power and spin away from tacklers.

"(Justin) Forsett get's an A," said Tedford. " There was never a concern about a dropoff at tailback. He's a great player, he's handled it well, and he hung on to the football."

The quarterback was impressed too.

"He did all right," said Longshore in a quote that can't be done justice without seeing his facial expression and listening to his vocal inflection. "He did some things I haven't seen."

Forsett was pleased with his performance, but understood that as much as the Tennessee win meant, the season is still young.

"This is just one game, we weren't perfect out there," said Forsett, who then alluded to Saturday's game against Colorado State. "We can't get down for teams not ranked."

* * * * * *

With all of the heroics that occurred on Saturday, one item that hasn't gotten much play is the goal line stand that Cal made early in the second half.  After the Bears scored on the first possession of the 3rd quarter to take a 38-21 lead, Tennessee came roaring down the field on the following possession and had a first-and-goal from the Cal 3.

Tennessee's Arian Foster attempted a dive on the first play which went for one yard. Of the many outstanding pictures that game from the game, this one from the AP's Marcio Jose Sanchez was one of the best. In addition to Greg Van Hoesen and Thomas DeCoud, Justin Moye also played a role in thwarting this play.

On 2nd down, Volunteer quarterback Erik Ainge rolled right but threw the ball just behind wide receiver Lucas Taylor.

On 3rd down, Ainge lined up as a wide receiver as Tennessee tried a direct snap to Taylor. Taylor attempted to run right but was nailed by safety Bernard Hicks at the 1.

Although a field goal would have brought Tennessee to within two touchdowns, considering the rate at which the Bears were scoring, Volunteer head coach Phillip Fulmer had to believe that his team was capable of gaining one yard.

On 4th down, Ainge attempted a pass to Foster in the right flat. Foster was shadowed by Rulon Davis, and if you've ever stood next to Davis, once he shadows you, he'll block out most light, so good luck trying to catch a football. The ball fell incomplete and the ball went over on downs to Cal.

The Bears had to punt on the following possession, and Tennessee scored on the ensuing possession, so the significance of the goal line stand was minimal. And although it wasn't technically a turning point, for a Bear team that was determined to make the Volunteers work hard for everything it earned, the drive was huge.

* * * * * *

This Saturday's game against Colorado State will be televised at 11 a.m. Pacific Time on CSTV.  While it's always good news when a Cal football game is televised, finding CSTV could end up being challenging to many viewers. It's not a channel that's part of the standard cable package, and it's not even part of any of standard major tiers that's offered by the cable companies.

CSTV, which is not Comcast SportsNet, not one of the Fox Sports channels, and has nothing to do with ESPN, can be found on the Comcast's Digital Sports Package. If you're a Comcast subscriber, check your cable bill to see if that's what you have, and if you don't, you may want to call the cable company (1-800-266-2278) in advance of the deluge of calls they'll undoubtedly be getting Saturday morning.

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