Cal Roars In Opener, Topping Tennessee 45-31
Sept. 1, 2007
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -- California scored one for the West Coast with a redemptive win over Tennessee.
DeSean Jackson scampered 77 yards for his sixth career punt return for a touchdown, and the 12th-ranked Golden Bears avenged last season's humiliating loss to the No. 15 Volunteers with a 45-31 victory Saturday night.
Justin Forsett rushed for 156 yards and a score, and Nate Longshore passed for 241 yards and two TDs as the Bears (1-0) racked up the most points scored against the Volunteers in 12 years to win the opening weekend's only matchup between ranked schools.
Though both teams struggled on defense, Cal's offensive creativity and athleticism were too much for its SEC foes. The win also should quiet some of those Pac-10 detractors who cited Cal's 35-18 blowout loss in Knoxville last year as a prime example of the conference's shortcomings outside top-ranked Southern California.
As the clock wound down in the final minutes, the sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium jubilantly chanted 'Pac-10 football!' at the departing Tennessee fans.
Erik Ainge had 271 yards passing and three TD throws despite an injured finger, but Tennessee's first trip to the West Coast since 1997 was hardly encouraging for coach Phillip Fulmer's defense, which hadn't given up this many points since a 62-37 loss to Florida in 1995.
Since then, the Vols even played a six-overtime game and another five-OT game without giving up 45 points.
Arian Foster rushed for 89 yards and Chris Brown caught two TD passes from Ainge, who wore a white wrap on two fingers of his throwing hand after injuring his pinkie during practice this week. The senior was exceptionally sharp while completing 14 of his first 15 throws, but Tennessee's no-huddle offense finally bogged down in the fourth quarter.
The Volunteers also had a scare with 4:10 to play when starting defensive end Xavier Mitchell left the field on a stretcher with his neck immobilized after a hard tackle. Tennessee had no immediate word on the nature of the senior's injury.
The Bears spent the past year chafing at the memory of their season-opening loss, mentioning it constantly in team meetings and repeatedly watching tape of their follies. Tennessee jumped to a 35-0 lead in the third quarter in Knoxville, dealing a humiliating blow to the Bears' quest for national respect.
The 72,516 fans at Memorial Stadium did their best to provide a homefield advantage resembling Neyland Stadium's edge, packing Strawberry Canyon well before kickoff and easily outshouting the 10,000-plus Tennessee fans on the south end.
Coach Jeff Tedford's club scored early and often against Tennessee. Cal linebacker Worrell Williams returned a fumble 44 yards for a score just 1:51 into the game, while Jackson -- the junior receiver with almost unearthly returning skills -- broke free early in the second quarter with a dizzying series of moves on the way to the end zone.
Cal led 38-21 early in the third quarter, but the Volunteers pulled within seven points on Daniel Lincoln's field goal in the opening minute of the fourth. Forsett's TD run with 9:10 to play pushed Cal back to a comfortable lead, and the defense finished off the Bears' eighth straight home victory since 2005.