One year ago my son and I were sitting in Neyland Stadium
at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, watching my alma mater Cal take on the Volunteers of the Orange Nation. Just two weeks earlier I had accepted a job offer from Enterra Solutions -- along with a relocation from southeast Virginia to east Tennessee. While Household-6 and eldest daughter looked at houses that afternoon, man-cub and I watched Cal get blown away by UT.
While I was among some 2,000 Blue-and-Gold Cal fans in Neyland Stadium last year (about 1.9% of the stadium's 106,000 capacity), today there were more than 20,000 Orange-clad Volunteer fans in Berkeley's Memorial Stadium (capacity 72,000 + a few hundred more on Tightwad Hill
). I watched the game on our big-screen DLP at home in the Orange Nation, wearing the same Cal t-shirt and Cal ballcap as last year.
ESPN gave the game a lot of buzz, since this was the only
matchup between ranked teams (UT #15 at Cal #12) this opening weekend. And though Appalachian State (from nearby Boone,NC) knocked off Big Blue Michigan at Ann Arbor
, the Blue and Gold of California looked strong all night.
It wasn't the game the pundits expected, though. With UT starting quarterback Erik Ainge sporting a broken finger on his throwing hand and three green receivers on the flanks, it was expected they'd run the ball; instead Ainge completed 32 (including his first ten passes) and threw for nearly 300 yards with zero interceptions. Cal, expected to exploit the long-ball and Tennessee's inexperienced secondary, instead saw Head Coach Jeff Tedford do the play-calling -- with a ground attack amassing 240 yards.
Cal's defense and special teams stepped up (including DeSean Jackson's freaky prowess as a punt returner: this guy, in his senior year, has run more than 22% of his career punt returns for touchdowns!!
), and both teams showed a lot of perseverance.
Hat tip to Tennessee's phenomenal offensive line -- the one mar to Cal's performance is that they failed to get more pressure on Ainge (other than in the first series and last series of the game). And say a prayer for UT defensive end Xavier Mitchell (#93)
, who had to be carted off the field on a back board late in the game after a collision with another Vol near the Cal goal line.
Final score: Cal 45, Tennessee 31
Cal has two more non-PAC-10 games (at Colorado State next week, then hosting Louisiana Tech) before they begin a nine-week PAC-10 "round robin". One of the ABC commentators told Brent Musberger he predicted Cal's contest against USC (at Cal on the Marine Corps Birthday: November 10th) would feature two
undefeated teams. Since Cal has more Marines than USC (defensive end Rulon Davis, #94, is a USMC reservist who did a tour in Iraq), I like our odds....ADDENDUM:
The last time Tennessee lost its opener was 13 years ago. Away. At UCLA. (Bet it will be a while before this SEC team decides to start another season in the PAC-10!)
SECOND ADDENDUM: Xavier Mitchell (Tennessee #93) was released from the hospital in time to make the team plane back to Knoxville. His neck and head scans came back negative, and he was diagnosed with having suffered a concussion. He'll likely miss Saturday's game against Southern Miss., but at least there is no permanent damage.
Labels: cal, football, sport