Cal's offense, which struggled in all phases last week, pummeled the Golden Gopher defense for 531 yards on Saturday. Nate Longshore was brilliant in victory, completing 22-of-31 passes for 300 yards and four touchdowns. Marshawn Lynch led the Bears rushing attack with 139 yards and two touchdowns in 27 carries, while Justin Forsett had 77 yards in 12 carries.
Coming into Saturday's game, it was difficult to know what to expect from the Golden Bears. While it was easy to dismiss their opening week effort as an aberration, there were questions about how good this Cal team actually was. While the tough environment at Neyland Stadium certainly played a factor, the Volunteers weren't expected to contend for a BCS Bowl this season and their complete domination of the Bears led some to wonder if maybe they weren't anything other than a slightly better-than-average team.
While Minnesota wasn't like to provide any sort of meaningful litmus test; this team picked to finish in the bottom half of the Big 10 would at least provide an indicator of Cal's resilience. A strong effort in front of a nationally televised audience would go a long ways to restoring the Bears bona fides as a team being worthy of consideration, for the moment at least, of being a Top 25 team.
Following a three-and-out by Cal on the opening possession, the Golden Gophers stunned Cal on the first play of the game, as the defense bit on a play that appeared to be a run to the right side of the field, but ended up being a 48-yard completion form Bryan Cupito to tight end Matt Spaeth down the left side of the field. Five plays later, Alex Daniels scored on a one-yard run, to put Minnesota up 7-0.
The Bears rebounded with an 8-play, 67-yard drive, finished off with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Longshore to Robert Jordan.
"[He] ran the perfect post route on that play," said Longshore, who ran that play after a play-action fake to Lynch.
The key play on the drive was a 17-yard completion from Longshore to DeSean Jackson on 3rd-and-11 from the Cal 45. Longshore went on to throw three more touchdowns in the half, two on the exact same slant play to Jackson for 2 and 11 yards. He also threw a 48-yarder to Jackson on a deep sideline pattern up the left side of the field.
"We were working on [the slants] all week," said Jackson who fnished with 7 catches for 114 yards. "We noticed that when we were down by the goal line that the safeties were coming up close. Nate put it right there."
After last week's game which featured numerous drops by the wide receivers and other catchable balls that were broken up by defenders, the receiving corps understood that for the team to have a chance to win, this week needed to be much different.
"What [the coaches] said wasn't good," said Jackson, "But it got us on the right track." The receiving trio of Jackson, Jordan and Lavelle Hawkins combined for 20 catches and 282 yards.
For Hawkins, the Minnesota game was especially sweet. A highly-rated recruit out of Stockton's Edison High and City College of San Francisco, he never found a comfort zone during the 2005 season despite showing flashes of brilliance in practice. Hawkins had 9 catches for 125 yards, with many of those yards coming after the catch.
"That was key," said Minnesota strong safety Dominc Jones. "The YAC yards hurt us a lot. Sometimes on third-and-long we would have them pinned down and they would break free."
"We really needed this game," Hawkins said. "Last week was totally embarrasing for us. Coming into this week, we were determined to not let the ball hit the ground. Everybody worked really hard and today it all clicked."
Hawkins helped set up the Bears with a second touchdown pass with a 42-yard reception when a deep pass from Longshore appeared to be too long, but a defender tipped it up in the air just long enough for Hawkins to go into overdrive and run underneath it.
"I didn't know I could get to that," said Hawkins. "I saw the ball go up and I just reacted."
Jackson was happy to see Hawkins play well.
"Today was really good for him," said Jackson. "He's been through a lot since he's been here, and it's good to see him get back to what he's capable of."
Going into halftime with a 28-17 lead, the Bears had an astounding 371 yards, with Longshore accounting for 234 yards on 15-of-21 passing.
The second half belonged to the Bear defense as the Golden Gophers' four possessions ended up in two punts, a Donte Hughes interception, and a losing the ball over on downs on the game's next-to-last possession.
Although Minnesota attempted to overpower the Bears' defense early on with 6'3", 255-pound running back Eric Daniels, he did most of his damage early, gaining only 44 of his 78 yards in the last three quarters.
"We knew they'd come and run it at us," said linebacker Desmond Bishop who finished with a team-high 10 tackles. "We were hyped for this game, we knew we had to bounce back from last week. [Daniels] was pretty strong, but we wanted to make sure that we went out and gang tackled him. The thing for this week was to go out and have fun and not get all tied up in the pressure. The coaches put it in our mind that it we had to play one play at a time, one game a time. As we watched the film, we saw that we weren't playing with energy and enthusiasm, and we had to go out there, have fun, stay focused and pick each other up."
California tacked on two Marshawn Lynch touchdowns in the second half. Lynch's first touchdown was one of those uniquely Marshawn Moments, something that couldn't be drawn up on a dry erase board or expressed in a coaching meeting; one of those times when talent and instinct manifest itself breathtakingly.
On a first-and-goal from the 5, Lynch took the handoff from Longshore and headed up the middle where defensive linemen Willie Vandesteeg appeared positioned to make a tackle. Lynch stepped back, parried the tackle, then broke right, where he benefitted from a nice block by Hawkins and interference by Longshore, scooting into the end zone for the score. While a description of the play sounds simple enough, it's one of those runs that will be watched endlessly on YouTube in the coming weeks.
"Our wide receivers really blocked well today," said Tedford. "On that play Lavelle must have held it for four or five seconds. The receivers did an excellent job of blocking and really responded to the challenge."
As can be expected, Tedford was happy with how the days events transpired.
"The guys played hard, and they played from snap to whistle in all phases of the game," Tedford said. "The defensive line did a good job of stopping the gaps."
Tedford was also pleased with Longshore's performance.
"Last week Nate was in a tough environment," said Tedford. "[This week], our guys made plays, they read the defense and they did their jobs well...Our quarterback had time to throw, guys caught the ball, and ran the offense really well...Nate did a good job of keeping his eyes down the field."
One key to the team's performance was getting production on first down and avoiding penalties that put the Bears in difficult positions.
"Last week, we got caught in a lot of big yardage situations," said Tedford. "Even today we had too many penalties, but today we were able to rebound."
For all the concerns about the effect that last week's one-sided loss might have on the team,Despite the shaky start, Tedford didn't seem particularly worried.
"The team's pretty resilient," said Tedford. "They worked hard through practice, they really prepared themselves in the team meeting we had last night, and we knew that last Saturday's performance wasn't us. We were anxious to get out there and play again."
And so with Saturday's win in the book, Cal's now at 1-1, going into a Saturday matchup with Portland State. While the victory over Minnesota wasn't perfect by any means, it was a performance much worthier of the high expectations set for the team before the season. Although the gray skies that covered Memorial Stadium on Saturday might have indicated otherwise, the clouds of doubt that hung over Cal football following its tumultuous trip to Rocky Top have receded, with brighter days lying ahead.
Notes...Offensive tackle Andrew Cameron suffered a twisted ankle, but should be all right. Mike Tepper filled in capably for Cameron....Donte Hughes had two interceptions and was very close to a third that would have resulted in a touchdown...The most yardage that any Cal QB threw for last year was Joe Ayoob's 284 yard effort against New Mexico State....In the second quarter, the Bears yielded a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Dominic Jones which tied the score at 14. The Bears generally did well in other parts of special teams play, converting all six of their extra points, allowing only one of its three punts to be returned, and containing the other four kickoff returns for 74 yards...In addition to Bishop's 10 tackles, Thomas DeCoud has 6 (all solo), Hughes and Brandon Hampton each had six as well...The defense had seven tackles for loss; Brandon Mebane had two, while Hampton, Bishop, Worrell Williams, Mickey Pimentel and Syd'Quan Thompson had one each...Pimentel and Mebane each had a sack.
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