Matchup: California

This week, Tennessee takes on California in Knoxville. This is our take on this Vols vs Bears matchup. The spread-option offense takes time to master. Typically, it's not an overnight success. No. 23 Tennessee hopes its not an opening-day success for ninth-ranked California, which went to the spread option to enhance an already prolific attack.

California averaged 32.9 points and over 425 total yards last season. The Bears have averaged at least 32 points in four straight seasons under coach Jeff Tedford.

How efficient will it be Saturday against a Tennessee defense that ranked second in the nation in stopping the run and sixth in total defense a year ago?

No one knows. Cal is trying a new hybrid offense. Tennessee is replacing six starters from an outstanding front seven.

History suggests defense is ahead of offense early in the season, especially a new fangled offense. But there are always exceptions to the rule, especially when you've got Cal's running backs and receivers.

For reference on the immediate impact of the spread option, try Florida coach Urban Meyer. His first season in Gainesville, the Gators' total offense was their lowest since 1988 and the scoring average was the second-worst in the last 13 years.

Quarterback Chris Leak didn't start to flourish until Meyer tweaked the attack to include more drop back passes.

In Meyer's previous two head-coaching stops, it took time for the spread to take. Meyer's second Bowling Green team averaged 10 more points and 65 more yards than his first one. His second Utah team averaged 16 points and 125 more yards than his first.

That suggests the second year of the spread yields greater dividends than the first. But that doesn't mean Cal's offense won't be effective in its debut.

The opener should be an intriguing matchup between UT defensive coordinator John Chavis and Tedford's new offense. It should also be an intriguing matchup between UT offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe and Cal's highly touted front four.

Here is a look at the position-by-position matchups of Tennessee and Cal.

Game #: 1117
Site: Knoxville
Date: Sep. 2
Conference: PAC10
Coach Match-up:
For the Vols - Fulmer and for the Bears - Tedford



Cal lost three starters, but the Bears returned a 2004 starter who was hurt last season and signed a junior college transfer who won a job in the spring. Cal also has a former second-team All-ACC guard from Duke who can't crack the lineup. UT lost four starters, but return All-SEC left tackle Arron Sears. It's time for Eric Young and David Ligon to step up. A walk-on starts at center.


Nate Longshore has never run the spread option, but he might not be asked to run much. He's an accurate, strong-armed 6-4, 233-pounder who can carve up a secondary. Joe Ayoob, who made nine starts last season, hit less than 50 percent of his passes and had 1,707 yards but 14 interceptions compared to 15 touchdowns. UT's Erik Ainge, solid as a freshman, had a sophomore slump, hitting 45.5 percent of his throws. Ainge must make good decisions to give UT a chance.


Marshawn Lynch is one of the nation's top three running backs. He rushed for 1,246 yards last year and missed two games. Justin Forsett had 999 in a backup role and averaged over 200 yards in his two starts. UT's Arian Foster averaged 148.5 yards in his five late-season starts. Depth behind him is unproven.


Cal returns two outstanding talents in DeSean Jackson (38 for 601) and Robert Jordan (24 for 455). Both weigh less than 170 but both run a sub-4.4. Plus, LSU transfer Lavelle Hawkins (18 for 171) is a threat. Tennessee has been waiting for Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith to have breakout years. Maybe the time is now. In short, Cal's receivers have made big plays,



Cal's front four was rated the nation's best by one preseason publication, although the Bears don't have a big-time pass rusher. Tackle Brandon Mebane (seven sacks) is a first-team All-American. End Nu'u Tafisi (10 tackles for loss) was second-team All-Pac-10. UT's Justin Harrell made All-SEC but he's the only returning starter for a front four that allowed 82.5 rushing yards per game.


Cal returns a second-team All-Pac-10 player in Desmond Bishop (89 tackles) and two Freshmen All-Americans (Anthony Felder and Zack Follett) who don't even start. UT lost all three starters, but returns an athletic group, led by Jerod Mayo and Rico McCoy. Play recognition will be a key for Tennessee.


The loss of star corner Tim Mixon was a blow to Cal, but the other corner, Daymeion Hughes, made All-Pac-10. The safeties are vulnerable. UT's team strength is the secondary. Cornerbacks Inky Johnson and Jonathan Wade are solid in man coverage, which will allow Chavis to blitz. But in blitzing, UT can't allow Cal to run the option on the edge.

S. TeamsCOMMENTSS. Teams

Mixon was a dangerous punt returner (14.9 yards) but DeSean Jackson had a touchdown on his only runback. Junior college transfer Andrew Larson is the punter. Tom Schneider hit 9 of 16 field goals. Thomas DeCoud has six career blocked kicks. UT's James Wilhoit (14 of 19 FGA) is the SEC's career active scoring leader. Britton Colquitt averaged 41.2 yards per punt. Return game needs a jolt.



UT is coming off a 5-6 season and is determined to prove 2005 was a fluke. UT also wants to regain its home-field advantage. Not many West Coast teams win in the Eastern Time zone. A hot humid day would favor the Vols.


California 30, Tennessee 27.

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