Matchup: California

This week, Tennessee takes on California in Berkeley. This is our take on this Vols vs Bears matchup.

Last season, Tennessee lost four games. In each defeat, the Vols failed to rush for 100 yards.

That is not a coincidence.

For a program that has long prided itself on pounding the rock, the inability to move the ball on the ground has rendered negative results.

Tennessee averaged 56.5 rushing yards per game in losses to Florida, LSU, Arkansas and Penn State.

If the Vols can't run at California on Saturday, they can't win.

It's that simple.

Now, you might argue that UT won three games last season in which it didn't rush for 100 yards. But in those games, the Vols passed for 333 yards against Air Force, 268 against Georgia and 254 against South Carolina while scoring 113 points. That's an average of 285 passing yards and 37.7 points.

Do you really think Tennessee can rack up 285 passing yards against Cal? Do you really think the Vols can score 37 points if they can't run the ball effectively?

If you do, then I have one question for you: Where were you during UT's August camp? Didn't you hear about the dropped passes? The young receivers having trouble adjusting? The lack of big-play threats?

Tennessee's passing game has given no indication it can be nearly as explosive or productive as last year.

That means the Vols better be able to run against a defense that it ripped for 216 rushing yards a year ago.

A rushing attack will do several things. It will eat up the clock, keep Cal's offense off the field and take the pressure off the passing game.

The magic number for Tennessee is 150 rushing yards against Cal.

Anything less and UT is in trouble.

Here are the matchups for the season opener between two top 15 teams.

Game #: 1130
Site: Berkeley
Date: Sep. 1
Conference: PAC10
Coach Match-up:
For the Vols - Fulmer and for the Bears - Tedford



UT did well in pass protection last season but had its worst rushing output since 1964. This line will be better than a year ago and, remember, the Vols ran for 216 against Cal last season. Cal returns three starters – led by center-tackle Alex Mack and All-conference Mike Gibson -- and does well in pass pro.


Tennessee's Erik Ainge set a school record by completing 67 percent of his passes, but he won't come close to that figure this season because he doesn't have good enough receivers. Nate Longshore was a shell-shocked 11 of 20 for 85 yards last season against UT but he went on to pass for 3,021 yards and 24 touchdowns. Longshore has a much better collection of receivers, so he'll produce better numbers in this game than Ainge.


Arian Foster had a big spring and August camp to separate himself from the pack. Montario Hardesty has regained some of the speed he lost after his ACL surgery. LaMarcus Coker, last year's leading rusher, is suspended for the opener. Cal's Justin Forsett has almost 1,700 yards and six 100-yard games as a career backup. His 6.4 yards per carry is the nation's best for a minimum of 260 carries. True freshman Jahvid Best, a high school spring champion, has already been nicknamed The Jet.


UT's returners combined to catch 24 passes. Cal's combined to catch 151. DeSean Jackson is a preseason All-American and had 59 catches last season. Lavelle Hawkins, a former LSU transfer, and Robert Jordan caught 46 each.



UT had its worse run defense under coordinator John Chavis and ends registered just six sacks. This unit will be much improved, thanks to end Xavier Mitchell and tackle J.T. Mapu. Cal lost three starters – including All-Pac-10 Brandon Mebane -- but expects to be strong up front. The top returner is tackle Matthew Malele, who dropped 23 pounds.


Jerod Mayo is primed to have a terrific season at middle linebacker. Ryan Karl has overcome his back injury. Rico McCoy might lead the team in big plays. Plus, the Vols have depth. Cal lost its two best linebackers, including All-Pac-10 Desmond Bishop. Zack Follett was the nation's only linebacker to earn All-conference despite not starting.


The Vols have three new secondary starters, but don't expect a big dropoff. Jonathan Hefney might be the best safety in the nation. And whoever starts at corner will be better than Antwan Stewart. Cal lost All-American Daymeion Hughes but four other starters return, including Syd Quan Thompson, who was burned by Robert Meachem. Cal will start another freshman in the secondary and you can bet Ainge will find him.

S. TeamsCOMMENTSS. Teams

Punter Britton Colquitt is a weapon, but he might not be full speed against Cal after suffering a pulled quad. Daniel Lincoln had a nice preseason, but this is his first college game. Hefney is a solid punt returner. The kick return game has been horrible in recent years. Cal counters with punter Andrew Larson (42.6), kicker Tom Schneider (15 of 20 field goals) and Jackson averaged a nation's best 18.2 on punt returns with four touchdowns.



Last year, Tennessee was on a mission, determined to get the filthy taste of a 5-6 record of its mouth. This time, Cal is on a mission, pledging revenge for last year's embarrassing season-opening loss at Neyland Stadium.


Tennessee 24, California 20

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