Commentary

Game analysis of Tennessee-California

Originally Published: September 1, 2007
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

BERKELEY, Calif. -- ESPN.com senior writer Ivan Maisel provides instant analysis from Tennessee-California. Here's how the Golden Bears won 45-31:

FINAL ANALYSIS

How the game was won: Cal won with big plays -- a touchdown on defense, a touchdown on special teams, and more speed at the skill positions than Tennessee showed Saturday night. In the Vols' defense, maybe Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge and his broken finger couldn't throw the ball with enough authority to make big plays.

Player of the game: DeSean Jackson. He might have touched the ball only six times (one return, four catches, one run) for 143 yards, but three of them went for first downs and one made it second-and-1. The last? Jackson's 77-yard punt return for a touchdown.

Stat of the game: Tennessee failed to convert three third-and-2s and one fourth-and-1 -- at the Cal 1.

Questions answered:
• Tennessee junior wide receiver Lucas Taylor proved he is a candidate for the field-stretching playmaker the Vols need after wideout Robert Meachem left early for the NFL. But this offense had real trouble stretching the field against the Bears. A long rush of 11? If Ainge couldn't throw deep because of his broken pinkie, at least it's a short-term problem.
• If anyone in the SEC questions Cal's talent or toughness -- or, for that matter, that of the Pac-10 -- he didn't see this game. I wonder if LSU coach Les Miles watched …
• Cal freshman tailback Jahvid Best proved he is more than a sprinter. It will be great fun to watch him mature and play the role of change-of-pace to Justin Forsett that Forsett played to Marshawn Lynch the past two seasons.

What's next for each team:
• Tennessee will take its secondary and its short-yardage offense back to the practice field and prepare for Southern Mississippi.
• Cal will work on not relaxing with a 17-point lead as it prepares to play at Colorado State.

FIRST-HALF ANALYSIS

Turning point: Cal junior DeSean Jackson's 77-yard punt return for a touchdown electrified the crowd. But with Cal ahead 28-21, Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge's second fumble of the half, on third-and-1 at the Cal 37, stunted what looked as if it would be the Volunteers' tying drive. Cal took the ensuing punt for a field goal to lead at the half, 31-21.

Best call: The blitz that sent California strong linebacker Zack Follett sprinting unabated into the right kidney of Ainge. The ball spouted into the air, and linebacker Worrell Williams scooped it up with his right hand after one bounce and took it 44 yards for a touchdown. Cal led, 7-0, with 13:09 left in the first quarter.

Best player in the half: Ainge, broken pinkie and all, completed his first nine passes and finished the half 15-of-17 for 165 yards and two touchdowns. But Jackson, Cal's receiver/returner, gets it for his 77-yard punt return with 12:23 left in the half that gave the Bears a 21-14 lead.

Three things Cal needs to do:
1. Keep doing what you're doing. Tennessee hasn't given up 31 points in a half in years, and only gave that much up in a game twice last season.
2. Reintroduce Jahvid Best to the Tennessee defense. The freshman tailback's 34-yard rush set up the Bears' fourth touchdown.
3. Cut down on the big penalties. Three of the four calls against the Bears were major infractions.

Three things Tennessee needs to do:
1. Tennessee must be the last team in the nation to find out it's foolish to punt to Jackson. The next two punts, Britton Colquitt kicked out of bounds: one good (45 yards), one bad (13). But Jackson had no return yards. Keep it going.
2. Find more ways to get Lucas Taylor the ball. The junior is supposed to be the Vols' answer to the Percy Harvins and Darren McFaddens of the SEC -- guys who do everything. He caught five passes for 80 yards. One went for 44 yards and set up Tennessee's third touchdown.
3. Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, stop outsmarting yourself. Twice on third-and-1, he chose to pass. The first time, it went incomplete and Jackson returned the punt on the next play for a touchdown. The second time, Ainge got hit on a blitz and fumbled.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com