Looking back on 2006: Tennessee game

(Note to readers: There are less than 7 weeks left until fall practice starts.  At a rate of two games a week I’ll be able to review each of the 2006 games between now and the start of fall practice.  We start today with Tennessee.)

The storyline:
Cal went to Tennessee highly ranked with high expectations.  The Bears got their lunches handed to them in a blowout where Tennessee looked faster, stronger, better prepared and ready with a better game plan.  Tennessee scored 35 unanswered points in the first 40 minutes of the game.  Cal was able to save some face at the end of the game by closing the score to 35-18, but that rebound was generally discarded in the analysis of the game because of the 35-0 3rd quarter score.

The reality:
While there is no debating the blowout, the disparity between the two teams was not as great as the score suggested.  The reality is that a handful of big plays in the 3rd quarter is what put the game away.  Cal was only down 7-0 with 4 minutes left in the first half, and while the Tennessee offense was definitely performing better than Cal’s, Cal had shown signs of life at times and there was reason to be hopeful.  Along the same lines, much of the Cal offensive struggles were self-inflicted.  Penalties, dropped balls, gitters in Longshore and missed blocking assignments slowed the offense as much if not more than Tennessee’s defense.  That said, there is no debating that starting with the first of the big plays at the end of the 1st half, both Cal’s offense and defense fell apart for about a quarter of the game.  By the time they recovered, the game was long over.

The forgotten:
Forgotten in this game was how competitive Cal was in the 1st half.  High expectations and total Tennessee homers announcing the game on TV helped exacerbate the problem.  Also forgotten was that Lynch only had 12 carries but managed 76 yards and that when Cal was in running downs and running formations (as opposed to the “Dunbar spread”), Cal was able to run against Tennessee.  Unfortunately for Lynch, between penalties, dropped balls and a poor game plan, there weren’t many power running opportunities for him to work his magic.  Another forgotten factor was that this was really Longshore’s first start and his jitters had a larger impact on the game than remembered.  Finally forgotten was the success Cal’s run defense had in slowing Tennessee in the first half.

The 2006 learnings:
This might sound odd since it was Longshore who was unable to score, the number one learning from this game for the 2006 season was that Ayoob was not improved from 2005 and didn’t deserve a second shot as being the starter QB.  While Ayoob was able to generate some offense, much of it was against the 2nd string Tennessee defense, he still made a number of mind-numbingly bad decisions of the type that plagued his 2005 season.  Another learning was that the Tedford-Dunbar combined offense still had some kinks to be worked out.  A number of the failed plays in the 1st half for the Cal offense were clearly poorly designed plays that were not seen often after the opener.  While it wasn’t time to write a eulogy, there were reasons to be concerned.  Finally, we learned that Cal was definitely hurt by the loss of Tim Mixon and was going to have to give Syd Thompson some safety help while he developed as a corner.

The 2007 implications:
Seeing as how Cal gets a re-match at home against Tennessee in the 1st game of the season, there are more implications from this game than I could list.  Speaking generically, Cal will have to play a lot more polished game to have a hope of beating Tennessee this year.  Tennessee clearly came into the game well prepared and ready to strike.  While the home-field advantage helps, it’s still clear that they were ready to play.  Additionally, it’s pretty clear that for Cal to be able to run the football, they’re going to have to play some power football.  Tennessee is too fast and too strong for “cute” run plays to work or for running out of a spread formation to be successful.  Hopefully the return to the traditional Tedford offense will serve us better than the experimental Dunbar-Tedford hybrid spread did against Tennessee in 2006.

The Conclusion:
In many ways, the emotion of the 2006 Tennessee game made the black eye that it was look worse than it was.  In reality, while the game will always remain painful, there is reason to hope that the 2007 game will have a different outcome.  Cal, contrary to popular opinion, was talented enough to beat Tennessee.  Poor play, inexperience, a weak game plan, a huge home field advantage for Tennessee and some big plays turned a game between two fairly comparable programs into a forgettable blowout.

5 Responses to “Looking back on 2006: Tennessee game”

  1. Seth Says:

    Really, really good work Ken! Glad to have you back for real this time.

  2. Rishi Says:

    I’m still going blind, but I like your analysis.

    There are three factors that I think will give Cal the edge here:
    1) Homefield Advantage – Memorial Stadium isn’t Neyland, but it’ll still be an advantage, especially if Gameday is there.
    2) Desean Jackson’s playmaking abilities. He can outrun CBs, he can return punts for touchdowns. If Tennessee doesn’t cover him adequately, he makes big plays. If Tennessee pushes too many defenders on him as a WR, that leaves Hawkins, Jordan, or Stevens open for a big play. If Tennessee tries to avoid punting to him, they screw up (think A&M in the Holiday Bowl).
    3) Revenge as a motivating factor – Not just pride for Cal, but pride for the entire Pac-10 and, in turn, west coast football, is at stake. Tennessee came into the 2006 game off an incredibly disappointing 2005 season where it came in ranked in the top five (number three in some polls) and ended it losing to Vanderbilt for the first time in twenty-something years.

    I actually want it to be a blow-out this year, but I know better than to expect that.

  3. Ken Crawford Says:

    Rishi, an important point to remember is that we had #2 on your list last year. True, a more polished team with a better game plan will make it easier to take advantage of #2, but it doesn’t change that we had it and couldn’t take advantage of it.

    Personally, I think your #1 and #3 as well as the following will be the big positive differences:

    -new #2. not having the Tedford-Dunbar experiment still needing the kinks worked out (or said another way, using the traditional Tedford offense)
    -#4. Experience at corner.

    Whether those will be enough to beat Tennessee with the other weaknesses that will be exposed and the changes in Tennessee’s strengths and weaknesses… personally I think is very hard to call at this point.

  4. HydroTech Says:

    Regarding the 2007 implications, I do not think we are going to see a complete return to the pre-Dunbar offense. I believe Tedford did make a few comments saying that he intends to keep some aspects of what Dunbar implemented. And with what was seen during the spring practices and spring game, it appears as if we will continue to see plenty of shotgun and spread. Nevertheless, I am optimistic about future critical playcalling situations since Tedford will be calling the shots.

    I’m glad you know that the game was closer than the score indicated. So many casual fans think the game was a murder but only 2-3 missed tackles made the game. Of course, Tennessee fans will claim that’s our homerism speaking, but in all honesty our claim is fairly truthful. If we had made those tackles, Tennessee might not have scored or at least scored less. That would give more time and opportunities for our offense to score. If we did score, the game would have been entirely different.

  5. Ken Crawford Says:

    It will be interesting to see just what the offense looks like next year. To be honest, I think Tedford’s tendencies to both be very kind to other football professionals like Dunbar and how he loves to hold his cards close to his chest makes it very hard to read what of the Tedford-Dunbar offense will still be in place next year. I also think the spring game/practices are a bit deceptive as well since it is more about evaluating talent and less about specific play calls.

    In addition, I think that even if Tedford keeps some of the Dunbar aspects, I expect that over time it’ll get phased out just by the nature of the type of football he’s comfortable with, even if it’s not his intention to do so. While that may not be an important statement for the Tennessee game, I think by the time our old “friends” USC roll into town, we’ll be seeing the offense that won us the game in 2003.

    But all of this is just my guessing at something that only Tedford knows.