Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."


Roll on you Bears!

One year ago my son and I were sitting in Neyland Stadium at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, watching my alma mater Cal take on the Volunteers of the Orange Nation. Just two weeks earlier I had accepted a job offer from Enterra Solutions -- along with a relocation from southeast Virginia to east Tennessee. While Household-6 and eldest daughter looked at houses that afternoon, man-cub and I watched Cal get blown away by UT.

While I was among some 2,000 Blue-and-Gold Cal fans in Neyland Stadium last year (about 1.9% of the stadium's 106,000 capacity), today there were more than 20,000 Orange-clad Volunteer fans in Berkeley's Memorial Stadium (capacity 72,000 + a few hundred more on Tightwad Hill). I watched the game on our big-screen DLP at home in the Orange Nation, wearing the same Cal t-shirt and Cal ballcap as last year.

ESPN gave the game a lot of buzz, since this was the only matchup between ranked teams (UT #15 at Cal #12) this opening weekend. And though Appalachian State (from nearby Boone,NC) knocked off Big Blue Michigan at Ann Arbor, the Blue and Gold of California looked strong all night.

It wasn't the game the pundits expected, though. With UT starting quarterback Erik Ainge sporting a broken finger on his throwing hand and three green receivers on the flanks, it was expected they'd run the ball; instead Ainge completed 32 (including his first ten passes) and threw for nearly 300 yards with zero interceptions. Cal, expected to exploit the long-ball and Tennessee's inexperienced secondary, instead saw Head Coach Jeff Tedford do the play-calling -- with a ground attack amassing 240 yards.

Cal's defense and special teams stepped up (including DeSean Jackson's freaky prowess as a punt returner: this guy, in his senior year, has run more than 22% of his career punt returns for touchdowns!!), and both teams showed a lot of perseverance.

Hat tip to Tennessee's phenomenal offensive line -- the one mar to Cal's performance is that they failed to get more pressure on Ainge (other than in the first series and last series of the game). And say a prayer for UT defensive end Xavier Mitchell (#93), who had to be carted off the field on a back board late in the game after a collision with another Vol near the Cal goal line.

Final score: Cal 45, Tennessee 31.

Cal has two more non-PAC-10 games (at Colorado State next week, then hosting Louisiana Tech) before they begin a nine-week PAC-10 "round robin". One of the ABC commentators told Brent Musberger he predicted Cal's contest against USC (at Cal on the Marine Corps Birthday: November 10th) would feature two undefeated teams. Since Cal has more Marines than USC (defensive end Rulon Davis, #94, is a USMC reservist who did a tour in Iraq), I like our odds....

ADDENDUM: The last time Tennessee lost its opener was 13 years ago. Away. At UCLA. (Bet it will be a while before this SEC team decides to start another season in the PAC-10!)

SECOND ADDENDUM: Xavier Mitchell (Tennessee #93) was released from the hospital in time to make the team plane back to Knoxville. His neck and head scans came back negative, and he was diagnosed with having suffered a concussion. He'll likely miss Saturday's game against Southern Miss., but at least there is no permanent damage.

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At 7/9/07 18:04 , Blogger Rylan said...

I work for the athletic ticket office and we only allotted 7500 tickets to UT fans. There were probably about less than a thousand sold to them through general admission. So there was definitely not 20,000 Vols fans at Memorial stadium.

At 7/9/07 19:23 , Blogger deichmans said...

Maybe so, Rylan, but I was going by ABC's estimate announced during the start of the broadcast. And given the vast amount of orange I could see in the stands, I have no reason to doubt my original estimate. Tennessee fans are wholly dedicated to their team, and willing to travel vast distances -- much moreso than Cal fans, who could only muster 2,000 in Neyland Stadium last year.


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