A final look back at the 2007 season. Up today: Cal.
So like, most Vol fans had no idea what to expect out of the season what with the totally gnarly questions about the receivers, the secondary, and the defensive tackles, and something, but they were still like totally hoping to pick up in 2007 where they left off in 2006, to have a rad season and reclaim Tennessee’s rightful place as a perennial contender for the SEC title. Totally.
So, okay. First, though, Tennessee had to brave the grodie hippies living in the trees in Berkeley, okay? And ward off a Cal team seeking revenge for the beatdown they received the prior year in Knoxville.
Now, like just a week before the season’s first game, add to the concerns about the receivers and the secondary a couple of way new wrinkles: Erik Ainge had like totally broken (originally reported as “jammed”) the pinky finger on his throwing hand (ewwww!), and punter Britton Colquitt (who's like a total dreamboat), who had been practicing at all kicking positions in anticipation of having to take over place-kicking duties for the graduated James Wilhoit, had like pulled his quad or something. True freshman Daniel Lincoln was penciled in as the starting place kicker. Colquitt would still punt, but he’d have to be careful not to injure himself further. Duh!
Okay, so the hippies were like totally smelling blood. Yeah, right. Everybody knows hippies totally aren't like that, dude. But somewhere, ten Cal fans were almost sort of excited about the game. They were even busting out the heavy artillery, passing out plastic megaphones for fans to use to make noise without over-exerting themselves. Like, what-ever.
Okay, seriously. Cal was evidently ready for this game, you know? The defense had been using Montario Hardesty’s 43-yard, 11-tackle-breaking touchdown against them in 2006 as motivation for this game. Yeah, this one:
Take note of who had the toughest time tackling Hardesty on the play and file away that information for later.
Cal also had a way dangerous weapon, okay, so like not really a weapon, because we're so not like that, but like a really, really good player, you know, in DeSean Jackson, who had run back four punts for touchdowns the prior year, a fact that caused some totally awesome pre-game debate about whether we should kick to or away from him:
[On his radio show the week prior to the Cal game,] the Knoxville News Sentinel's Dave Hooker . . . opined that we should punt away from the guy who ran four punts back for touchdowns last year. Former Volunteer defensive back Fred White responded by saying that you have to kick it to him at least once because not doing so communicates to your players that you have no confidence in them. [John] Adams then said that he would let the team earn that confidence against Southern Miss the following week.
That statement from Adams totally won a post-game prescience award. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Way.
Yeah. So like let’s say that Cal was totally stoked to play Tennessee this year. On only the fifth play of Tennessee’s first drive, Golden Bear linebacker Zack Follett blitzed the blind side unimpeded and nearly broke Ainge in half as he was drawing his arm back to pass. The ball squirted loose and bounced into the hands of Cal’s Worrell Williams, who ran it back 44 yards for the first of way too tenny muchdowns:
Wicked bogus, man. And yeah, Zack Follett's the guy from the Hardesty video above. For real.
Ainge and the offense recovered fairly well, driving down the field 70 yards for their own touchdown to tie the game. But wait. The tie was short-lived, as Cal scored another seven on their next drive. But wait again. Tennessee scored another touchdown on its next drive thanks in part to a totally excellent 68-yard kickoff return by Arian Foster.
After each team’s defense finally got their bearings, Britton Colquitt did exactly what Fred White had hoped he would: he punted directly to DeSean Jackson. It was a decent kick, too, essentially pinning him against the sideline. But . . .
Oh, baby is right. And like whoa, too. Somewhere John Adams was smiling, and Fred White was ignoring his cell phone.
We were barely into the second quarter, and Cal already had a defensive TD and a special teams TD. They were leading only by seven, but they totally had the game in hand, like way. Tennessee scored another touchdown to tie the game, but Cal immediately went up by seven again, then hit a field goal just before the half to extend the lead to 31-21.
After Cal stretched the lead to 38-21 on its first possession of the second half, Tennessee made a game of it for three drives. On the first, they got all the way to the one-yard line before turning it over on downs due to a questionable insertion of receiver Lucas Taylor into the game at QB followed by questionable passing play called on fourth-and-one. On the second drive, the Vols actually got into the end zone, and on the third, Lincoln hit a field goal. They totally tanked after that, though, and Cal scored one more touchdown to win the game 45-31. In living color:
The game was a righteous bummer, man. The defensive line, like totally, got no pressure on the quarterback and basically allowed players to launch out of the backfield directly into the linebackers. The secondary, without any help from the d-line, might have covered and tackled well enough, but they gave up 241 yards receiving. The receivers were fine, but the unit as a whole looked like a corps consisting entirely of possession receivers with no vertical threat.
The worst part, by far, was the scary five minutes of watching Xavier Mitchell laying motionless on the turf and being immobilized and carted off the field late in the fourth quarter with the announcers reporting that he was unable to move his limbs when asked to try. The good news wouldn’t come for another few days, but after a CT and an X-ray, we learned he merely had a concussion and that there was no permanent damage to his spine or anything else.
There were at least a few positives to take from this game. Ainge played very well despite his broken pinky, completing 32 of 47 passes for 271 yards and three TDs, and Arian Foster had a great night, averaging nearly seven yards per carry and gaining 117 yards on kickoff returns. Also, linebacker Rico McCoy absolutely clobbered Cal’s Jahvid Best late in the second quarter, and wide receiver Austin Rogers won an RTT post-game award for “best instinct and adrenaline leading to stupidity” for continuing to run down the field head first after having his helmet knocked off his possession receiver head.
Oh, and the cause of Xavier Mitchell’s concussion? It wasn’t running into a Cal player the wrong way, it was because he had the misfortune of running into the WooBerry while trying to assist on a tackle. Thank you, but not necessary, Mr. Mitchell. You’ll only hurt yourself.
It was not the best way to begin a season, but it could have been worse. Nobody was talking about Cal whooping Tennessee, they were too busy yammering about Michigan losing at home to a happy, lethal cupcake.
Up next, Southern Miss.