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September 8, 2006

Cal ready to begin fighting overrated label

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A horrendous road trip to Tennessee leaves the California Bears facing the stigma as the nation's most overhyped football team.

Now, they have 11 weeks to show that calling them overrated is an overreaction.

The Bears start that quest to prove their point on Saturday in their home opener against Minnesota, which blew out Kent State, 44-0, last week.

Cal was ranked ninth nationally and was being touted as a national championship contender before last week's debacle in Knoxville in which Tennessee jumped out to a 35-0 lead and cruised to a 35-18 victory.

"We obviously didn't come out how we'd like to," sophomore quarterback Nate Longshore said. "Maybe it made us more focused. We had some of our best practices this week. Maybe it's good for our team to see how we'll respond."

The national media responded by dropping the Bears to No. 22 in the latest poll.

But Longshore argued that drop is only temporary, insisting that Cal is not nearly as bad as it appeared against Tennessee.

"There were some plays on offense where we were one step away or a half second away from making good things happen," Longshore said. "If you have missteps like that against a good team it's not going to happen. Against Tennessee if you miss half a step or half a second they will make you pay for it. We've got to sharpen it up.

"It's a long season. That was just week one. We still have 11 or 12 games left. Obviously, we were disappointed, but it's not going to effect the (entire) season."

A quick reversal of fortune will require major changes.

Cal's defense was touted as potentially one of the nation's strongest with defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and cornerback Daymeion Hughes considered All-American caliber players.

The offense features running back Marshawn Lynch, who was considered a bona fide Heisman Trophy contender.

Yet, the defense tackled poorly and covered worse. Lynch was limited to 74 yards rushing against the Volunteers and receivers dropped passes at an alarming rate.

One of the necessary changes might have appeared to be replacing Longshore, who missed almost all of last season with an ankle injury. Last week he passed for just 85 yards before Joe Ayoob came in and threw for 187 and a touchdown.

But Cal coach Jeff Tedford said Longshore's play was not the issue last week, so he'll remain in the starting lineup against Minnesota.

"Sometimes when (Longshore) had protection there were some dropped balls," Tedford said. "Other times, when he had guys open, he's getting hit as he's throwing.

"I thought he handled the whole situation very well. That (Neyland Stadium) is a tough place to play, in your first go-around like that, with the speed of the game, the noise and everything. There is a learning curve there of course, but I felt like he did some good things and I'm looking forward to seeing him going back out there and getting another shot at it."

That also goes for the Bears as a team.

"We saw on film how close we were to making things happen," Longshore said. "We learned some things. We have to take care of details.

"Obviously, after the first week there are going to be doubters. We'll have to see as the weeks go on and the games are played, but know what we've got to do."

For more coverage of the Cal Golden Bears, check out BearTerritory.net.

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