Monday, September 3, 2007

National media having a field day with Les Miles' mouth

As you might expect, after Cal handed Tennessee a defeat in Berkley, the national media is laughing up their sleeves at Les Miles' earlier comments about the relative strength of the Pac 10 and SEC. That should surprise no one, least of all Les Miles. But let's face it, SEC fans -- the SEC took this one in the shorts, and the Left Coast is gloating like crazy.

Scott Olster of the San Francisco Chronicle says "Soft is the new hard." Phallic, that, but even he admits that most of the "hardness" was on the Tennessee side:

Although I have to say that the hardest hit of the game was Tennessee defensive end Antonio Reynolds drilling tailback Jahvid Best on a 2-yard run. Reynolds spun the propeller on Best's freshman beanie.
But it wasn't toughness that won the game for Cal, it was superior team speed, which seems extremely incongruous when talking about Tennessee. The Vols have historically been known as one of the fastest teams in the fastest league on the planet. But that perception may be just that, as we saw on Saturday.

The Washington Post also gets into the act, pointing out not only Tennessee's loss to Cal, but Auburn's game with Kansas State:
In its 45-31 loss to California in Berkeley, Tennessee gave up more points than in any game since 1995. Across the country, Auburn needed two touchdowns in the final two minutes to seal a come-from-behind, 23-13, victory against Kansas State, a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 team.
Fair enough, I suppose, but a win is a win. It wasn't as if Cal dominated Tennessee -- they didn't. Compared to last year's thumping in Knoxville, Cal basically escaped with a victory. Bragging about it may be understandable, but Pac 10 fans should realize that UT hasn't been a top 3 team in the SEC for a while now, and has yet to show they are back to that level.

Jon Wilner at the San Francisco Chronicle says this win was bigger for Pac 10 commissioner Tom Hansen than for Cal's coach Jeff Tedford:

This was a big win for the Bears, don’t get me wrong. Beating Tennessee convincingly (45-31) opened up a slew of postseason doors for the Bears. It makes every game — not just league games — meaningful. And it gives the players a huge confidence injection.

But it was an even bigger win for Hansen and the Pac-10 because it will bolster the league’s reputation, silence its critics (for the time being) and substantiate the Pac-10’s marquee program, USC.
For the time being, there can be no argument that the Pac 10 has delivered a little comeuppance to the SEC and, in particular, to Les Miles. But even if Cal turns out to be a real challenger to USC, does that mean their league is every bit as good, top to bottom, as the SEC? I don't think so, but then again, I am an avowed SEC homer, so we'll have to leave that conclusion for later in the season. At this point, Cal has put the Pac 10 back in the conversation, at least.

Finally, and perhaps most ignominiously, we get to have a lecture by Dennis Dodd of CBS in a piece entitled "Cal squashes SEC arrogance with mauling of Tennessee". While I do take issue with Dodd's characterization of the game as a "mauling," one cannot take issue with this:
Tennessee still has back breakers, but Cal has a few too many ankle breakers. While the Vols can still bust heads, the Bears were busting long gains.
That's quite right, I'm afraid. Cal's speed killed UT's chances, and speed is what the SEC is supposed to be famous for. Cal did nothing if not show the country that speed isn't just found in the South.

So, now for some SEC blogger reax. Big Orange Michael takes his frustrations out on Brent Musburger, and his repeated references to Les Miles. Jon at Fulmer's Belly bemoans the Vol loss, but sees it as a breakdown in defense due to overpursuit by the linebackers, poor special teams play and a few other things.

Loser with Socks has two posts worth reading, the most recent one being by AngreEer bemoaning the state of Pac 10 officiating, and it comes with video. Jai Eugene theorizes about a national media conspiracy to discredit the Vols, with his tongue so far in his cheek it may require surgery to remove it.

Of course, Sunday Morning Quarterback has comments on the Tennessee/Cal game. He asks some questions which will have to be answered soon by the Volunteers if they are to recover from this loss:

- How will the very young secondary hold up against a legitimate passing attack? Nate Longshore completed 19 of 28 for 241 yards and four touchdowns, zero interceptions, averaging a little over twelve and a half yards per completion.

- How will the running game produce after two years of stagnation? On this front, some success: Montario Hardesty found the going tough in the first half, but long lost Arian Foster, last year's would-be star turned also-ran, busted off 89 yards on just 13 carries, including and impressive, perfectly-blocked 42-yarder inside the Cal five moments after the Bears went up 17 to start the third quarter. Foster looked fast and strong and like the potential star he was set up to be last year. The offensive line opened holes for him and only allowed just the one sack, killer that it was.

- Was the dramatic regression in pass rush and run-stopping ability in last year's front seven a blip or a new trend? Tennessee sacks: zero. Cal rushing yards: 230. Cal yards per carry: 6.2. Justin Forsett (156 yards) and Jahvid Best (11.5 yards per on four carries) made the primetime showcase their own coming out party.

So the Vols have questions, issues, and problems, and a week before a solid Southern Miss team comes to town.