In preparation for a rare Thursday night game the Cal football team, coming off a bye week, moved everything up two days this week in practice.
“Well, today is a Tuesday,” head coach Jeff Tedford said on Sunday, “and tomorrow is a Wednesday and Tuesday is a Thursday. It wasn’t really a bye week because typically you’re coming back right now — what is today?”
He better hope his defense shows up on the right day. The Bears are scheduled to take on No. 9 Oregon at 6 p.m. at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., and with the Ducks’ offensive firepower, Cal will need to get its bearings quickly.
Oregon leads the nation with 52 points a game, and tops the conference with 533.8 total yards per game. Fortunately for Tedford and the Bears (3-1, 0-1 in the Pac-12), they had a few extra days to prepare for Chip Kelly’s offense.
“The kids came back really refreshed, lively and bouncing around,” Tedford said. “I think (the break) helped them.”
Wide receiver Keenan Allen said he rested during the bye week. Quarterback Zach Maynard said he caught up on his homework.
The Bears’ defense should be doing the studying. The unit may be ranked second in the Pac-12 in total yards allowed, but take away the 48 it gave up to FCS foe Presbyterian and Cal suddenly drops to ninth with an average of 403 yards per FBS game.
“Every game is a statement game to us,” safety Sean Cattouse said. “More so, I think it’s a game kind of to pick our whole defense back up, to get us going and get back on track to where we want to be.”
Surely the defense wants to get back to its 2010 form, when it was the top regiment in the conference. Its shining moment was against none other than Oregon (3-1, 1-0). The top-ranked Ducks came into Memorial Stadium on Nov. 13 with the best offense in the country. Averaging nearly 55 points a game, Oregon was held to just 15 — though Cal’s offense couldn’t do any better, scoring only 13 in a hard-fought loss.
“Playing in it last year, it was a fight until the end and although we came up short, we set a statement last year during that game,” linebacker D.J. Holt said. “We got to prove ourselves … We showed it last year. Just watching the film from last year, we saw that there is still room for improvement and we still played well.”
The Bears’ offense has made strides since that game, with Maynard now at the helm and Allen blossoming into one of the nation’s best receivers as a sophomore. Cal likely won’t win a shootout against the Quack Attack, but the squad certainly has the punch needed to keep it close — if its defense can at least slow down Oregon.
The Bears’ defense said having the bye week was beneficial in preparing for the Ducks’ hurry-up, spread offense. Like in 2010, the squad modeled Oregon’s offense in practice in order for the defense to get accustomed to playing against such a fast attack.
Holt remembered how that practice translated into the game last year.
“For me I felt like practice was harder than the game,” Holt said. “The coaches knew what they’re doing. We just got to believe and trust in it and they’ll have us ready for the game and we got to execute and do our job and we’ll be fine, regardless of what the outcome might be. It’s all about us.”
It’s also a little about LaMichael James. The Ducks’ diminutive tailback is coming off a school-record 288-rushing yard performance Sept. 24 at Arizona. The masterpiece vaulted James, a Heisman Trophy candidate, back onto the national leader board after leading the nation in rushing a year ago.
“He has a lot of yards and he’s rushed for a lot, but at the end of the day he’s a college football player like us,” Holt said. “He can be stopped any day.”
Whether that’s Thursday or Saturday.