A year ago, Tyler Hansen entered Memorial Stadium and left with one of his worst statlines as a Colorado quarterback. On the first two drives, he couldn’t move past his own 12. His third fizzled with a lost fumble. And after taking six sacks from Cal’s defense in that 52-7 loss, his body might still be aching.
This Saturday, the senior will have a shot at redemption in Boulder, Colo., against many of those same Bears, who hit the road for the first time this season.
Like last year, the Buffaloes’ home opener at Folsom Field is a nonconference game scheduled while the idea of the Pac-12 was still in its very nascent stages. Chances are good, though, that it’s the one they’ve highlighted on their locker room calendar.
Then senior-wideout Scotty McKnight called the loss “the most embarrassing game of my life.” The program’s all-time leader in touchdown catches and receptions is gone now, drafted by the New York Jets in the seventh round, but the rest of the roster still remembers it well.
Two of Cal’s offseason coaching hires — Ashley Ambrose (defensive backs) and Eric Kiesau (wide receivers) — were lifted from Colorado and are familiar with many of the opposing players. Due to the Buffaloes’ staff overhaul, the two won’t know too much beyond that. The wave of new coaches — including former Cal offensive line coach Steve Marshall — mean plenty of new schemes in Boulder on both sides of the ball.
The Bears must rely on what they saw in their opponent’s 34-17 loss to Hawaii last week.
“That’s really the only true film we have,” Kiesau said.
Added head coach Jeff Tedford: “There’s not a lot of history. We really have to prepare for a lot of things.”
Colorado returns tailback Rodney Stewart, who struggled against Cal (80 yards on 29 carries) but rushed for at least 100 yards in six games on his way to second-team All-Big-12 honors. The 5-foot-6 senior won’t surprise many if he earns a similar postseason award in the Pac-12, but he’ll have to do better than his 52 yards last week to keep his team’s hope of a win alive.
Another common concern for opponents is the altitude of Boulder, which causes players accustomed to sea level to run out of breath more quickly. The Bears have worked in more conditioning in preparation, but playing at 5,360 feet is more of a tertiary concern.
“The grass is green just like it is here,” Ambrose said. “Guys gotta know it mentally, that it’s no different than playing on another football field. 100 yards is 100 yards.”
Regardless, the 53,000-person capacity Folsom Field has traditionally been a tough place for visitors.
Colorado has lost 18 consecutive true road games and counting, with last year’s loss to Cal being the 13th. Conversely the Buffs have beaten Oklahoma, Georgia, West Virginia and Texas A&M at home since 2007 — despite not having a winning season over that period.
Cal quarterback Zach Maynard has spent the bulk of his career playing before smaller MAC crowds — University at Buffalo Stadium only held 30,000, and Maynard debuted before a similarly sized crowd at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park last week. The transfer will have to contend with more hostile fans slightly shorthanded: freshman wide receiver Kaelin Clay hasn’t yet dressed this season due to an internal academic issue, and won’t travel to Colorado, while fullback Will Kapp has missed practice all week with a concussion.
“We’re gonna have our hands full,” Ambrose said. “Colorado always plays well against teams that come in that are good … It’s gonna be a 60-minute war.”