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October 18, 2011

Bears try to get healthy before hosting Utah



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BERKELEY -- With the amount of players donning red jerseys early in the practice week, California head coach Jeff Tedford has been loathe to speak on the specific natures of the injuries, but with senior inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks and freshman outside linebacker David Wilkerson still in red for the second straight day -- though Kendricks was absent the sling he sported on Sunday -- and the fact that the Bears will have to contend with the third-most prolific rusher this Saturday in Utah's John White, Tedford admitted that facing the Utes rushing attack with a full compliment would be crucial.

"I'm not going to talk about injuries, who's practicing and who's not. I don't want that stuff public," Tedford said. "It's always important, for that. No doubt about it. I feel like everybody will be ready to play, but they're a very formidable opponent, as far as running the football, we have to have all our guys ready to play."

Cornerback Marc Anthony was also still in red, but did not have the sling that he's sported for the past week, and seemed to be moving around well. That said, it would not be too surprising if Cal still starts true freshman Stefan McClure at cornerback, given his performance last week against USC.

"He will definitely play a lot," Tedford said. "He's a great kid, a very hard worker, a high-character guy, a strong competitor that has a lot of skill to go with it, and I think you're going to see him turn into one of the special corners that we've had. We talked the other day about when Syd [Thompson] first got here against Tennessee, he had a rough day, and then bounced back and had a great career. I think Stef will do the same. Stef has a lot of ability.

"He played really well. I think there's no question that he's shown that he can play. Depending on how things shake down, he'll be in the rotation."

Cal fans still have yet to see another true freshman -- Brendan Bigelow -- take part in the offense, as he did in his collegiate debut against Presbyterian. Tedford did not reveal any more on that front, either.

"You keep asking that, but when he's ready to do everything, he'll do it," Tedford said. "I think he's getting better all the time, but the guys who are playing are the guys who are ready to play."

Starting tailback Isi Sofele has been one of those players who has proven himself ready, as he's averaged 90.5 yards per game and 5.3 yards per carry in six games. Halfway through the season, Sofele has 543 total rushing yards.

After seeing his yards per carry steadily increase through the first five games, Sofele had a rude awakening against a Trojans defense that was keyed in to stopping the run game and forcing quarterback Zach Maynard to turn to the pass. Sofele saw his yards per carry against USC drop to 3.7, as he rushed just 12 times for 44 yards.

"They did a little bit of everything, really, but again, they're pretty physical up front and in the second half, we started to have to throw it a little bit more and didn't stick with the run as much, trying to get back in the game," Tedford said.

With the rushing game all but completely choked off, Maynard went to the air 43 times, completing 25 passes and throwing three interceptions while being sacked three times.

"Well, I think he's pretty resilient," Tedford said of Maynard. "He's a strong competitor. Quarterbacks go through those from time to time. You look on Sunday, and I saw some stats where guys, Rex Grossman threw four picks, and you see Tom Brady throw three or four picks, so quarterbacks go through it. It's a tough position to play, and there's a learning curve there and the speed of the game at which we play is something that we need to get used to and make good decisions. Decision-making's a big part of it, of knowing that if you don't have a play, just eat it, throw it away, whatever it may be, but not to turn the football over. He's been pretty good about that, really, all year, just last week, I thought he maybe tried to make a little too much happen."

After Saturday's action, Maynard's little brother -- sophomore Keenan Allen -- is tops in the nation in receiving yards with 138.0 yards per game. Allen has caught 52 passes for 828 yards, averaging 15.9 yards per catch and scoring four TDs through the air.

"Keenan, I think we've all seen his talent and he's another very strong competitor, has a lot of great skills to go with it and has a great understanding of the game and there, again, you have a receiver that has those types of stats, somebody's getting him the football, so Zach's done a nice job of getting him the ball, and Keenan's made a lot of great plays," Tedford said. "It's really no surprise, when you watch Keenan practice every day, and the skill that he brings."

All but four of Allen's catches have come from Maynard, who often looks to his brother as a sort of release valve in case of emergency.

"Well, they've been throwing to each other for a long time, so as far as off the field, it's not so much about off the field; it's just their comfort level I think with each other and Keenan does a nice job of getting open and creating some space," Tedford said. "It's going to be critical again, this week, because their DBs are really good and really challenge you, so it's going to be really important that we're able to shake free a little bit."

After a four-turnover game against USC, Maynard has more time this week to prepare for a stout Utah defense ranked No. 2 in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (20.5 points per game), second in total defense (326.3 yards per game), second in passing efficiency defense (116.8), second in interceptions (seven, with 19.3 yards per return good for third in the conference) and third in turnover margin.

"Well, we had one game where we threw some interceptions there, but yeah, those are our growing pains," Tedford said. "Mainly the extra couple days gets you a chance to get healthy a little bit, try to heal up some things. At this time in the season, you've got a lot of bumps and bruises, so we try to get those guys healthy and ready to play."



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