A day away. It’s a time when the players from both teams start to feel those butterflies, the coaches get knots in their stomachs, the fans feel excited and uneasy.
As a reporter, it’s usually a time that’s not all that busy, the calm before the storm. The interviews are done earlier in the week because coaches want their players to focus on the business at hand.
For both Cal and Minnesota, the business at hand will be establishing a rushing game. Both programs have been among the national leaders in rushing the past four years and that ability to run the football will again be big on Saturday.
Cal, certainly, is the team with the bigger questions. Minnesota’s doubts come in the form of a rout of Kent State, and how much legitimacy can be tied to that win. But the Gophers obviously feel good about themselves.
Cal, on the other hand, is coming off a brutal loss in which it couldn’t establish any kind of offense. If the Bears start slow against Minnesota, they might begin to question themselves.
Tied into the uncertainly is the slight ankle sprain suffered by Marshawn Lynch. Is he 100 percent? He looked good in practice on Thursday, so he appears ready to go. Whether Cal asks him to play on special teams and carry a heavy offensive load will be a key to the game.
Third-string tailback Marcus O’Keith has looked very sharp in practice, so don’t be surprised if he carries a bigger load on Saturday.
Cal’s defensive line also has something to prove after getting knocked around a bit against Tennessee. If the Bears can impose their will against Minnesota’s offensive line, then Cal should win going away.
It will be interesting to see how the Memorial Stadium crowd will treat the Bears. Are they still excited about a possible Rose Bowl run? Will they be ready to be a factor in the game in the first half, and not just the fourth quarter? Will they sit on their hands, waiting for the Bears to prove something?
Cal offensive tackle Scott Smith said on Thursday that no matter how loud the Tennessee crowd was last Saturday, he has never experienced the kind of fervor that Cal’s student section provides at home. Scott acknowledged that the entire stadium does not rock, except at times, like other places, but he said that section of fans behind Cal’s bench has no match anywhere.
See you out there.