The season-opener has always felt so far away. I got such in a training camp mode that actual games seemed like an abstract concept. Most of the issues and storylines over the past month have focused on general team stuff, not necessarily competition against an opponent.
As this week has progressed, I’ve found myself getting more and more geared up for Saturday. I think it really became present today, not only because the game is a mere two days away, but because of the vibe at Memorial Stadium this afternoon.
I was just about to leave for practice when I received a phone call that practice would be closed today, a decision by coach Jeff Tedford. Normally, practice is open to local media that regularly cover the team, as well as invited guests, many times who are family members.
But nobody was allowed today — no media, no family, nobody. There may be a couple reasons for this. There are a lot of Tennessee folks already in town and Tedford may not have wanted any unauthorized people sneaking in. Also, there is a lot of action around the stadium leading up to the game, with last-minute improvements being made and ABC’s television crew setting up shop. Tedford simply may have not wanted more distractions.
Whatever the reason, it reflects the seriousness of where we are — two days away from a game with incredibly high stakes.
We were allowed in at the end of practice to talk to Tedford — and when I say “we”, that includes some media members from Tennessee already in town. Tedford seems at peace with his team’s preparation. He said the team is excited and focused, but not “giddy”, as he put it. If Tedford is concerned his players will be too tightly wound because they can’t wait to exact revenge on the Vols, he isn’t showing it. My guess is the Bears will be sharp, because Tedford will make sure they are.
Tedford said he has no doubt Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge will play. Ainge broke the pinky on his throwing hand Monday but is expected to start.
Some good news for Cal: Starting fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou participated fully in practice Thursday and Tedford said he will play Saturday. Tedford said Ta’ufo’ou might not get every rep, but he’ll play. There really is no reason for Tedford to limit Ta’ufo’ou’s snaps. If he is practicing fully in practice without incident, that usually means the green light is on for full participation in a game.
It’s a pretty amazing recovery by Ta’ufo’ou. He sprained the MCL in his left knee exactly two weeks ago today. The original estimate was Ta’ufo’ou would be out 3-6 weeks. At the time of the injury, Tedford predicted Ta’ufo’ou would be back sooner because of his work ethic. He was right.