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Ready for Eugene

The Bears wrapped up another week of practice Thursday. As they head to Eugene, they know they’ll once again be without a few of their key players.

Coach Jeff Tedford said Thursday that linebacker Zack Follett and fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou both are definitely out for Saturday’s game at Oregon. Follett still is recovering from the neck stinger he incurred two weeks ago against Louisiana Tech, and although the symptoms are gone, he wants to make sure the neck is strong enough so he doesn’t suffer another injury that could be more serious. Follett had said after Wednesday’s practice that he was really fighting the temptation to get in pads and practice, but he was just in a t-shirt and shorts again Thursday.

Tedford said Ta’ufo’ou probably would be back for the next game against Oregon State on Oct. 13. The Bears have a bye next week, so that will give both Ta’ufo’ou and Follett some added recovery time. Both should play against the Beavers.

As stated earlier, defensive end Rulon Davis and kicker Tom Schneider also are out. To reiterate, defensive tackle Matt Malele will return from his foot injury that kept him out of last week’s game against Arizona. Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said Malele probably wouldn’t start but he’ll definitely play, although he wasn’t sure what how much workload he could withstand.

Gregory also said that redshirt freshman Mike Mohamed will start in place of Follett. Senior Justin Moye started last week for Follett, but has been nursing some nagging injuries this week in practice. Plus, Mohamed possesses the kind of speed that the Bears will need to try to contain Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon and the spread offense.

For the second time this season, Tedford closed practice to the media, something he usually doesn’t do. He also closed the Thursday practice before the Tennessee game. It demonstrates the magnitude of Saturday’s game.

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Mid-week update

I talked with linebacker Zack Follett after practice today and the prospects of him playing Saturday don’t sound promising. Follett said his neck stinger kept him in a pretty good amount of pain for about a week, but the symptoms are gone now. Still, he needs to be careful about his return. Returning prematurely from this type of injury could cause more serious damage.

Follett realizes how important Saturday’s game at Oregon is, but also is thinking about the rest of the season and beyond. The deal-breaker might be the fact that the Bears have a bye next week, meaning Follett can have three weeks off before returning on Oct. 13 against Oregon State.

“Most likely I’ll be back after the bye,” Follett said. “That will give it a lot of time to rest. If we didn’t have the bye, it probably wouldn’t be as enticing to wait it out, even though it’s one of the bigger games of the year. It’s either have me back for one game and maybe get hurt and be out for the rest of the season, or be back for the Oregon State game.”

Follett said no final decision has been made and he is still considered day-to-day.

“I’ve been really fighting trying to come back,” he said. “I almost put on pads today. But it’s the rest of my career or one game.”

In better news for Cal, defensive tackle Matt Malele is practicing and coach Jeff Tedford said it looks like he will play after missing last week’s game against Arizona.

Kicker Tom Schneider is going to miss another game with his quadriceps pull.

–Practice is taking on a different look this week because wide receiver Drew Glover is playing quarterback on the scout team instead of Brock Mansion. Glover, who played quarterback as a senior at Bishop O’Dowd High School, is emulating dynamic Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon.

–ESPN analyst Desmond Howard was at practice Wednesday to film a segment with DeSean Jackson. Howard, of course, is one of only two wide receiver/kick returners to win the Heisman Trophy, something Jackson is attempting to do. Howard said the segment should run on “Gameday” on Saturday. Gameday is originating from Eugene this week, and Howard will be on hand for the show.

–Cal’s athletic department wanted to urge all fans attending Saturday’s game to wear blue instead of gold. Oregon fans have been instructed to wear gold.

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Injury update

Good news and bad news for Cal: The good news is coach Jeff Tedford said defensive tackle Matt Malele (foot) is probable for Saturday. The bad news is he said defensive end Rulon Davis (foot) likely is out again.

The wild-card is linebacker Zack Follett (neck stinger). Tedford said he is improving, but is still day to day. Follett ran well during Sunday’s conditioning practice, but the Bears have to be careful with his neck. It’s not a serious injury, but one that can become serious if he were to return before all of the symptons have completely disappeared. The one piece of good news that can be drawn from this is Tedford called Follett doubtful after the Arizona game. Now it sounds like there is a chance he could play.

Follett could be a valuable player against Oregon because he could help neutralize the dynamic passing and running combination that quarterback Dennis Dixon presents.

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Arizona aftermath

Well, believe it or not, the regular season is one-third over. Where does Cal stand? That’s not an easy question to answer.

Certainly, the reality looks good for the Bears: 4-0, No. 6 national ranking and a win in their Pac-10 opener. But has Cal looked like the team that many fans and observers expected to be in the running for a BCS berth? Only at times.

The productivity of the offense is undeniable, even though it seems to go in brief funks at times. Still, you can’t argue with the type of numbers the Bears are putting up on the scoreboard.

The bend-but-don’t-break defense has been inconsistent. Teams have been able to put together sustained drives agianst Cal, but the defense also has made big plays in every game, plays that can have momentum-altering effects.

I thought the Bears were on their way to playing a complete game Saturday. Not only was their defense overpowering the Wildcats, but Arizona’s spread offense looked lackluster against Cal’s defense. But the offense came up empty on a handful of possessions in the second half and the defense allowed Arizona to move the ball and score 17 unanswered points.

It wasn’t an escape for Cal, but certainly the Bears didn’t walk away feeling like they had delievered a knockout blow.

Of course, one of the reasons for the offense’s shortcomings in the second half was the absence of running back Justin Forsett, who was forced out earlier with a quad contusion. It’s no coincidence that the moment he came back in the game in the fourth quarter, the Bears put together a scoring drive to ice the game. Forsett rushed five times for 39 yards during the possession, including a 2-yard touchdown run in which he took the snap directly.

I knew Forsett was good, but until Saturday I don’t think I truly realized his value to the Bears. I had got caught up in the depth the Bears have at tailback, especially the playmaking ability of Jahvid Best. But Forsett is the heart and soul of the offense, maybe the entire team. Before Saturday, I thought Lavelle Hawkins was the early-season MVP of the Bears. Now I’d say it’s Forsett.

If the Bears want to finally play a complete game, this would be the week to do so. They’re going to especially be up to the task on defense. Oregon, which also runs the spread offense, has been almost undefendable. Cal could really use linebacker Zack Follett in a game like this, but coach Jeff Tedford said after Saturday’s game that he was still doubtful. Cal will somehow have to get pressure on Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon to take him out of his comfort zone. The Bears showed they can pressure the quarterback effectively but blitzing linebackers against Arizona, and they didn’t suffer in coverage most of the time when they did so. This could be an important game for the defensive backfield.

Obviously, there will be much more to come on the Oregon game in the coming days. The Ducks moved up to No. 11 in this week’s AP poll while the Bears stayed at No. 6.

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Getting closer/third quarter

Arizona is starting to move the ball a little better on offense by throwing short passes underneath coverage. The Bears went away with blitzing linebackers, something that worked well in the first half. Near the end of Arizona’s last scoring drive, Cal started sending extra pressure again. We’ll see if the stick with that during the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, Cal’s offense has gone three and out on each of the last two possessions. Justin Forsett hasn’t played on either. He limped off the field earlier but it didn’t appear to be serious.

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Halftime

A couple of notes at halftime:

–Brandon Hampton’s interception in the end zone in the second quarter gave him a pick in two straight games.

–Robert Jordan’s reception in the second quarter gives him a catch in 34 straight contests.

–Thomas DeCoud is making a good case for Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week. He has a sack and a forced fumble (which led to a touchdown) and an interception. He has four tackles.

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First quarter

Obviously a very impressive first half by the Bears. Most notable was the play of Nate Longshore, who was 5-10 for 114 yards and a touchdown. Cal had 157 yards of offense in the first quarter. Arizona had 80 yards (just one rushing) and only four first downs (to Cal’s 8)

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No go

Davis, Malele and Follett did not participate in warm-ups. I haven’t seen them on the field at all. We can only presume, as expected, that all three players are sitting this one out.