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Big Game Eve

Some thoughts the night before kickoff:

 –I’m interested to see how Rulon Davis performs. He has been a big loss this season that hasn’t been talked about too much. You could see how he changes the game when he returned from that sprained foot against Arizona State. He had sacks on the Sun Devils’ first two possessions and was playing hard. He looked hungry at practice this week. He’s one guy who definitely should be motivated to play the rest of this season, to set things up for spring and his senior year. Davis hasn’t been healthy enough in each of the past two years to really demonstrate how good he can be. He has one more season to do so.

–Cornerback Brandon Hampton is a confident player who has a lot of pride. So the nosedive Cal has experienced in the second half has really taken its toll on him. He had a funny analogy for the season when I talked to him earlier this week:

“You know how, in a scary movie, it starts off with maybe 10 people stuck in a house, then one guy branches off and wants to do his own thing, and then he dies? And then someone else gets caught behind, and they die? Then next thing you know, there’s only three people left. That’s how I feel. It just keeps getting worse.”

Hampton also said: “Sometimes I get sick when I think about it, how things just turned around after that one loss. It hurts, but that’s all over. There’s nothing we can do about it. Hopefully I won’t be scarred by this for the rest of my life.”

One piece of good news for Hampton: He regained his starting job back from Chris Conte tomorrow.

–Left tackle Mike Gibson said coach Jeff Tedford’s scolding after the loss to Washington may have been overdue.

“It’s something that maybe should have happened earlier, maybe from some of the players, myself included. We probably should have stepped up and started getting after players.”

–Earlier this week, offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik praised wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins for his work ethic. He said sometimes Hawkins’ work and competitiveness could go overlooked because he is such a happy-go-lucky guy.

“The thing about Lavelle, he comes out here in the summertime and they’ll be nobody out here except Lavelle,” Michalczik said. “He’s always had talent, but he’s truly worked his butt off. There’s a serious side to him and I think people don’t see that. It pays off.”

Hawkins is projected as an NFL first-round draft pick in ESPN’s Mel Kiper’s latest projections.

Hawkins joked this week that perhaps cornerback is his best position. He said he shuts down DeSean Jackson when they go one-on-one.

“DeSean gets nothing,” Hawkins said.

–It will be interesting to see how Cal’s defense responds to once again being without Matt Malele, who is still out with a bad knee. The Bears didn’t have their top interior lineman against Washington, and the Huskies rushed for 334 yards. It probably wouldn’t have made too much of a difference, but the Bears need others like Mika Kane, Cody Jones and Derrick Hill to fill the void.

–Linebacker Worrell Williams says he doesn’t expect the Bears to quit just because the stakes aren’t as high as they once were.

“It would be so much easier to just lay down, have Christmas off, have a long break,” Williams said. “This program hasn’t been built on quitters.”

Williams, one of the more introspective players on the team, said earlier in the season that he is mentally equipped to handle losses pretty well. But he’s had trouble getting over the setback to Washington.

“I’m crushed,” he said. “I’ve never been on a team like this before. I’ve never been on a team that is as talented as this, and I’ve never been on a team with this record. It’s frustrating.”

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Clarification

I’ve got a few e-mails regarding the 7-5 vs. 6-6 rule in terms of bowl berths. I checked again with Cal and the Pac-10 office, and they reiterated: Yes, a 7-5 team gets the nod over a 6-6 team to qualify for a bowl berth. But once all the berths within a conference have been awarded — in other words, if there are enough bids to go around for all teams eligible — then bowl bids are still handed out in the order of the conference standings. So UCLA still is ahead of Cal even if the Bears win tomorrow to finish 7-5.

Now, if Arizona beats Arizona State and Cal beats Stanford, either the Wildcats or the Bruins will be left out of a Pac-10 bowl game because by rule the Bears will get a bid over one of the teams. Cal would be the fifth team in from the conference, with one spot left between Arizona and UCLA. The bowl would get to pick between the two schools. And once that team is picked, they would automatically be ahead of Cal in the conference standings. Thus, in that scenario, the Bears would be headed to the Armed Forces Bowl.

Got all that? Yeah, I’m thinking the same thing. Let’s just wait until after the games are played tomorrow and have somebody tell us what’s going on!

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Time to play

Hi, folks. As you can see, we have a new look here at Bear Talk. Hope you enjoy it. It caused a little delay in getting posts up yesterday, but we’re back in business and new and improved. So without further ado…

One of the bigger questions at practice this week was the status of DeSean Jackson. After not practicing Tuesday, he did in limited fashion Wednesday and Thursday. Thursday night, he took first team reps for the first half of practice then shut it down. Coach Jeff Tedford said Jackson will play Saturday, but said “expect him to play throughout the game.” That implies Jackson may be limited. Brandon Hampton and Robert Jordan returned punts during special teams practice, so Jackson may not be doing that on Saturday. Tedford said he hasn’t made that determination yet, rightly pointing out that Jackson still has two days for his thigh contusion to heal further.

I failed to report this earlier in the week, but tight end Cameron Morrah hasn’t practiced all week and Tedford said he will miss the Big Game with a knee injury. No word on the severity.

Expect to see redshirt freshman Mark Boskovich to see some time at right guard. Boskovich has spent more and more time taking first team reps late in the season, and with starter Noris Malele missing some practice this week to tend to a family emergency, Tedford said both players should see action against Stanford.

Starting defensive tackle Matt Malele will miss his second straight game. The knee injury that has plagued him on and off all year has been flaring up and he’s unable to go. I know defensive coordinator Bob Gregory is disappointed for Malele, who is a fifth-year senior and will have to miss his final Big Game. Gregory thinks highly of Malele for his leadership and the example he sets for teammates in practice.

Speaking of Gregory, he dodged a couple of questions again Thursday night about the Washington State job. I jokingly asked him when his flight was (to Pullman), and he said “we’re driving down to Palo Alto.” Gregory wouldn’t say if he has been contacted yet by the school, but expect him to get a serious look by the Cougars.

Gregory said the defensive end Rulon Davis will play “a lot” against Stanford. Davis has missed the past three games with a sprained knee, and missed four games earlier this season with a foot injury. Davis has been practicing fiercely this week. He looks like a player who hasn’t been on the field much this season. He’s hungry.

One other note: Tight end Craig Stevens has been invited to play in the East-West Shrine Game. So far, Stevens, left tackle Mike Gibson, wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins, running back Justin Forsett and free safety Thomas DeCoud have received invitations to play in the game. Hawkins, Forsett and DeCoud also have been invited to participate in the Senior Bowl.
 

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Action Tuesday

It was the first real practice of Big Game week Tuesday and there was a lot going on. One of the hot topics of discussion was the emergence of defensive coordinator Bob Gregory as a candidate for the Washington State head coaching opening. Gregory played at WSU and is from nearby Spokane. You could tell Gregory was prepared to be questioned about it because he didn’t even let the first question finish when he pulled a fake script out of his pocket and said “It’s flattering to be considered. I appreciate it. Let’s talk about Stanford now.”

It was a funny moment, but it certainly also wasn’t a denial that Gregory is a candidate and is interested in the job. When I told him that saying “it’s flattering to be considered” implies he feels he is a candidate, he didn’t disagree with me.

Offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik also is being mentioned as a candidate, but probably not as strongly as Gregory. Michalczik also acknowledged that “it’s kind of nice to be thought of in those terms,” but like Gregory, preferred to only talk about Saturday’s game. He did admit that he’d be interested in becoming a head coach someday.

As for coach Jeff Tedford, he said he completely supports both coaches as candidates for the job, and he would never get in the way of an opportunity like that, even if it was before the season ended. He admitted that sometimes timing is everything with a head coaching job and he’d want his coaches to have every opportunity to pursue the opportunity.

In other significant news, wide receiver DeSean Jackson didn’t practice. He is trying to rest the thigh contusion he suffered against Washington. Jackson didn’t practice at all last week and he said the injury has stiffened up and he still feels a bit of pain. Both he and Tedford seemed about 50-50 on Jackson’s chances of playing against Stanford.

Back to Gregory, expect some changes in his defense Saturday. Gregory is replacing linebackers Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder with Greg Van Hoesen and Justin Moye in the starting lineup, and cornerback Brandon Hampton is getting his starting job back from Chris Conte. Van Hoesen, Moye and Hampton practiced with the first team on Sunday and Tuesday, and at first I just figured Gregory was giving the seniors the start in the regular season finale. But Gregory said Tuesday that the changes are performance-based, and it’s just a coincidence that it’s the last game. He said some major changes were needed after the performance against Washington. Felder and Williams both are in the top five in the Pac-10 in tackles, but each struggled against the Huskies.

A couple of other notes: Defensive tackle Matt Malele and right guard Noris Malele are away from the team to deal with a family emergency. Their status is up in the air for Saturday, and Matt Malele may not be able to play anyway because of a lingering knee injury. Also, left tackle Mike Gibson has been practicing in limited fashion because he is recovering from a concussion, but Tedford expects him to play against Stanford.

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Big Game week

Apparently, a post I submitted last night never made it up here, so I’m taking another crack at it.

Monday marked the unofficial beginning of Big Game week with the annual luncheon to promote the event. The Bears seemed to really focus on the importance of the Big Game. That’s good for Cal, which needs something to help keep it motivated as its season has unraveled. The Big Game probably comes at the right time. No matter what’s going on in the season, players always are motivated to play this game. The Bears could use the extra bounce in their step.

After doing some more research and hearing more scuttlebutt, it seems more and more likely that Cal could indeed be headed to the Emerald Bowl. It’s predicated on Arizona State going to the Fiesta Bowl. That would move all the bowl-eligible teams in the Pac-10 up a notch, essentially moving Cal from sixth to fifth. If the Sun Devils beat Arizona on Saturday, many feel they will get the Fiesta Bowl bid because they are the local team. It won’t make a difference if Cal wins or loses Saturday. Since Arizona will have lost, the Bears still will be the sixth bowl-eligible team in the conference, then move up to fifth because of Arizona State’s inclusion in a BCS game.

If Arizona and Cal both win, the Bears would be headed to the Armed Forces Bowl. If Arizona wins and Cal loses, the Bears season likely would be over.

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And now?

The Bears were reunited after three days off tonight for a full practice at Memorial Stadium. Usually, Sunday nights are reserved for a short conditioning practice, but Cal got a head start on the Big Game because of the bye week.

Coach Jeff Tedford has been generally pleased with his team’s attitude and morale since its disappointing loss at Washington. He said the team practiced very well before parting ways before Thanksgiving and it carried into today.

Of course, the big question is how the Bears will respond now, seeing as the stakes are no longer high. It might be a good thing that Cal is playing Stanford this week, because both teams usually are motivated to play the Big Game no matter how each team’s season is going.

Cal’s bowl possibilities became clearer over the weekend. The Armed Forces Bowl on New Year’s Even in Forth Worth, Texas is looking like the most likely scenario. There is no way the Bears can finish in the top five in the Pac-10, so the Emerald Bowl or Las Vegas Bowl are almost certainly out. The only exception is if two conference teams make it to a BCS game — for instance, USC goes to the Rose Bowl and Arizona State gets a bid to the Fiesta Bowl — that would move everyone else in the Pac-10 pecking order up a slot. In that case, it’s probably almost a certainty Cal would go to the Emerald Bowl (that’s if the Bears beat Stanford). But ASU is ranked 13th in the lastest BCS standings and a lot would have to likely happen for the Sun Devils to slip into a BCS game.

Cal currently is in seventh, but if it beats Stanford and Arizona loses to Arizona State, it will move into a tie for sixth and likely get the Armed Forces Bowl berth. If the Bears were to lose to Stanford, they would finish 6-6 and tied with Washington State for seventh in the Pac-10. That might make their chances to get an at-large berth to an out-of-conference bowl game a little more dicey.

A couple of notes from today’s practice:

–Wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who suffered a thigh contusion against Washington and was held out of most action last week, practiced more Sunday. Tedford said Jackson should play Saturday.
–Defensive end Rulon Davis, who has missed the past three games with a sprained knee, has returned to practice and looks like he will play as well.
–Some of Cal’s seniors that don’t usually start are getting first reps in practice, meaning they will probably start against Stanford in their final regular season game.

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Happy Thanksgiving

I just wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll be taking a few days off over the holiday so I won’t be posting for a couple of days. I’m looking forward to getting back to business when I return.

Jonathan

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Reflections/update

It was a surreal scene after Saturday’s game. The media was instructed to wait for coach Jeff Tedford and players in a designated area. Little did we know it was within earshot of the Cal locker room. We found out soon enough when we suddenly started hearing shouting nearby. It was Tedford, giving his team a tongue-lashing.

I’ve never been privvy before to the dynamics of Cal’s locker room after a game. But my guess is Tedford usually isn’t as demonstrative as he was Saturday. He lit into his team, taking the blame himself and imploring his players not to let this happen again.

As a coach, Tedford seems to be more concerned with the technical side of the game than the emotional side of it. Not that there is anything wrong with that or one way is better than the other. That’s just his style. There have been times during Cal’s struggles in the second half of the season where Tedford has been asked if the team needs more vocal leaders, or if it needs some players to start playing more angry, etc. Tedford hasn’t seemed to concerned with such elements. He’s simply said that’s not the personality of his players. He believes that if the players executed technique and the game plan better, there wouldn’t be as much need for that other stuff.

That’s why I thought it was so eventful that Tedford displayed such emotion after Saturday’s game. We’ll see how the players respond to it. Obviously, there’s not much season left now. Some believe that perhaps Tedford or his players should have gotten angry earlier. Maybe the Bears needed a loss as ugly as Saturday’s to finally get mad.

Obviously, it wasn’t the defense’s finest hour. It’s one thing to play poorly. It’s another to be physically manhandled by an opponent, especially one that hasn’t demonstrated that it can be that dominant at other times during the season. It certainly was an uninspiring performance, and a little surprising too because it seemed like the defense actually had been improving in the past two games.

Cal held its usual short conditioning workout Sunday night. Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory called the mood “somber.” Gregory obviously was incredibly disappointed with Saturday’s effort. He said he was “shocked” by his unit’s performance and said it was a “meltdown” in every phase imaginable. I’ll have more on Gregory and the defense in Tuesday’s paper.

Tedford talked to his players about who they are, what statement do they want to make as the season ends, etc. He said the last one or two games will be a chance to show what this 2007 team is made of. In most bye weeks, the younger players get a lot of the reps. Tedford said that won’t be the case this week, that guys who play will continue to get most of the reps.

Tedford said wide receiver DeSean Jackson and running back Justin Forsett won’t do much this week. Jackson suffered a thigh contusion Saturday and Forsett’s ankle flared up again late in the game. Forsett has been battling that ankle injury all year long.

Don’t be surprised if freshman Jahvid Best is shut down for the rest of the year. Best missed Saturday’s game with a hip injury and is on crutches. Cal still doesn’t have a definitive diagnosis. Best has undergone multiple tests and they are being evaluated. But usually when guys get tests and it takes a while to determine the diagnosis, it’s not good news. Best is arguably the most important player to Cal’s future, so you can bet the coaching and training staff will be cautious with him.