The Bears put Oregon in the past and started preparing for USC this afternoon at Witter Rugby Field. With another Thursday game, Sunday was like Tuesday for Cal, meaning it was their most intense, hard-hitting practice of the week.
The Bears go in full pads the first two days of the week and then only in helmets on the third day, but typically the first day is when the most hitting takes place.
One of the storylines this week will be how Cal’s maligned secondary is going to contend with USC star receiver Robert Woods, who is averaging a whopping 11 catches per game. He is tied with Jordan White of Western Michigan for the national lead. Woods also is second in the country with 149.4 receiving yards per game.
Cal’s pass defense has been a problem this season, and while the lack of a consistent pass rush can sometimes be to blamed, the secondary hasn’t played well enough, either. And now it looks as though the Bears will have to go without starting cornerback Marc Anthony at least this week as he recovers from the dislocated shoulder he suffered against Oregon. Anthony didn’t practice today Jeff Tedford said he is day to day.
True freshman Stefan McClure figures to start if Anthony can’t go. McClure replaced Anthony against the Ducks and got a rude welcome to his first extended action of college football. McClure was beaten a handful of times as the Ducks piled on the points in the second half.
“It was a tough assignment,” Tedford said. “He played a lot of man coverage. It was a learning experience.”
Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast acknowledged it was a tough position to put McClure in but hasn’t lost any confidence in him. Pendergast planned on playing McClure some anyway against Oregon just to get him on the field because he is high on him as a player.
“He’ll only get better every week,” Pendergast said. “He’s a very diligent player. I like the things he did. I know he gave some plays up, but he was put in a tough spot. Playing corner in general is a tough spot.”
Tedford compared McClure’s performance to the debut of former Cal cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson, who was beaten badly twice by former Tennessee wide receiver Robert Meachem in his first career start. Thompson went on to become an All-Pac-10 corner and a seventh round NFL draft pick of the Denver Broncos.
“It reminds you a little bit of when Syd Thompson took his first start,” Tedford said. “You saw what kind of player he turned out to be. I have no doubt that Stef will do the same thing.”
McClure said he learned a lot from his experience Thursday, notably “how fast the college game is, how physical those guys are and how all of your teammates rely on you to do your job to be successful out there.” McClure already knew a little about the speed of college football by getting reps in practice, but he said it’s different playing in a real game.
“We have some fast guys here, too,” McClure said. “It was more getting in game shape. In practice, can’t really simulate a game. With (Oregon), you don’t really have a break. Your body isn’t used to it, having to recover that fast.”
McClure was also put in a very difficult situation for his first real college game. Before Thursday, he had played primarily on special teams, except for the second half against Presbyterian when he played some corner. He had to go up against one of the most explosive offenses in college football, and Cal’s run-stopping scheme called for the corners to play a lot of one on one coverage.
“The other night, with that kind of assignment, we were going to play a lot of man,” Pendergast said. “I thought they played well for what we asked them to do. But to be one on one over 50 percent of the situations, that’s a lot to ask them to do.”
McClure said the mistakes he made are correctable and in now way demonstrate that he isn’t ready. He said his main problem was not using his hands on receivers at the line of scrimmage.
“I was out there playing like I had no arms,” McClure said. “I have to make sure I use my arms and my footwork. It all goes back to technique at the line of scrimmage. When you’re playing man coverage, it’s won at the line of scrimmage. I just have to work on that; make sure I use my hands”
Another storyline this week will be how much Cal’s veterans are thinking about last year’s game at USC, which may have produced the worst first half in the Tedford era. The Bears were embarrassed in the first 30 minutes and trailed 42-0 before losing 45-14.
“You want to get ramped up to get the taste out of our mouth from last year,” Cal safety Sean Cattouse said. “It’s a motivation. It’s probably not the biggest thing.”