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Football: Wednesday practice update

Here’s some random tidbits from the practice field as Cal prepares for Friday’s game at Arizona State …

–Quarterback Zach Maynard hesitated to call his deep pass to Keenan Allen on the first play of the game against Stanford his best throw all season. But there’s no denying it’s in the running. Maynard lofted a deep pass that was on the money to a streaking Allen, and it’s a play that the two worked a lot on leading into the game. “We’ve been talking about it,” said Allen, Maynard’s half-brother. “His long balls haven’t been there so we’ve worked on it at practice. I tried to tell him to slow down a little bit, let me get out there a little bit further (before throwing it).”

Citing Arizona State’s quickness on defense, Maynard said it will be important for him to look off his receivers and spread the ball around.

–Some players claim they don’t pay attention to statistics. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks isn’t one of them. The senior is well aware that he ranks among the Pac-12 leaders in tackles (he’s third with 88). “It’s cool,” Kendricks said. “No. 1 would be better, but I feel like I’ve had a successful season. I’m happy.” I know Kendricks is only listed at 6-feet tall, but standing next to him for the first time, I was still struck by his size (or lack of it). I’m talking about height only – he’s listed at 240 pounds. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s viewed by NFL scouts. The guy can sure close on a ball carrier fast.

–Linebacker David Wilkerson, who has missed the past two games with a bruised knee, has returned to practice, but his status for Friday night’s game is unknown. Fellow OLB Chris McCain, still recovering from a concussion, wouldn’t return until the bowl game, if then.

–The Bears will practice Thursday morning, then hold a Thanksgiving meal later in the day before flying to Phoenix. The dinner will take place in the Student-Athlete High Performance Center, the team’s first official function in the new complex, according to coach Jeff Tedford.

Hope everybody has a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Football: Tuesday practice update

It’s unusual for a Pac-12 football team to get two days off in a row, but Cal coach Jeff Tedford thought his team needed it after a hard-hitting game against Stanford. The Bears were back at it today. They’re practicing lightly all week before playing Arizona State on Friday night in Tempe. Tedford said three days of workouts is enough quality practice reps while at the same time giving players enough time to heal up. If you noticed, Cal had players being helped to the sideline all game long against Stanford. Lots of young guys were shuttled in along the defensive line as ends Trevor Guyton and Ernest Owusu got shaken up and missed time. Mustafa Jalil – one of Cal’s hotshot D-line recruits last winter – saw lots of time, and Tedford said he liked what he saw from Jalil, a 285-pounder who the Bears could look to play inside at tackle on occasion. “He has so much potential right now. I really wish I could be here to see him develop,” said Owusu, a senior. “I’m telling you guys right now, mark my words, he’s going to be very good.”

My story for tomorrow’s paper weighs in on Jalil and other young players who seem to set up Cal’s defense well for the next few seasons. There are holes to fill on offense for 2012 – Mitchell Schwartz and Justin Cheadle are seniors on the offensive line, and Cal will need another receiver to complement Keenan Allen with the departure of Marvin Jones. But the defense seems to have the depth to adequately fill voids.

–Speaking of players banged up in the Big Game, receiver Michael Calvin had an MRI on his injured knee that showed no tear in the anterior cruciate ligament, which is great news for the senior. Tedford said it’s possible Calvin could return – and he didn’t rule Calvin out for Friday’s game.

–So ASU is looking to bounce back following a close loss to its natural rival. Sound familiar? The Bears and Sun Devils are in the same boat in some ways, looking to rebound at Sun Devil Stadium. But ASU is in a more fragile state, having lost three straight to put coach Dennis Erickson on the hottest of hot seats. It makes me wonder how the Sun Devils will respond Friday night: Are they a lost ship that has no shot at getting back on course? Or will they come out sharp knowing that they’re still alive for the Pac-12 South championship?

Tedford sees ASU as an athletic, physical team with a solid quarterback in 6-foot-8 Brock Osweiler. “Their quarterback spreads it all over the field,” Tedford said. “They get you in (open) space. Any time these kinds of teams get their athletes in space and you’re a one-on-one tackler, you have to make sure you get them on the ground. It’s really important we tackle well in space.” Osweiler ranks second in the conference at 307 yards per game and he’s got a dangerous receiver in Gerell Robinson, fourth in the conference at 100 yards receiving per game.

Here’s what Osweiler had to say about Cal …

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Football: Postgame recap of Cal’s 31-28 loss to Stanford

I see there’s some encouragement from the fan base over the Bears’ effort in a 31-28 loss to Stanford on Saturday night. It was a solid effort by Cal, no doubt. After Andrew Luck found his rhythm in the third quarter, I thought a blowout was in the making. But the Bears jumped back in the game.

“We played a good game on both sides of the ball,” quarterback Zach Maynard said. “Stanford’s a great team and we couldn’t afford to make the mistakes we made. Other than that, we played a good game.”

A couple things to be encouraged about:

–Maynard turned in a pretty strong game, finishing 20 for 30 for two touchdowns and no interceptions. What a start to his game … he hit Keenan Allen for a 42-yard gain on the first play, and then made a bad pitch to Isi Sofele that Stanford recovered for a turnover. “That was just a bonehead play by me,” Maynard said. But he completed some big passes.

–Allen enjoyed an incredible first quarter, catching six passes for 97 yards and a touchdown. He was everything that Stanford coach David Shaw feared he might be – an athletic downfield threat that Cardinal defensive backs would have trouble matching up against.

–Cal finishes out the regular season next week against an Arizona State team that is struggling. The Bears are 7-1 against the Sun Devils under Jeff Tedford.

A couple of things to be discouraged about:

–After the first quarter, Allen didn’t catch a single pass. In fact, Maynard threw his way just twice after halftime. Tedford said he didn’t think Stanford did anything specifically that took Allen out of the game. Maynard’s take: “Keenan’s a great receiver and they double- and triple-teamed him to keep him from getting the ball.”

–The defense played hard and came up with some big stops. But there were way too many Stanford receivers who broke free with no one around them, particularly fullback Ryan Hewitt, who continuously hurt the Bears by leaking out of the backfield for short passes and turning them into bigger gains.

–Cal has got to find a way to score touchdowns and not settle for field goals in the red zone. Two drives stalled inside Stanford’s 10-yard line in the first half, and those ended up being difference-makers …

Here’s a final version of the notebook I wrote for Sunday’s paper, focusing mainly on Allen.

That’s all for now …

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Football: Stanford leads 28-13 after 3 quarters

Stanford leads 28-13 at the end of the third quarter, as the Cardinal has definitely taken control since halftime.

Couple of things going on here:

–Andrew Luck is starting to pick apart the Bears’ pass defense. Cal isn’t putting enough pressure on him, and what rush they do get, Luck is able to calmly avoid and still find an open guy. Plus, Cal is having some defensive breakdowns. Stanford tight end Levine Toilolo has been wide open downfield twice — once Luck missed him and once Toilolo dropped an easy catch. … On Stanford’s last touchdown, the fullback released to the right and there wasn’t a defender in sight. Easy score.

–Cal got inside Stanford’s 10 twice in the first half and settled for field goals. As well as they moved the ball in the first two quarters, they should have had more points. You knew Stanford’s offense would crank it up eventually …

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Football: Big Game halftime stats

Here’s some halftime stats, folks. Stanford led 14-13 but has jumped ahead 21-13 midway through the third quarter. Sorry for the shortage of blogs, but late kickoffs leave lots of writing to do as the game is going …

First downs
Cal = 13
Stanford = 14

Rushing yards
Cal = 20-37
Stanford = 15-112

Passing
Maynard = 11-14-0
Luck = 8-15-1

Passing yards
Maynard 168
Luck 81

Total yards
Cal 205
Stanford 193

Time of possession
Cal 17:54
Stanford 12:06

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Football: An early Big Game update

Just a quick pregame update from Stanford Stadium. Fans are starting to trickle in as we’re just under two hours from kickoff for the 114th Big Game. Weather.com calls for the temperature to be 48-50 degrees tonight. There’s a 60 percent chance of rain at 7 p.m., with percentages dipping greatly after that. I’m not sure if either team has a real advantage on a wet and slippery field since both like to run the ball.

You’ll be watching the latest kickoff for a Big Game ever. It didn’t seem to spoil the festivities outside the stadium. I saw plenty of tailgaters …

Check back with you soon!

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Football: Does opportunity await Cal’s defense?

Checking in w/you as we’re a little more than 48 hours away from Big Game kickoff …

Obviously a big storyline is whether Cal’s defense can contain Stanford QB Andrew Luck. There’s no doubt Luck will have many NFL scouts watching him Saturday, as he has all season. But Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast wants his defensive players to realize that those same NFL scouts also will be watching them. “When you’re going up against one of the better players, everybody is going to dissect (all) the plays,” Pendergast said. “So whether you’re a lineman, a linebacker or a secondary guy, you’ve got a chance to make an (impression).”

That sounds like good motivational strategy. How effective will it be in stopping the Cardinal, which is averaging 493.7 yards per game this season? We’ll find out. Pendergast said Stanford provides more different looks and more ways to move the ball than most college football teams. “They’re very unique in what they do,” he said. “They use a lot of different personnel groups, they use the whole field. The run game, pass game … they can run tackle to tackle, get on the perimeter, throw down the middle of the field and spread you out and throw it. So it’s a very unique, and I’d say, dynamic offense.”

Cal defensive end Trevor Guyton mentioned earlier this week the importance of putting some heat on Luck. Look for the Bears to bring pressure from lots of different angles. “We’ve got to mix some things up, come after them a little bit, try to win up front,” Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. “But they do a nice job of protecting him. He gets rid of the ball, and sometimes even when you’re there to get him, he breaks out of things and runs. It’s not an easy thing to do to get him on the ground.”

But first and foremost, the Bears can’t let Stanford – which is averaging 215.1 yards on the ground — run the ball at will. Asked how his defense matches up against the Cardinal offensive line, Pendergast replied: “I like our defensive front regardless of who we’re playing.”

–It appears Cal will once again be without starting outside linebackers Chris McCain (concussion) and David Wilkerson (bruised knee). Pendergast indicated he doesn’t expect either to play, meaning Cal will go with Cecil Whiteside, Dan Camporeale and Ryan Davis for those two spots.

–The Bears did have one player at practice Thursday who could help their pass-rushing cause if only he were eligible. Defensive end Cameron Jordan, now playing for the New Orleans Saints, is in town since New Orleans has a bye. Jordan plans to attend Saturday’s game. Wow, talk about a chatty guy. It looks like Jordan is on his way to a long NFL career, but I could see him making a living behind the microphone someday.

–Eric Kiesau, Cal’s passing game coordinator and receivers coach, said the Bears’ play calling has been so run-dominated over the past two games partly because Cal jumped ahead of opponents early, then tried to grind out the clock. Kiesau said the plan going into the Washington State and Oregon State games was to balance the pass and run, but that strategy changed once Cal’s backs started eating up yards in chunks. I don’t doubt that’s the case to a certain degree. But it’s been an aim to boost the confidence of quarterback Zach Maynard, and rolling out a dominant run game is the best way to do that. Kiesau says he’s seen “big strides” from Maynard in practice over the past two weeks. “That’s what we want, just throwing the ball with confidence and accuracy,” Kiesau said.

I thought Maynard did a good job of just throwing the ball away a couple times last week when the pocket collapsed and he had to scramble. But make no mistake, if Maynard is dropping back to pass 30 times on Saturday, Cal is in trouble. An efficient running game is a must …