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December 26, 2011
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SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- The California football team already has visited Sea World, the San Diego Zoo and the USS Boxer during its festivities for Wednesday's Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl.
On Tuesday, it will make a trip to two more locations most of the players have never seen: Inside an NFL locker room and on an NFL field. The team will visit Qualcomm Stadium following a morning walk-through at San Diego State to get the lay of the land.
Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said getting ready for the field is just part of the preparation for getting ready for Texas.
"We're going to do a walk-through here [at San Diego State], but then we'll walk the field there," he said. "I want them to see the locker room, there's different things with the field, as far as it's an NFL field, with college numbers, where the college numbers and hashes [are]."
There is a difference.
"There are NFL numbers on the field, so they just put little ticks outside so receivers need to know where the top and bottom of the numbers are and so, just to get familiar," Tedford said. "We're not going to do any running. We're just going to get off the bus, walk, talk, get familiar with where the 25-second clock is, and so on and so forth."
So far, Cal appears ready. It went through its last full practice Monday without a single injured player - save for those lost for the season.
"It went well, but we toned it down just a little bit, trying to keep off our legs," said sophomore wide receiver Keenan Allen.
Tedford agreed: "It went great," said. "I was really pleased with the way the kids have focused and prepared and there was a lot of enthusiasm through practice, and it's been a good week."
Tedford and the Bears have steadily upped the emotional tenor of preparation as the game has gotten closer. Now, with the game less than 48 hours away, the pitch is about to reach a crescendo.
"They're fired up," Tedford said. "They're fired up for the game. I think this is a group who has continued to improve and have become very, very close and they have one more opportunity to play together and they're excited about that opportunity.
"I really think we had a nice Christmas dinner [Sunday] night, where the players were very close and very enthusiastic. I thought today was excellent, and I can really see this thing building to tomorrow. I have a lot of confidence that, when we take the field, we'll be ready to play emotionally."
Having many of the walking wounded back in action through bowl preparation has also been a big help, particularly on defense, where both starting outside linebackers in David Wilkerson and Chris McCain continued their strong stretch of practicing in full.
"We can only have 11 guys on the field, but it helps give us depth," Tedford said. "I don't think there's any doubt about the fact that depth is always important, so it's nice to have those guys back, ready to play."
For Allen, that means one more time to catch balls from his older brother, quarterback Zach Maynard, who could become the first Cal quarterback since Nate Longshore to eclipse the 3,000-yard mark, going into the game with 2,806 on the season.
Longshore was the last Bear signal-caller to break the barrier, passing for 3,021 yards in the 2006 Pac-10 Co-Championship season which ended, appropriately enough, with a Holiday Bowl victory over Texas A&M. Before Longshore, the only other Cal quarterback to throw for over 3,000 yards was Pat Barnes, who threw for 3,499 yards in Steve Mariucci's West Coast attack in 1996.
Maynard will be trying to crack the mark against a Texas defense which, according to Tedford is "multiple," but ranks just 46th in the nation in passing defense (211.67 passing yards per game), but 14th in pass efficiency defense, holding opposing quarterbacks to a rating of 111.88.
"They look pretty athletic, very physical," Maynard said. "They're a very physical team, a good team, but we're also a good team. That's why we're playing in this bowl."
Allen will likely line up against both of the Longhorns starting corners in sophomore Carrington Byndom and true freshman Quandre Diggs, who line up in a left-right alignment, as opposed to a one-two, from what Allen has seen.
"Their speed and physicality, their DBs are real fast and their front seven is pretty physical," Allen said. "I've got to try and go out there and just fight with them."
Allen ranks 13th in the nation in receiving yards per game (105.08) and 12th in total receiving yards, with 1,261.
"I have a high confidence level for myself, and my mentality is, I don't feel like the man in front of me can guard me," Allen said. "Whatever play is called, I just try to go right through them."