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December 9, 2011
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BERKELEY -- California head football coach Jeff Tedford was so busy recruiting that he was unable to make it to practice on Friday, much less speak with reporters. Of course, he's got the future of his program to think about, what with the star-studded recruiting weekend just kicking off.
[Listen to the Bear Republic Podcast to learn who is coming in this weekend and what Cal's chances are]
The Cal players, though, were back at work after a week off, and while there was some rust, they know what's at stake on Dec. 28, when they face off against Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
"I feel like we have to win this game," said junior quarterback Zach Maynard. "We've got a chance to go to a big bowl game, playing against Texas, and that's huge for us. We have to win this game. That's how we feel. That's going to put us into good position for next season. We're taking this game very seriously. I'm definitely not [relaxing]."
After a week of studying and resting -- judging by Maynard's steely glare -- the Bears seem to have their armor back on.
"Guys are flying around right now," Maynard said. "Everybody's pretty much healthy. A lot of guys are getting their helmets on, we're practicing hard and we're just going through the fundamentals right now. We're getting back in the right place."
Freshman outside linebacker Chris McCain was back in action as the team dressed in shells, donning a yellow jersey and shoulder pads for the first time since he suffered a serious concussion against Washington State on Nov. 5.
Senior wide receiver Micheal Calvin was also back in action, after tweaking his knee in the Big Game.
"He practiced today and he looked good, getting his knee back up under him," Maynard said. "He's rehabbing and stuff. He should be back."
Over the last four games of the regular season, Maynard completed 63 of 92 passes (68.5 percent) for 767 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. During that span, Cal went 3-1 and averaged 421 yards of total offense. Though the team has had significant time off, at least one Bear is confident that Cal won't miss a step.
"I don't think it will be difficult," said starting junior tailback Isi Sofele. "We were all here, throwing the ball together, conditioning, lifting, just staying in shape. I don't think we're going to miss a beat."
Of the 912 yards gained on the ground over the past four games, Sofele has accounted for 565, averaging 141.25 per game. Now, with time to heal up plus more than two weeks to prepare, he'll be in even better condition to face a Longhorns rushing defense, which is ranked 11th in the nation, allowing an average of 103.67 yards per game.
"[Time off] helps a lot," Sofele said. "It gives us a chance to get in there and get treatment. It's time to heal our bodies. It gives us time to come out here and work on little things that we messed up with, during the season, and try to fix that up for this big bowl game."
The Bears' rushing offense is ranked 48th nationally, averaging 167.17 yards per game, but Sofele ranks No. 20 in the country in rushing yards per game with 105.83.
"I feel like our offense is hitting its peak," Sofele said. "I don't feel like we're going to lose much ? We all got excited once we heard that it was Texas that we were going to be playing against. Everyone's juiced up. We're ready to go, and we can't wait to play them.
"I've watched a couple of their games, just towards the end of the season. I've seen a couple of their games, and they look pretty big and physical, and we're just going to have to come out here and play physical just like they are. We're all ou there just trying to get a better feel of how it's going to be, so we're going ones-on-ones, and trying to get us ready for a bigger team."
While Sofele was unaware of the drama that unfolded surrounding the Rose Bowl in 2004, he now has some more motivation with that knowledge under his belt.
"It makes me hate them even more," Sofele smiled. "I just want to go out there and get them even more."