BERKELEY-He's baaack. It's been more than four weeks since true freshman wide receiver Keenan Allen burst onto the college football scene and made a statement in his very first collegiate game, gaining 176 all-purpose yards against UC Davis in the Cal football team's season opener.
On Saturday, the curtain will go up on what Allen is hoping will be an encore performance in his first home game since Week Two against Colorado.
"Oh yeah, I'm 100 percent," Allen says with a smile. "Yeah, I still have that in me. I'm ready to go back at it, get us back into the win column."
After sustaining an ankle injury against the Buffaloes and seeing severely limited action against Nevada and Arizona, Allen is back and ready to go for this weekend's Homecoming contest against UCLA.
For wide receivers coach Kevin Daft, holding out his best player was a tough task, especially given Allen's highly-competitive nature.
"Being a young guy, he just wants to play. In high school, if he's not 100 percent, he's still the best player on the field," Daft said on Tuesday. "He's just doing a good job working through it and taking care of his body. You can only worry about things you can control, and I've told him that all the time. You've just got to get your body ready and prepare."
In Tucson, Allen felt that he was healthy enough to play, but was held back by coaches in order to make sure that he would be at full-strength for the rest of the season. It was a decision that didn't sit well with Allen, but looking back, he understands the reasoning.
To say the least, it was tough for Allen to be in uniform and not play much, especially when he was chomping at the bit to make a difference.
"It was real tough," he said. "They were just trying to get me back to 100 percent, so I would be a full-go. I felt like I could, and who doesn't? It's game time. You're ready to play."
Daft explained the rationale behind the decision to hold Allen back in the 10-9 loss against the Wildcats.
"At a skill position, when you have to run down the field, things can affect you a lot more," Daft said of Allen's ankle injury. "When you're a lineman, you're working in smaller confines and you're not moving as much. I guess it could be easier to deal with, but it's just different by position. If a lineman hurts a shoulder, that's going to really affect him a lot. (With a wide receiver) a leg will affect them with route running and you've got to push through it and take care of your body and he's doing a great job of that. When you're going for running at top speeds and timing, it can affect the timing of the passing game. In football, you're always going to have something, something that's going to be bothering you or some kind of pain that you have to play through. He's learning that, being a true freshman and everything that he's going through right now, he's done a great job."
Allen will be more than ready against the Bruins, what with his extra week of rest thanks to the bye. He'll be facing a very young UCLA secondary, which features two sophomore corners in Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester. Price has made 12 tackles in five starts with five pass break-ups, while Hester has made 16 stops and broken up one pass. Neither has a pick, but both can be quite physical.
"We've just got to use the coaching points that they give us: press them outside when we're going inside, and when we're going outside, press them inside first and then go outside," Allen said. "It's just the little things that work."
Beyond the two young corners, UCLA has two junior safeties with two years of varsity experience apiece under their belts: Tony Dye and Rahim Moore, who had 10 interceptions in 2009. Allen spent much of his football life as a running back before moving to safety and wide receiver later in his prep career, a fact which gives him superior vision when caught up in traffic.
"He's very smooth in transition and in change-of-direction. That's one of the things that he excels the most in: changing direction," Daft said of Allen. "Some of that is developed over time, and some of that is just guys that are born with it. He does a great job. He's very smooth in how he transitions out of his breaks, and things like that. He's a very good athlete, and that's why he was able to play a few different positions in high school."
Daft sees that running back vision every day in practice, and Bears fans got a glimpse of it when Allen turned a five-yard underneath pass into a 46-yard gain in the season-opener against the Aggies.
"It helps him a lot, you know, when he has the ball in his hands, he definitely has the ability to break long ones and to get a lot of yards," Daft said. "That's just that he's handled the ball so much over his career. He's able to see those things that some guys may not be able to see as easily. Some of that is just given talent. He just has a knack for making plays and making guys miss, setting up blocks and seeing how things develop quicker than other guys do. One thing with him, too, is that he never shies away from contact or competition, so with that, he excels when things are getting tight or in certain situations where other guys would maybe shy away. He steps his game up and he rises to the occasion."
Having Allen back will unquestionably help an offensive attack that was held to just three field goals against Arizona the last time Cal took the field.
"It's definitely a boost," said senior quarterback Kevin Riley. "It puts just such another great weapon out there for our offense. He's been hampered with his ankle, and now he's full-strength, and even in practice, he looks so much better. It's kind of like when he first got here. You could tell (the ankle) was really limiting his play, especially the explosiveness he has as a player, so it's going to be exciting to see him back out there at full-strength, making plays."