BERKELEY -- When California takes the field this Saturday at Stanford Stadium, a plethora of Bears will see their first Big Game action against the Cardinal, including starting quarterback Zach Maynard, freshman defensive linemen Mustafa Jalil and Viliami Moala, true freshman outside linebacker Cecil Whiteside, tight end Jacob Wark, true freshman cornerback Stefan McClure and junior transfer tailback C.J. Anderson.
"We've talked about it, of course, about what The Axe means, bringing The Axe home," said head coach Jeff Tedford. "I think they do it with their teammates. I think the players understand, the players communicate about that, the seniors who have been through it, things like that, just talking with the team about which guys have been in the locker room with The Axe, so it's kind of within the team."
Whiteside will likely see increased time -- if not the starting nod -- given the injuries to outside linebackers David Wilkerson and Chris McCain. Neither has practiced this week, with Wilkerson sporting a bulky brace over his bruised knee and McCain sitting out after suffering a concussion two weeks ago.
"It is a concern, because of having Wilkerson and McCain injured," said defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast of his depth at outside linebacker. "But, the guys that have practiced, that are going to be working in there, I feel good about them getting the reps, and that's the biggest thing. I like our players, it's just a matter of making sure they get the work during the week, and we're going to be OK."
"Those are the last ones standing," Pendergast said. "We've got to put 11 guys out there, and they'll be part of that mix."
Coming home during his bye week for the New Orleans Saints, 2010 first-round NFL Draft pick Cameron Jordan was on hand, giving a big hug to his positional heir Trevor Guyton and having a long, laugh-filled talk with redshirt freshman offensive lineman Geoffrey Gibson after practice.
"It's nice to see him back," Tedford said, with not a small touch of longing in his voice as he looked over at Cal's latest NFL star. "Oh yeah, we'd take a few more of him. He's even gotten bigger since [he left]. I'd forgotten how big he is."
In a bit of a reversal, of sorts, sophomore wide receiver Keenan Allen has been the one imparting the importance of the game to his older brother Maynard, though the junior transfer from Buffalo doesn't need much to get excited about playing in his first Big Game.
"I just know we can't wear red at all this week," Maynard smiled. "On campus, or in general, period. It's a huge game, a huge rivalry game. I heard about it growing up back home, and we always know about the big rivalry games in Division I college. It's my first time playing against Stanford, and it's at Stanford, too, so it'll be a hostile environment. We have to go in there poised and just ready to play."
The hostility of the rival stadium will be exacerbated by the condition of the turf, which has caused problems for teams this season, though it didn't slow Oregon down much last week, as the Ducks gained 232 yards on the ground in a 53-30 win.
"I'm sure it's going to be slippery again," Tedford said. "I hear it's going to rain [Friday] night, and it's a very slippery field. A couple years ago, it was very slippery and, watching the tape of Oregon, a lot of guys were slipping. It looks like the root system may not, it looked like you could see some dirt and things, so I don't know if it's just from the rain or the root system's not settled in or what, but it's slippery."
To alleviate the potential for slippage, the team will bring along some extra footwear.
"We'll wear our screw-in cleats and not the molded ones," Tedford said. "We'll be prepared with a couple different pairs. We'll make sure that they go out there in pregame and try it out and things like that and wear the shoes that they think fits them the best as far as traction is concerned. They'll take two or three pairs and see what fits the surface."
Over the past two games, the Cal rushing attack has churned out 588 yards on the ground, including 292 against Washington State in a rain-soaked affair. Wet and slippery turf would likely hinder that, whereas actual precipitation would be a benefit for the Bears running game.
"Even if you're running, you have to keep your feet," Tedford said. "Backs making cuts and things like that, the whole game, now, if it's raining and things like that and the ball's a little more slippery, then it can have an effect. The week before last, there were some balls in that game that were pretty wet, that you could tell were kind of wobbly and things like that."