BERKELEY -- California may be the designated home team on Friday – and, indeed, this week, safety Stefan McClure said “It’s still going to be Bear Territory in Santa Clara at Levi’s,” – but given the preparations the Bears are making, it certainly feels like a road game, as they head to a hotel on Thursday night in Menlo Park.
“It’s a road game that’s easy to travel to,” said head coach Sonny Dykes. “It’s going to be good when we get there and we have our home crowd and a lot of Cal fans there, but it’s a little bit different, obviously.”
Staying at the hotel tonight and most of the day tomorrow, for instance, will feel a bit odd before the 7 p.m. kick against No. 6 Oregon.
“Normally, we’d have a chance to watch college football games, and get guys to kind of think about it,” said Dykes, who will be playing in his first Friday-night game as the Bears’ head coach. “Tomorrow will be a little bit different. As coaches, I’ll start looking a little bit at Oregon State tape, try to get ahead of that a little bit, that kind of thing, so we can get a jump-start next week. Our players will [have] meetings, walkthroughs, that type of thing.”
The players will have two meals, study and have meetings before leaving the hotel for Levi’s Stadium.
This season, Cal is 2-1 on the road, with the only loss being on the Hail Mary at Arizona.
“We’ve played pretty well, at times, on the road,” said Dykes. “We’ve just got to put it together tomorrow night and play well.”
That will be easier said than done, against the No. 6 Ducks.
“They bench press you. They’re strong,” said offensive coordinator Tony Franklin of Oregon’s defense, which is the No. 4 scoring defense in the conference, but the second-worst overall defense in the league, just ahead of Cal. “They’re not an angle team as much as they are really long, and they get their arms out and bench press you and they find the ball and they move people. They’re big, tough, thud-y guys, and I’ve always liked how they play defense. I’ve always liked their scheme. It’s different this year. It’s not the same as it has been, but it’s still fairly close.”
The yards they give up? A consequence of running a quick-strike offense, something the Bears themselves have run into over the past two years.
“The reason it’s skewed is because they play so many snaps, because their offense scores so fast, so the defense has to play,” Franklin said. “If you look at their yards per play, they’ve always been one of the best yards-per-play defenses – usually in the top 10 every year. They’re very athletic, very talented, and we’ll have to play great football to have a chance to win.”
On the other side of the ball, the Bears will be shorthanded, as Dykes confirmed that defensive end Brennan Scarlett will be out, as will safety Avery Sebastian. On offense, previously-injured offensive lineman Chris Borrayo, inside receiver Ray Hudson, inside receiver Darius Powe, outside receiver Chris Harper and running back Khalfani Muhammad will all play, Dykes said.
“Harper will play,” Dykes said of the dynamic offensive weapon, who took a vicious final-drive hit during Saturday’s game against UCLA. Trevor Davis, who injured his neck on the kickoff return leading to that final drive, is out, and does not know how long he will be on the shelf, though he’ll be in street clothes on the sidelines on Friday.
“Trevor’s been a really good player for us, and his impact has been probably as big on special teams as it has been on offense, so we’ll miss that part of it, but the next man has to step up,” Dykes said. “Hopefully Chris will be healthy, and Jack Austin will get his first significant amount of time, from an offensive standpoint, so it’ll be good.”
Muhammad should see more action on offense as the cast on his thumb continues to shrink, though kickoffs have been a small struggle, as he replaces Davis in that role. Davis replaced Muhammad, incidentally, after Muhammad injured his thumb.
“That hand thing is what put Trevor as the lead returner, so both of those guys, Khalfani’s not catching it great with the hand, so we’ll probably have some different guys back there,” Dykes said, referring to freshman running back Tre Watson, and inside receiver Bryce Treggs.
Other than, that, though, Dykes anticipated that Muhammad will “play a lot.”
Catching the ball out of the backfield “hasn’t been as big a problem,” Dykes said, and, indeed, Muhammad was able to catch a pass last week out of the backfield despite a much larger and more cumbersome cast.
Thursday was the first time the media has been able to speak with Davis since his injury on Saturday, and he was in good spirits, as he described the kickoff return where he got the back of his helmet hit by a knee, wrenching his neck. He still doesn’t have full rotation.
“I was in shock for a while, because I didn’t pass out or anything or black out or anything like that,” Davis said. “I was conscious the whole time. It was pretty scarry, but once I started moving my limbs, I was really calm after that.”
His parents, though, were less so.
“The crowd was saying my name, and I wanted to let everyone know I was OK, that I could still move and what-not, and family, too,” Davis said. “They were probably worrying. They wanted to see that I was OK, and I wanted my mom to stop freaking out.”
Davis said that his thumbs-up on the injury cart was specifically for his mom.
“I know my mom, she would be all over it, so I had to give the thumbs up for her,” Davis said. “She wasn’t at the game. I know she was watching it on TV. My dad was at the game, though.”
Davis described the injury as “just a regular neck injury, I guess,” with no further detail, diagnosis-wise.
“When I got hit, my neck went down, and that’s what I saw on the video. My neck just went down and I jammed my neck. When his knee hit me, my neck went down,” Davis said. “There’s still some pain that I have to work out. It’ll get better in time, I think.”
The outpouring of support for Davis that came both from the crowd and from Cal fans and teammates after the game has meant a lot to the transfer from Hawaii.
“It’s been really good, having that much support and that many people caring for me,” Davis said. “All the tweets and texts and everything, all the care from the Cal family, it’s crazy. There are a lot of people.”
There is no timetable for Davis’s return.