"We had our best Tuesaday-Wednesday, back-to-back, this year, and maybe even since I've been here," head coach Sonny Dykes said of his California Golden Bears, ranked No. 23 in the nation in the Associated Press poll.
"You can tell we have experience," Dykes said. "We've been able to add things and do more, and guys are performing at a high level."
Cal (5-0, 2-0 in Pac-12) head into a battle of unbeatens on Saturday against No. 5 Utah (4-0, 1-0), a team that specializes in special teams, with two punt returns for touchdowns, and two kickoff returns for a touchdown this season, as well as a nifty fake punt against Oregon.
"We haven't covered kicks particularly well, or kicked off well, so that's going to be where it starts," Dykes said. "We've got to do those things well, and I think we've improved our kick coverage tremendously. We made some personnel adjustments, techniques, the landmarks we have, we changed some things. We covered kicks better last week, and we're going to have to do it this week. Our punting game has been good, so we've got to continue to do that. Cole [Leininger]'s been hanging the ball up well and guys have been covering. We've got to make all our extra points and field goals. That's going to be an area that we improve in. At times, we've made them all, and other times, we haven't. We've got to be more consistent in that. These guys are good. They've made a lot of big plays this year. You look at their history, and they've done a lot of creative things on special teams, so we have to make sure that we're aggressive and match their play."
Tailback Daniel Lasco is feeling much better this week than at this point last week. He will very likely start on Saturday.
"We'll see tomorrow, but he practiced well all week," Dykes said. "I was just talking to Tony [Franklin] about it, and we've both got a lot of confidence in him. We expect him to be [ready], just like we did last week."
"I think the more you win, the more the games get bigger. If we win this one, the next one will be even bigger. That's just the way it goes. That's what you want." -- Sonny Dykes
Cal expected Lasco to be full-go, but after he was ineffective in the first half, both he and the staff decided he should sit after halftime, to allow other, healthier backs, to get into the swing of things. Lasco said that he had some rust last week, because so much of being a running back is the sense of timing and anticipation, and after missing two weeks, his timing and anticipation was off, and he was missing holes. He said he feels "much closer to 100 percent."
The only real injury of note headed into this weekend is to wide receiver Jack Austin (foot), who will be back by the UCLA game on Oct. 22, Dykes said.
"Jack's the only one, and we expect him back for UCLA," said Dykes, before saying that offensive tackle Brian Farley, defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil and defensive end DeVante Wilson are all "100 percent."
To prepare for the altitude, Dykes and his staff is making sure that the team is focused on hydration, but, beyond that, there's not much else they can do. Dykes did note, however, that Salt Lake City (4,327 feet) is "not much different" than it was at his former residence -- Lubbock, Tex. (3,256 feet). "It's a little higher," Dykes said, "but no one ever even talked about the altitude. I lived there for 20 years, and never knew there was altitude."
"It's a two-week acclimation, normally, to acclimatize to high altitudes, so I don't know how big of an impact it's going to have," Dykes said. "We normally [emphasize fluid and rest], but mreo this week, and it's similar to like we did for Texas."
The Bears will not have oxygen on the sidelines.
"We'll play a lot of guys like we always do, and do all the stuff we can do, hydration-wise," Dykes said.
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