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California tries to buck road woes at Minnesota

9/17/2009



Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

A rough road game experience? Shoot, Syd'Quan Thompson can tell his California teammates all about that. The humbling the Bears took at Maryland last year? That was nothing.

In 2006, Thompson was a redshirt freshman thrust into duty because starting cornerback Tim Mixon had suffered a season-ending knee injury. Thompson, sporting a bulbous cast on an injured hand, walked out in front of 107,000 orange-clad fans at Tennessee and looked across the line at future NFL first-round draft pick Robert Meachem.

Yikes.

And Meachem just flat cleaned Thompson's clock as the Volunteers jumped ahead 35-zip. The 35-18 final count doesn't do justice to just how horribly wrong the day went for what turned out to be a good Cal team, one that finished 10-3 and then would stomp the Vols the next year in Berkeley.

That game, however, is Point A of Cal's road woes.

In coach Jeff Tedford's first four seasons -- 2002 to 2005 -- the Bears were 14-9 on the road. Away from the West Coast, they were 5-2.

But, including that ill-fated date in Knoxville, the Bears are 5-11 on the road since 2006, including a pair of beatdowns in the (cue shower scene music from "Psycho") Eastern Time Zone.

In both 2006 and 2008, the Bears' only defeats came on the road.

Now might be a good time to mention that No. 8 Cal visits Minnesota on Saturday, which is in the Central Time Zone, but the kickoff time -- noon EST -- means it will feel like breakfast for the Bears.

Yikes.

That "yikes" is not about the game time. That's about asking Tedford about what appears to be his least favorite topic this week.

"I think whatever the announcers say on TV gets on everybody's mind," he huffed.

Tedford doesn't buy the notion that his team struggles on the road or the idea that the Bears were still asleep at kickoff against Maryland, a 35-27 defeat that wasn't as close as the score suggests.

"We got down 14 points early and it must have been because we were sleeping," he said. "We were sleeping, but it wasn't because of when we flew in. I don't believe that."

Ah, but Tedford isn't stubborn. The Bears will fly into Minneapolis on Thursday in order to get an extra day to adapt to the mysterious effects a couple of hours difference on a clock can make on a Pac-10 team.

"I don't want to be hard-headed about it," Tedford said. "I want to give it a shot and see what that's all about and see if it's better."

Thompson is fairly chill about the whole thing. In fact, Thompson is fairly chill about nearly everything. That goes a long way toward explaining why he shook off that horrible debut and became a 41-game starter, a first-team All-Pac-10 player and an All-American candidate.

"Playing that first game -- that was the loudest place I've played in -- but having that experience helped me a lot," he said. "Now I have the ability to cancel the fans out and concentrate on my technique and my assignments."

Experience helps on the road. Cal has seven starters back on offense and eight back on defense as well as both specialists. So there will be no excuse if they go splat against the Golden Gophers.

"We’ve just got to focus," running back Jahvid Best said. "We’re not going to have our crowd backing us, and it’s not going to be our atmosphere, but at the end of the day the only thing that matters is what happens on the field. It shouldn't be too much of a difference for us.”

Minnesota is an experienced team, too. It welcomes back 17 starters, including Eric Decker, who is one of the best receivers in the country.

Thompson figures to see plenty of Decker, who, at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, has a big size advantage on the 5-foot-9, 191-pound senior. In fact, Meachem and Decker are almost exactly the same size.

Hmm.

Thompson didn't seem too worked up.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge," he said.

Thompson, now a wily veteran, understands road woes. So do his veteran teammates. It remains to be seen whether they can avoid them and live up to the high expectations that surround their team.