With one game remaining in the 2014 regular season -- and potential bowl eligibility hanging in the balance -- the Golden Bears held their last open-to-the-media practice on Tuesday afternoon. Afterwards, I had the opportunity to talk to safety Stefan McClure (46 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT) and inside receiver Stephen Anderson (44 catches, 631 yards, 5 TD) about their thoughts on what's at stake against BYU on Saturday. Here is the transcript of our conversation:
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[Note: We began the interview with Stef first, then Stephen joined in a few minutes later]
CGB: After a tough loss in the Big Game, how has everyone responded this week?
Stefan McClure [SM]: "Guys are focused and have been locked in... We learned from the film on Sunday, and had the day off on Monday. We know the task at hand, and we're motivated, focused, and ready to work..."
CGB: And how did today's practice go?
SM: "I think we had a productive practice today. We [the defense] competed well against the offense, and we got some good work in against the scout team... Darius [White] and Cedric [Dozier] had a really good day in 1-on-1s, 7-on-7s, and against the full offense. It was good to see those guys competing and that will lead to good things later in the week. 'Practice how you play' is what we always say..."
CGB: Saturday's another big opportunity to get that 6th win and potential bowl eligibility. Is there anything specific that the team has been doing to prepare?
SM: "We've been working hard on minimizing our mistakes and playing fast. We've been paying close attention to details -- getting the right alignments and assignments. The 'wins and losses' part will take care of itself if we play penalty-free, smart football..."
CGB: You'd mentioned after the game on Saturday that the team has grown by "leaps and bounds" since last year. You've been at Cal for almost four years now, and have experienced alot during that time. How much would getting that 6th win, and a potential bowl game mean to you guys?
SM: "It would mean alot -- especially after seeing our team grow and how we've come together through adversity. From all the stuff we've overcome from last year, and the work we put in during the offseason -- it would be great to get that 6th win and take another step in the right direction for this program..."
CGB: [Stephen Anderson just joined us...]
Stephen Anderson [SA]: "Our class specifically [note: the RS juniors -- they were in the 2011 Holiday Bowl] knows what a bowl game feels like. To this day, it was one of my best college experiences... Having the opportunity to play in a bowl game is important to us personally, to the team, and to the university. Just to get that message to everyone connected with the program, is even more important this week. It's a great thing, and it means everything right now..."
SM: "But we're not just saying 'we need to get to a bowl.' Every game is important. It's a huge thing to get a 6th win and potentially go to a bowl game. But we're treating this as another game we need to win -- except that there's a little more riding on it. It's 'win or go home football' right now, so we're leaving everything on the field this week..."
SA: "Like Stefan was saying, getting that 6th win and being even on the season -- and having the potential to [play in a bowl and] have a winning season is important. Especially with what we've been through, how hard we've been working, and with the family we have in the locker room, it would only be right to make the best out of every opportunity we have. And that right now is BYU on Saturday, and potentially another game..."
CGB: I know it's a bit of an awkward week, with alot of the students going home for Thanksgiving...
SA: "Oh, it's fine. The students did great at the Big Game! That might have been the best crowd I've seen since I've been here..."
SM: "Yeah, that crowd was solid! It reminded me of opening day -- when new Memorial opened -- against Nevada a couple years ago..."
CGB: Stephen, you and Stef came to Cal in the same class, and both of you overcame adversity -- in your case, coming here as a walk-on and eventually earning a scholarship. When you reflect back on your experience at Cal, how would finishing this season strong make things more meaningful?
SA: "I've been a Cal fan my whole life, for as long I can remember -- ever since I started watching football games. So I always wanted the opportunity to play for this University. And now that I have a role on the team, and have the opportunity to help us finish with a winning record and send Cal to a bowl game -- that's it right there! It's like a dream right now, and I'm going to do everything in power to make that happen..."
CGB: Lastly, is there anything you want to say to the fans to encourage them to come support the team on Saturday?
SM: "Your support means everything to us. It's great when we have that atmosphere behind us. The energy in the stadium gets us excited, and helps us stay fired up. Please come support us this Saturday -- we'd love to see you all there, and we can all celebrate together afterwards when we get that win!"
SA: "Come to the game this Saturday, and you will not be disappointed. That's all I'm going to say... [sly smile]"
CGB: Thanks guys for your time -- and good luck Stef on your paper! [Stef had a paper due on Wednesday, and was ready to get to work]