BERKELEY, Calif. – The official capacity of Ohio Stadium is 102,329, but California will be playing in front of an even larger crowd when it faces No. 12 Ohio State.
Attendance for last week’s 31-16 win over Central Florida was a mere 104,745, the smallest home crowd for the Buckeyes (2-0) since Oct. 31, 2009. Needless to say, the environment at the Horseshoe has been a major topic of discussion all this week.
“That’s a lot of people. It’s going to be pretty loud,” redshirt freshman linebacker Nathan Broussard said.
“I’ve visited back there one time and just walked through the stadium like Joe Schmo,” offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik admitted.
But Golden Bears head coach Jeff Tedford has a slightly different reaction.
“Once you get to 90 (thousand), what difference does it make?” Tedford said half-jokingly. “90, 100, 100 and five, whatever. It’s all loud. The preparation has to be the same whether it is 65 at Autzen or 100 at Ohio State.”
Preparation has been somewhat lacking for Cal (1-1) to start this season, falling late to Nevada in its opener before staggering for three quarters against overmatched Southern Utah last week. Myriad mistakes, notably penalties and turnovers, have kept the offense from getting into a rhythm early, while the defense has been unable to get off the field on third down.
That has been the aim all week, to start fast and carry that over to Saturday (9 a.m. Pacific, ABC).
“We’ve practiced fine, it’s just a matter of dealing with the game environment and being comfortable with what we’re doing,” Tedford said. “Be poised and focused and not being too amped.”
Right tackle Bill Tyndall believes it has already taken hold.
“We’ve already started out fast,” he said.
Replacing Matt Summers-Gavin, who will miss his second consecutive game with a knee injury, Tyndall might face the toughest challenge of anyone on the Cal roster. Not only must he contend with the crowd noise, but senior defensive end John Simon will likely be lined up across the way looking to hit quarterback Zach Maynard from the blindside.
Simon, an All-America candidate, has 29 career tackles for loss with 11.5 sacks. UCF head coach George O’Leary was positively raving about him after the game, and Michalczik can see why.
“They got an outstanding defensive end, just keeps playing and playing,” Michalczik said. “Simon is a very good player. He’s a high-motor guy, a good athlete that keeps making plays.”
After an early personal foul, Michalczik was pleased with the way Tyndall settled in and believes he is up to the challenge.
"He kind of grew up a lot in the last game," Michalczik said. "Started off a little slow and you could see he was thinking and not playing as fast as he needed to be, but as the game went on he played better.”
The offensive line has been preparing for this moment “for a long time,” Michalczik said, working on silent snap counts and other ways to handle the challenges of playing on the road.
Not having the veteran Summers-Gavin on an already inexperienced offensive line is just one more obstacle to overcome.
“We just have to have great communication,” Tyndall said. “As a line, we have been pretty good about it. This week especially we’ll need it. All five of us need to communication and echo down the line and we’ll be fine.”
Cal hasn’t exactly risen to such challenges of late. In the last four seasons, they are 2-11 on the road against teams with winning records, allowing 31 points or more nine times.
However, the Pac-12 went 3-0 against the Big Ten last weekend and pulled off three upsets of ranked teams, giving Tyndall and his teammates that extra bit of confidence.
“Oh yeah, oh yeah,” Tyndall said. “We’ve seen it and we’re ready to do the same thing this weekend.”
What is the sound of 100,00 fans falling silent? Cal hopes to find out.
Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.