The team's goal of spending New Years in Pasadena officially starts this weekend. How California does in its final nine games determines if the Bears can reach that goal. Destiny is in their hands, and they know that the past has no say in what the future holds.
The first step is a challenging one: a road date with the red-hot Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats are coming off a dramatic home victory over then-No. 9 Iowa, which got them named the "Team of the Week" by the Football Writers Association of America. The win has pushed Arizona up to No. 14 in the AP Poll – their highest ranking in 11 years. The momentum is clearly on Arizona's side, and with this game being in the Arizona desert, the Bears face a tremendous challenge.
Leading the Wildcat attack is junior quarterback Nick Foles, who has quickly turned into one of the nation's premier passers. Last year, Foles had his learning curve – see his double-pass error that cost Arizona the go-ahead field goal against the Bears. Still, he was good enough to lead Arizona to their first Holiday Bowl berth in 11 years. This year, Foles has taken a step forward, completing 78.6% of his passes through three games, and orchestrating the winning drive in last weekend's upset of Iowa. Foles runs an offense that focuses on quick passes to spread the field.
"[Arizona is] very, very efficient in their passing game," said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. "It's a lot of quick throws. You know, five-yard completions and couple of those move the sticks, and then if they break a tackle, they're big plays. They are very efficient with what they do."
Arizona's quick-pass offense is not exactly a traditional offense, but it will be quite ordinary compared to Nevada's pistol option.
One advantage to the Wildcats' passing attack is that because the ball is quickly out of Foles' hand, putting pressure is a challenge. It will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast will counter Arizona's air attack, given that his specialty is blitzing.
"It can be frustrating when the ball gets out so fast," said Tedford. "[We need] to mix it up and bring pressure, drop more guys - you can't just do one thing or they'll figure that out too. You have to mix it up."
Defensively, Arizona ranks third in the NCAA, giving up only 220 yards per game. The Arizona front seven does an excellent job of bringing pressure; during a stretch against Iowa, the Wildcats had four consecutive sacks.
California senior quarterback Kevin Riley knows what he is facing.
"Their d-ends are just workers," Riley said. "They're always coming full speed on every play. They're just good."
Riley also has to work against Arizona's secondary, a veteran group that has performed admirably in recent years. The play of the secondary has allowed Arizona to stack the box and stop any rushing game, which figures to be Arizona's game plan heading into this weekend.
"They mix it up," said Riley. They're a lot of cover three. They do some four, quarters, they press, they do a lot of man. They really put a lot on their secondary, which they have a lot of trust in."
"They really pack the box inside. They don't want teams to run the ball on them and teams haven't been running the ball on them. We're going to definitely have to throw the football this week to be able to win."
California's offense moved the ball well last weekend against Nevada, piling up 502 yards of total offense. The problem was turnovers: three interceptions including a pick-six that was an absolute game-changer. With that said, the offense had their best game of 2010 in terms of rushing the ball, and everybody hopes that can at least continue as the season progresses.
"I think we did a real good job moving the ball when we needed to," said junior wide receiver Marvin Jones. "There were some points in the game where we missed some opportunities. But, I think we did fairly well. Obviously, we learned it's a four-quarter game; we have to do what it takes for four quarters. I think there were some pretty good things that we did in that game, but obviously there's always something to learn from."
Learning from their experience in Reno can only help prepare the Bears in obtaining their goal. After all, a 1-0 start in conference with five of the eight remaining games at home will surely put the Bears in a good position in the conference race. Perhaps then, the Bears will be able to look back at 2010 and think of it as a successful one.
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