Game Preview: Cal at Arizona

Game Preview: Cal at Arizona

California opens the Pac-10 season this Saturday in Tucson against No. 14 Arizona...


KICKOFF: Saturday, 7 PT
GAMEDATE: 9/25/10
SITE: Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz.
SURFACE: Grass
TV:Comcast SportsNet California (Cal.), Fox Sports Arizona (Ariz.)
SERIES: California leads 14-13-2. Last meeting (2009, California, 24-16).
RECORDS: Arizona 3-0, 0-0, California 2-1, 0-0.
POLLS: Arizona (14 AP, 16 USA Today).

KEYS TO THE GAME:

  • Arizona needs to pressure Cal QB Kevin Riley. The senior has been prone to the big mistake over the course of his career, more so when the heat is on. Arizona turned up the pressure big-time late in the Iowa game, coming up with three consecutive sacks of quarterback Ricky Stanzi to crush the Hawkeyes' chances on their final drive. Arizona is tied for sixth nationally with 3.67 sacks per game.

  • Cal must be focused and have a consistent pass rush. The Wildcats may have a letdown after their big win over Iowa, which gives the Bears a chance for an upset if they can rebound psychologically from the bashing they took from Nevada. It may materialize in the form of a pass rush. Arizona has a strong pass rush and had six sacks against Iowa. If it can apply similar pressure on Cal QB Kevin Riley he is apt to make mistakes. Cal needs to hurry Arizona QB Nick Foles, who is difficult to sack because he gets rid of the ball so quickly. However, Cal sacked him three times last season, and that was a major reason the Bears won.

    SCOUTING THE TEAMS:

    Coaches still hope to squeeze more from the running game, especially in power sets, but Arizona actually won the battle up front against Iowa last week, which is no small feat. The Wildcats have plenty of balance, and QB Nick Foles has a big and accurate arm, although he can't challenge the Cal defense the way Nevada's Colin Kaepernick did last week with his legs. The Bears defense looked slow and out of sorts last week while losing 52-31 at Nevada, but Arizona coach Mike Stoops chalked that up to the tricky Pistol offense and the quarterback run game. It could be a different story this week for Cal against Arizona's pocket-based spread offense.

    Arizona's defensive unit has been a pleasant surprise, and the Wildcats didn't given an inch last week against Iowa's powerful run game. This week, they will have to try to slow Cal's Shane Vereen, who rushed 30 times for 159 yards against Arizona last season, including a 61-yard TD romp with 1:21 left. The Wildcats have handled a spread team (Toledo), a triple-option team (The Citadel) and a balanced north-south team (Iowa). Through it all, they are third nationally in total defense (220.3 yards per game) and seventh in scoring defense (11.7 points per game).

    Cal has scored plenty of points in its three games, and the Bears' running game came alive against Nevada when TB Shane Vereen rushed for a career-high 198 yards. Vereen was particularly impressive with his open-field maneuvering. Cal would like to get more out of backup TB Isi Sofele, who has big-play potential, and Riley started to make the critical mistakes against Nevada that haunted him last season. Freshman WR Keenan Allen was a non-factor against Nevada after his spectacular debut, although an ankle problem may have been the culprit. The other wide receiver, Marvin Jones, was outstanding with 12 catches for 161 yards. He is the go-to guy for Riley. At times, he will go against Arizona's standout cornerback, Trevin Wade, who plays only on the right side.

    After being ranked No. 1 in the country in total defense after the first two games against inferior opposition, Cal was overrun by Nevada's option attack. The Bears have had trouble with option football in recent years, and Nevada was the biggest example. Cal's pass defense yielded a lot of yardage, too, but it was Nevada's threat with the option that made that possible. Arizona does not run the option, however, and Wildcats' QB Nick Foles is a more tradition pocket passer, which changes the task considerably. Cal has had better success against passers who stay in the pocket and don't run the option.

    FAST FACTS:

    Wildcats: After a bruising 34-27 upset victory over Iowa last week, the Wildcats are looking to claim their conference opener ... The Wildcats limited Iowa to 29 net rushing yards on 26 attempts, thanks to six sacks and 11 tackles for losses. Arizona struggled with only 63 net rushing yards ... Coach Mike Stoops has Arizona off to a 3-0 start for the first time in his coaching tenure and the first time since John Mackovic's first season in 2001. Arizona has claimed 14 of its last 22 conference games, dating to the last four games of the 2007 season. Five of those eight losses were by three points and have come by a total of 37 points (4.6 points per game.) ... Arizona struggled with a five-year high 12 penalties for 103 yards ... Arizona has won 14 of its last 17 home games, with the only losses to No. 6 USC and No. 22 Oregon State in 2008, and No. 11 Oregon in double overtime last season ... Arizona is third nationally in kickoff returns and total defense, sixth in passing, tied for sixth in sacks and seventh in scoring defense. The Wildcats are 87th nationally in rushing and 89th in net punting ... KR Travis Cobb is fifth nationally in kickoff returns. DT Justin Washington is tied for seventh in sacks.

    Bears: California is looking to rebound after last week's 52-31 loss at Nevada, a loss that knocked them out of the Top 25. The Bears start conference play and are 6-2 in conference openers under Jeff Tedford. Cal won six straight conference openers from 2003-08 before losing last season at Oregon ... Tedford is 5-3 against Arizona since his arrival, but has dropped his last two games and three of four overall in Tucson ... TB Shane Vereen and WR Marvin Jones currently lead the Pac-10 in rushing and receiving, respectively. Cal has never had two players lead the conference in those statistics in the same season. Vereen went for a career-high 198 yards last week against Nevada and Jones snagged career-best totals of 12 catches for 161 yards. Jones needs nine rushing yards to reach 2,000 for his career and Jones needs 13 yards to hit 1,000 receiving yards for his career ... Cal had won 30 straight games when scoring at least 30 points before last week's loss at Nevada ... LB D.J. Holt produced 16 tackles against Nevada - most by a Cal player since Thomas DeCoud produced 16 at Washington on Nov. 17, 2007 ... California ranks seventh nationally in scoring and ninth in punt returns. The Bears are 118th nationally in kickoff returns ... Vereen is tied for second nationally in scoring and PR Jeremy Ross is 10th in punt returns.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH:

    Wildcats:

    QB Nick Foles -- Arizona was driving for a go-ahead field goal in the final two minutes against Cal last season, facing third-and-3 at the Bears 25, when Foles caught his own deflected pass ... and then made a critical error. He attempted another forward pass (which is illegal), and the ensuing penalty knocked the Wildcats out of field goal range. Cal then scored another touchdown. "You have to move forward, and you have to grow and learn from it," Foles said. "And that's what I did."

    DT Justin Washington -- The redshirt freshman has been a revelation and is the kind of active inside pass rusher that Wildcats weren't sure they had. Washington has four sacks to lead the Pac-10 and is a nice complement to the outside rush from ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore.

    WR David Douglas -- With receiver Juron Criner possibly out because of a turf toe injury, Douglas becomes the go-to guy in the passing game. He often finds the holes in the short zone, but isn't the deep threat that Criner gives the offense. Douglas has a team-high 16 catches for 140 yards.

    Bears:

    QB Kevin Riley -- He must do two things: wipe away the memory of the Nevada game, in which he made several key mistakes, and handle the Arizona pass rush. If he can avoid sacks and mistakes in the face of the Wildcats' pressure, the Bears have a shot. But that is something Riley has been unable to do in the past.

    LB Mike Mohamed -- He had 14 tackles and an interception return for a touchdown against Colorado, but he did not play against Nevada, and it showed. Cal hopes he can play and be at close to full speed against Arizona despite a toe injury that sidelined him against Nevada.

    TB Shane Vereen -- He had the best game of his career against Nevada, rushing for 198 yards and producing several spectacular runs. It will be more difficult to do that against Arizona's defense, but if he can gain enough yards to keep the pressure off Kevin Riley, he will have done his job.

    INJURY WATCH:

    Wildcats:

    WR Juron Criner (turf toe, day-to-day), FB Taimi Tutogi (knee, out), DT Willie Mobley (knee, questionable).

    Bears:

    CB Steve Williams (thumb, probable), LB Mike Mohamed (toe, questionable), TE Jarrett Sparks (ankle, questionable).

    PREDICTION: Arizona, 37-20


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