This Saturday's match should prove to be a vastly entertaining but an unpredictable affair. After all, Arizona State and Cal have been the SUPRISE teams of the Pac 10. The pre-season experts picked ASU and Cal as the #9 and #10 teams in the conference, respectively. This game is hard to gauge for two reasons. Cal's play over the last 2 1/2 games has not resembled the team's play earlier in the season. The Bear's early season potent offense has almost disappeared, though that might have something to do with the top three Pac 10 defenses (in total defense) the team has recently faced: Oregon State, USC and UCLA. Although the Bear defense has been improving steadily throughout the season - it was physically overpowered and "run over" by USC (175+ yards) and Oregon State (300+ yards) only two times this season...
Arizona State's recent performance has proved similaarly variable -
almost a "Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde" - on both sides of the ball. The
SunDevil's offense shocked the nation with the firepower it demonstrated against
Stanford (65 points) and against Oregon (45 points) but has looked decidedly ordinary in
two of its last four Pac 10 encounters against Oregon State (13 points) and Washington
State (22 points). It's defense has dominated three of its last six opponents:
Stanford, Oregon State and Washington. However, the same unit yielded huge offensive
outputs against the other half: North Carolina (38 points), Oregon (42 points) and
Washington State (44 points)... The question is .. when will the real SunDevil
defense please stand up?
This game crystalizes as an potential upset based upon intangible factors, player matchups and positive statistical comparisons in Cal's "formula for victory". We can hope that the Bears hit bottom during its ninth consecutive game in Corvallis on October 26th when Oregon State beat Cal for the first time this season in every category that are "keys" for Cal victory. For example, Cal was outscored in the first half for the first time this season, 21-10. Cal lost the turnover margin for another first. Oregon State shut down Cal in "red zone scoring" for the first time all season, allowing the Bears to score only 1 touchdown in 5 opportunities. If Cal had scored at its normal 96% proficiency rate, it would have tallied aan addirrional 24 points. (Oregon State won the game 24-13.) I predicted Cal to pull an upset against the Beavers in a defensive struggle by 3 points - if Cal had played true to form, my forecast would have been close. As a side note - the eleven point deficit was Cal's most one-sided loss of the 2002 campaign.
ASU and Cal run basically the same schemes as Oregon. Dirk Koetter and Jeff Tedford were both former offensive coordinators for the Ducks. Will this materially affect the outcome of Saturday's game? Doubtful. ASU launched an aerial assault to outgun Oregon, 45-42, in Eugene three weeks ago so it definitely didn't affect offensive production. Last season, Oregon's offense under the direction of OC Jeff Tedford blew out ASU at the same venue, 42-24, cranking out 474 yards...The Duck offensive line limited the SunDevil's "D" to only a single sack. On the flip side of the coin, Oregon's defense registered 6 sacks against Dirk Koetter's ASU offense. As most Bear fans know, Cal's new Defensive Coordinator, Bob Gregory, has installed an Oregon style defense in Berkeley this season.
This Saturday is ASU's Senior Day. Fortunately, Arizona State is a young team with few seniors. However, this final home game of 2002 should get the fans as well as the players riled up early. On the therhand, there's a real possibility that the ASU players could be "lacking intensity" for the Cal game. It happens that the SunDevils have to deal with Bears in between their two biggest games of the season. Can a young Arizona State team rebound emotionally after being "blownout" in a Pac 10 battle for supremacy vs Washington State last week? USC has a bye this week and eagerly awaits the SunDevils in Los Angeles for a showdown for Pac 10 runner-up one week hence. Finally, ASU is playing its seventh consecutive game while Cal comes off a bye week. It's a scary proposition for any opponent to give Jeff Tedford two weeks to prepare a gameplan. Cal also has survived the toughest part of its schedule-"the gauntlet"-and is now facing the teams that were the pre-season picks for the bottom four (including Cal, of course) of the conference. Cal should matchup much better talent wise with Arizona State, Arizona and Stanford over the next three weeks than it fared against seven consecutive opponents that had been ranked in the top 25 this season. Many observers predicted that Tedford and Co would be fortunate to win one game-usually the home OOC tilt with Air Force-during this stretch (@ Michigan St, Air Force, Washington St, @ Washington, @ USC, UCLA and @ Oregon St). In reality, Cal earned some national respect for its football program, surviving the "gauntlet" with three wins vs four losses despite losing to Air Force! Believe it or not-the Bears were actually ranked #23 in the nation after starting the season 3-0 wih the upset of Spartans in East Lansing...
***Cal's Offense vs Arizona State's Defense***
ASU is a young inexperienced, hyperactive team that leads the Pac 10 in
BOTH "take-aways" with 30 and "give-aways" (turnovers) with 24!*
Dirk Koetter has built an ASU defense-an unorthodox 4-2-5 scheme-predicated on speed and "swarming to the football." It has worked to the extent that they lead the Pac 10 over 10 games with 18 interceptions, 42 sacks and are tied for second in fumble recoveries with 12. If one does the math on the turnovers-that's an average of three "take-aways" per ballgame.
ASU employs four defensive linemen, two inside linebackers, two cornerbacks and three safeties. The uniqueness comes with the deployment of the safeties. On most occasions, the weak safety, Alfred Williams (6'1" 202), the team's hardest hitter, and the strong safety, Riccardo Stewart (5'10" 195), play like outside linebackers. I witnessed Stewart nearly KO a Nebraska Cornhusker in the season opener with a devastating hit on a swing pass "in the flat". They actually line up outside the defensive ends about 5-7 yards off the line of scrimmage. **It's a "de-facto" 4-4-3 defense which utilizes the zone blitz 100% of the time and is virtually impossible to sweep against or to complete short passes on consistently...** The free safety, Jason Shivers, plays centerfield and leads the team in tackles with approximately 8 per game. He's exactly on pace with his 2001 season when he lead the team in tackles with 89 as a true freshman. To back up the assertion that these guys play more like linebackers, check out these numbers. R Stewart is third on the team with 74 tackles in 9 games (average of 8.2), totalling 11.5 TFLs inclusive of 3 sacks. A Williams (& Joey Smith) have manned the weak safety spot and registered a combined 51 tackles, totalling 10 TFLs that includes 5.5 sacks. From the "all-name" team, the #2 defender on the SunDevil "D" unit is right inside LB Mason Unck with an average of 7.6 tackles per game, totalling 10 TFLs including 2 sacks. The left inside backer post will be played by Solomon Bates (6' 2" 261) because starter Josh Amobi is still hurt. This tandem has combined for 65 tackles, totalling 10 TFLs inclusive of 2 sacks. The number four and five tacklers on the team are the two super defensive ends, AA Terrell Suggs (18.5 sacks) and Jimmy Verdon (4 sacks), with 5.2 and 4.1 tackles per game, respectively. These are perhaps the most impressive numbers in the entire Pac 10 by defensive linemen. By comparison, Cal's Tully Banta-Cain averages about 3 tackles per game. Obviously, the ASU defensive ends drop back in pass coverage quite a bit like linebackers, allowing the weak and strong safeties to blitz "off the corners".
In summary, the SunDevil defense averages 10 TFLs and 4.2 sacks per
contest. Simply amazing stats! This hyper-activity of players "flying to the
ball" combined with incessant zone blitzing causes frequent turnovers but also coughs
up many big plays. To provide some perspective, ASU yields 37 yards per game LESS THAN CAL
in total defense. This advantage completely comes from its rushing defense (which includes
the substantial sack yardage). The Pac 10 defensive stats are relatively close for teams
#3-10 with only 42 yards per contest separating #3 and Cal (#10). ASU is ranked #5 in
total defense. Under the "food for thought" column, Cal's tailback, Joe Igber,
had a career game in Tempe against ASU the last time that the teams played during the 2000
season under different coaching staffs for both schools. The SunDevil's young defense is
in for a "treat" (in the Halloween spirit) because 8 out of the eleven starters
have ever attempted to tackle little Joe... Cal has been working on its running game
during the bye week so if the Bears can gain 120-150 yards on the ground it might
translate to victory. This would force the SunDevils to respect the run and not "tee
off" on Mr Boller. It won't come easy-the ASU "D" yields 102 yards per game
rushing and Cal's rushing game has produced only 95 yards per game. Joe Igber has averaged
4 yards per carry which means the potential is there. It would behoove Cal not to be so
predictable on offense especially on first downs runs. The Bears averaged just over 2
yards per play on first downs versus UCLA and Oregon State in its last two games which
puts the offense in untenable long yardage passing situations. This would not be a good
idea against Terrell Suggs and Company.
In pass defense, Arizona State ranks #7 in the Pac 10 to Cal's #5, giving up 249 and 245 ypg, respectively. ASU gambles a lot and leads in interceptions(18) but also has given up the second most TD passes (19) next to Oregon's porous secondary(21). Cal has permitted 11 scoring passes which is average. It should also be noted that Cal is second best in the conference in not giving up interceptions. Boller has only thrown 6. The SunDevils breakup many pass plays, allowing the league's second lowest completion percentage of 49.7%. Cal's offense, however, has generated 16 plays of in excess of 50 yards this season so hopefully Jeff Tedford can devise some "big plays" to combat this unorthodox defense. However, it does make one flashback to Air Force's 3-5-3 defense that shut Cal's offense down...Cal's pass offense is rated #6 in the "pass happy" Pac 10, averaging 252.5 ypg but leads the conference in scoring passes per game with an average of 2.44! This is an important stat. Kyle Boller should avoid ASU corner, RJ Oliver, who has been stalwart in 2002 with 4 picks and 15 passes defensed. The other cb, is a converted safety, Brett Hudson (6'2" 208), a juco transfer. Cal needs to get all three WRs (Ward, McArthur and Makonnen) involved in the passing game like earlier this season. Ward should be able to be Hudson deep. Also, Swoboda and Igber should be effective in the blitz "vacancies" as safety valve options.
On the same theme, ASU is ranked #8 in the Pac 10 in red zone defense matched against Cal's #2 ranking in red zone offense. Cal is successful in scoring points INSIDE THE 20 on 92% of its attempts whereas ASU fails to stop the opposition from scoring on nearly 80% (actually 79%) of its chances. In scoring defense, the SunDevils(26.4 ppg) as a team actually allow 2 points per game more than Cal (24.6 ppg) does...
One final stat that provides a ray of hope is Cal's excellent pass protection this season. The Bears are #2 in the Pac 10, permitting Kyle Boller to be sacked less than twice per game (17x in 9 games). Washington State tops the circuit with 15 over 9 games. Oregon is third best, allowing an even 2 sacks per game(18). Both Washington State and Oregon "controlled" the SunDevil blitzkrieg, scoring 44 and 42 points, respectively, against Arizona State. It's interesting to note that Cal has yielded fewer sacks than its opponents five times this season and is 5-0 in those games. It has allowed more sacks in three games and is 0-3 in those. Sacks broke even in one game (USC) which Cal lost by a meager two points.
***Cal's Defense vs Arizona State's Offense***
This matchup might be determined by Cal's experienced and deep defensive line versus ASU's inexperienced, young offensive line. Cal needs to stop the run and apply consistent pressure on the inexperienced but phenominal, sophomore quarterback, Andrew Walter(6'5" 219), or else! Arizona State had an unprecedented five OLs drafted by the NFL this spring. The "new" SunDevil OLine has been suprisingly effective considering the fact that it has four players without previous starting experience. It's been decent in pass protection but has yet to come together as run blockers. The ASU rushing attack is #7 in the Pac Ten, averaging 104 ypg. More importantly, the SunDevils are generating only 2.8 ypc (third lowest in the conference). Cal runs for 9 yards less per game but averages 3 yards per rush attempt. The number one objective for Cal is stop Arizona State's run so that the defensive coordinator can "play mind games" with the rookie signalcaller. Also, Cal has lost the three games this season when the opponent could control the tempo of the game with a dominant running game. Cal ranks ninth in the conference in rushing defense, yielding 142 ypg or 3.5 ypc. It should be interesting, however, because the SunDevil's net rushing yards over their last four games has been: Oregon State (55 yards), Oregon (31 yards), Washington (45 yards) and Washington State (37). Somebody has to prevail, don't they?
ASU showed a tendency to run to its left side against Washington State last week behind veteran left tackle, Regis Crawford, CCSF juco AA left guard, Tim Aa'aita, and center Tony Aguilar, a converted noseguard. The most effective tailback was Cornell Canidate, ex-Cal recruit, who seemed to prefer to cutback against the flow of the defense. He succeeded in this endeavor on probably four occasions. The power runner is tailback Mike Williams and the best receiver out of the backfield is Hakim Hill. If the SunDevil's succeed in running the football on Cal it will probably be in large part due to the top blocking fullback in the Pac 10, Mike Karney(6'0" 257). He's a load and can dominate linebackers at the point of attack. Cal's former leading tackler and MLB, King Kong Klotsche (out for the season), would certainly have come in handy in this game. Cal's linebacker corps must improve their tackling skills if the Bears hope to be successful in thwarting the opposition's run.
Arizona State ranks #4 in pass offense in the Pac 10, producing 289 ypg. The SunDevils are similar to Cal and have passed for 2.4 touchdowns per game. The Bears will probably have to "double-cover" first team all-Pac 10 wide receiver, Shaun McDonald(5'9" 172 4.4), who has 65 receptions for an average of 16.4 ypc and 1 TD per game this season. McDonald caught two long passes against Cal as a true freshman in 2000. McDonald has surpassed the 1000 yard benchmark in receiving again this season after going over 1100 yards last year. Washington State played a two-deep zone forcing ASU to throw underneath. McDonald lined up in the slot as well as put in motion to make it difficult to keep the Coug's top corner, Marcus Trufant, on him. McDonald ran lots of shallow, crossing routes across the zone defense. The fastest SunDevil is the other wideout, Daryl Lightfoot (5'9" 160 4.3), who has turned out to be more of a "possession receiver" this season, averaging only 11..2 ypc. If last week was indicative, the young quarterback rifled several quick hitch passes to Lightfoot often because of the huge cushion given by the opposing cornerback. The primary slot receiver is Skyler Fulton who averages a couple of clutch catches each week. Suprisingly, the second most effective receiver for ASU has been athletic tightend, Mike Pinkard(6'5" 264) with 5 TD receptions (tied for the Pac 10 lead among TEs with Cal's Tom Swoboda). He also leads in average yards per catch with 17.6. The potential matchups seem to be McDonald vs Cal's Jemeel Powell and Lightfoot opposed by Nmamdi Asomugha. Slot receiver will likely draw the Bear's James Bethea.
If Cal allows Walter to stand in the pocket and survey the field, the game will be high scoring for the SunDevils. However, the impotent Arizona State running attack has by-in-large allowed opponents to focus on putting pressure on QB Walter. The young OL is ranked #9 in sacks allowed, averaging 3.2 sacks per game given up. Fortunately, Cal's front four is primarily responsible for the 27 sacks in 9 games. The defense averages 8 TFLs (including 3 sacks) per contest. Obviously, the senior defensive ends for Cal's defensive line need to step up big. Tully Banta-Cain (14.5 TFLs inclusive of 8 sacks) and Jamaal Cherry (2.5 sacks) will team on the weakside to attack ASU LT, Regis Crawford. The SunDevils start a true frosh at strongside tackle, Chaz White (6'4" 293). Cal's senior tandem of Tom Canada (7 sacks in 6 games plus 4 fumbles forced) and Josh Gustaveson (2.5 sacks + 2 passes batted down) needs to dominate this matchup. SunDevil strongside guard is Palo Alto High's Drew Hodgdon (6'3" 287), a sophomore. He was schooled by perhaps the best DT in the league in WSU's Rien Long last week. Cal's strongside DT duo, Daniel Nwangwu and Tom Sverchek( 1.5 TFL inclusive of 1/2 sack), also needs to assert themselves against this young player struggling with his confidence. The Bear's weakside DT spot will likely be split between Lorenzo Alexander (3.5 TFLs) and Josh Beckham ( 2 sacks) matching up with peninsula prep and juco AA, Fa'aita. Both Nwangwu and Alexander are still looking for their initial sack of the 2002 season.
Turnovers is the other key variable when evaluating the inexperienced ASU offense matched up against the experienced Cal defense. Cal is one TO short of an average of three "take-aways" per game. ASU averages 2.4 "give-aways" per game. The Bears lead the conference in fumbles recovered with 15 while the SunDevils lead in fumbles lost by a significant margin, giving the ball away 14 times. Contrast with Cal only losing 5 fumbles this season. ASU's Walter locks onto McDonald too much, telegraphing some of his passes. ASU has thrown 10 interceptions which is tied for the third highest in the Pac 10. Cal is in the middle of the league in interceptions by its defense with 11.
Cal's winning formula:
Cal starts fast in the first half and ASU actually loses the first quarter.
As a matter of fact, ASU only plays dominantly in the third quarter, Cal's weakest
quarter, doubling up its opposition. WATCH OUT FOR THE THIRD QUARTER. Over ten games, ASU
is minus 2 points in the first quarter, plus 8 points in the second, plus 61 points in the
third and plus 9 points in the final quarter. #1-In otherwords, Cal should be capable of
securing the lead by halftime. #2-Cal should win the turnover margin battle this week
simply because the Bears secure the ball much better than ASU and turnover the ball
significantly less to the enemy. For the season, Cal has given the ball away only 11 times
in 9 games (second only to Oregon's 10). The Bears need to win it by a +2 margin to secure
a win on the road. #3-Cal should return to its prowess in red zone scoring efficiency
against the eighth place Pac 10 unit. #4-Cal's special teams are superior is every facet
but punt coverage and net punting yards. Cal units are ranked higher in both return units,
placekicking accuracy, kickoff coverage, etc. Cal's special teams caused fumbles early in
the year and ASU's return men have a proclivity to fumble. Cal has had three punts blocked
and ASU has had two blocked. Cal has blocked two punts and I believe that ASU has blocked
one. Cal has blocked a field goal and a PAT. ASU stats unavailable?
My prediction: Cal upsets #25 Arizona State 37-30!