California 50, Arizona State 17: No Place Like Home

I'm still not quite sure what gives Memorial Stadium such an intrinsic advantage over most other fields in the Pac-10. It's probably the seventh or eighth loudest stadium in the conference--by design it just can't capture a lot of noise. Today it was particularly empty--the student section was about 70% full, and the rest of the stadium was even worse. By the end of the game, I'd say Memorial was 20% full as the remaining drenched fans fled the premises.

It's generally pretty ideal weather to play football (although today was a notable exception)--never too hot, never too cold, occasionally windy or rainy, but a pretty beautiful place to play football for both home and road teams. The turf isn't exactly the greatest field, but it works well enough and is easily adaptable for most opponents. Maybe it's that claustrophobic locker room the visitors have to use...

Nevertheless, the 2010 California Golden Bears stand undefeated at home after seven weeks. They've outscored their opponents 189-34 (each game being pretty much over by halftime), and put up 50 on three opponents, with the Arizona St. Sun Devils being the latest casualty. They're now 35-6 at home since 2004, and 35-0 against teams not named Oregon State and USC.  So far, so good in the final season in the current incarnation of Memorial. 

These impressive marks will probably end in a few weeks when our toughest road tests come to town, but for now let's appreciate those incredible marks, because older generations of fans all remember the seasons when Cal couldn't win jack at home. Jeff Tedford's teams still have trouble in road games (only capturing five of their last eighteen games), which means the final road trip to Oregon State and Washington State should be greeted with wariness. But when you come to our house, you're still firmly in Bear Territory.

Kevin Riley broke out of a four-game slump and directed a pretty perfect game--it seems as if the Sun Devils defense was the perfect antidote for the struggling Golden Bears passing game. Riley went 19 of 28, 238 yards, 2 touchdowns, no picks. During the second quarter when Cal broke the game open, he went 11 of 14 for 175 yards and both his throws, directing the Golden Bears on three effective scoring drives to make it 26-3. He found Jeremy Ross downfield on a rollout on 3rd down, then threaded the needle to Keenan Allen in the end zone. He threw two deep bombs to Marvin Jones, both of which Jones adjusted to and completed. He came inches close to notching a third touchdown on a pretty good fade to Jones in the end zone. Battling a tough win and the inclement weather, Riley put up his best performance against good competition this season.

The offensive line still looks like a work in progress. Riley was sacked four times, twice almost immediately after the snap. The Cal running game performed alright before being swallowed whole in the second half. Shane Vereen had to create his first touchdown almost by himself with a nifty hopstep move. Shane feinted to the outside, hopped back to the left on the inside, then immediately hopped back and gained the edge to put Cal up 10-3. It seemed that Arizona State's backside pursuit always bit inside and left the outside vulnerable; Ross would get his own touchdown on a reverse to cap off the scoring in the fourth quarter.

Vereen picked up 92 yards on 19 carries, and Isi Sofele added solid support with 37 yards on 9 carries. Both tailbacks impressed me with their ability to bounce back from first contact, particularly Vereen, who has some of the most impressive five to six yard runs I've ever seen with his ability to slip tackles. Both Vereen and Sofele also came out of the Wildcat on several occasions, with decent results. Vereen scored BOTH of his touchdowns on direct snaps, and Sofele and Vereen combined for an additional 26 rushing yards that way.

As is customary of the Sun Devils, they were happy to kill themselves. 9 penalties on 72 yards, four penalties on two touchdown drives that set up first and goals deep inside the ASU red zone.

The defense continued their schizophrenic ways, only allowing three of those seventeen points and none after the first drive of the game. The Cal pass defense shined. Sean Cattouse reemerged with eight tackles, and made plenty more noise, intercepting a pass from Steven Threet and breaking up another. Mychal Kendricks tip-toed along the sidelines to intercept an early Threet fade route. Chris Conte blocked a punt and strolled into the end zone to make it 40-10. D.J. Campbell added a sack and Marc Anthony capped off the great defensive play by intercepting a virtual punt from backup quarterback Samson Szakacsy. Threet and Szakacsy combined to complete under half their passes and an average 5.7 YPA.

In addition, the run defense bottled up Cameron Marshall and Deantre Lewis, who combined for only 50 rushing yards. Arizona State had only about two yards per rushing carry. Inside linebackers D.J. Holt and Mike Mohamed combined for 15 tackles, with Cameron Jordan and Derrick Hill adding nine more. The ASU Airraid had as much success getting going against Cal's front seven as Arizona's did. Today the defense got the offensive support they needed to notch the W.

Special teams was all over the place. Giorgio Tavecchio had some pretty good kickoffs, but coverage was spotty (sometimes great, sometimes bad). Conte blocked the ASU punt for a touchdown, but the Devils countered with a block of their own that they returned for their first touchdown of the game. Ross had some nice punt returns, but the unit also gave up a blocked extra point. Thankfully the game was never in doubt, because this unit can't be this schizophrenic if they plan to have a winning season the rest of the way.

So now Cal is 4-3 heading into their last road trip of the season. There are still a lot of unanswered questions as to what this team can do against formidable foes (UCLA and Arizona State are arguably going to be near the bottom of the conference).  Oregon State has had Cal's number the past three years, and Washington State is looking feistier and feistier. Both of those games are winnable; whether we're capable of winning these games is anyone's guess.

But after that, they come back to Memorial. Regardless of the opponent (the likely Pac-10 champions, or the strongest Furd team we've played in a decade), we all know what we're capable of here.

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