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Can the Bears get back on track against a program it has beaten eight of the last nine times they have played?
The California Golden Bears are an unimpressive 1-3 (0-1 Pac-12) going into today's home game against the Arizona State Sun Devils (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12). The Bears have just finished a two-game stretch (at Ohio State, at USC) where few, if any, Cal fans thought the Bears would go anything other than 0-2. So going 0-2 in the Horseshoe and the Coliseum wasn't unexpected. But losing to Nevada in the opener is still one that sticks in the Bears' craw. If Cal is going to make a bowl game this year, it cannot afford to lose games that it expected to win going into the season.
Enter the Sun Devils. Just as few Cal fans expected the Bears to beat Ohio State or USC on the road, most Cal fans probably penciled in "Win" when seeing the ASU game on the schedule. After all, the Bears have had the Sun Devils' number of late, winning eight of the last nine in the series, including a 47-38 win in Tempe in last season's regular season finale. But four games into the season, today's game is anything but a putative win for the Bears. To paraphrase Dennis Green, ASU is not what we thought they were. And, for that matter, neither are the Bears.
ASU, under first-year coach Todd Graham, has won three of its first four games and has a different look about them than Sun Devil teams under Dennis Erickson and Dirk Koetter before him. The appearance of discipline in ASU football so far this season is a welcome sight for fans of Sparky. Meanwhile, Cal has frustrated its fans with erratic play, mental mistakes, penalties, and red zone failure. After last week's maddeningly frustrating 27-9 loss at USC, Cal Coach Jeff Tedford's seat is arguably getting hotter: if ASU can come into Berkeley and get a win today, Sparky will only make that seat hotter.
Is this a must-win game for Cal? It very well could be. More game info below. Go Bears!
Saturday, Sept. 29, 1:00 p.m. (PT)
Cal (1-3) vs. Arizona State (3-1)
California Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, CA
TV: FX - Justin Kutcher (Play-by-Play), Eric Crouch (Analyst), Darius Walker (Sideline Reporter)
Cal Commercial Radio: KGO 810 AM (San Francisco) - Joe Starkey (Play-by-Play), Mike Pawlawski (Analyst, *Pregame Show), Todd McKim (Sideline, *Pregame Show), Lee Grosscup (^Postgame Show), Kate Scott (^Postgame Show) *Pregame Show: Lisa and Douglas Goldman Plaza, Memorial Stadium;^Postgame Show: Claremont Hotel Club & Spa, 41 Tunnel Road, Berkeley, CA
IMG College/Cal Radio Network Affiliates:*KFPT 790 AM (Fresno), KGO 810 AM (San Francisco), +KLAA 830 AM (Los Angeles), KRAK 910 AM (Los Angeles), KAHI 950 AM (Sacramento), KESP 970 AM (Modesto), KFIG 1430 AM (Fresno), XEPE 1700 AM (San Diego) ^Primary, *Secondary; +preempted by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim broadcast
All-Access Radio: The Cal commercial radio broadcast of the Golden Bears' game against Arizona State can be heard on the Internet through the All-Access channel on CalBears.com. All-Access can be found under the Multimedia tab at the top of the page at CalBears.com.
Cal Student Radio: KALX 90.7 FM, kalx.com (Berkeley) - Isaac Wolf (Play-by-Play), Danny Fry (Analyst), Beni Shpringer (Analyst)
Sirius XM Satellite Radio: Cal's commercial radio broadcast feed of the Cal-Arizona State game can be heard on Sirius XM satellite radio on channel 94 on Sirius and channel 200 on XM.
CalBears.com: Visit CalBears.com for complete coverage of Cal football, including a live play-by-play update via Gametracker.
Earlier this week, norcalnick previewed the Arizona State defense and what we might be able to expect against the Cal offense. The verdict? Well, we don't know. The Sun Devils have done pretty well defensively so far this season, but they have also had the fortune of playing three teams forced to start their backup quarterback. So what do we make of this?
Against the Run
2011: 4.28 yards allowed/attempt, 68th in the nation
2012: 3.18 yards allowed/attempt, 27th in the nation
Arizona State has had to defend a whole mess of runs so far this year - 169 in four games, or about 42/game. That's a ton, especially since ASU blew out three of their opponents. Cal will be the first team ASU has played that won't be explicitly trying to run the ball on all standard downs and that will maintain some sort of normal run/pass balance.
Against the Pass
2011: 7.9 yards allowed/attempt, 98th in the nation
2012: 5.2 yards allowed/attempt, 11th in the nation
11th in the nation, but against an FCS school and three backup QBs on teams that prefer to run the ball anyway. Essentially, we have zero clue about what the ASU pass defense is capable of. We can confirm that they weren't good last year (Zach Maynard had one of the top two or three performances of his career against ASU last year) but how much does that mean now that they're under an entirely new coaching staff?
That's the Cal offense against the ASU defense. But what about the other side of the ball? Cal's defense yielded a disgusting 296 yards rushing against USC last week. Will the matchup be any better against the Sun Devil offense? In his weekly "Knowing Your Enemy" post, ManBearCal took a look at the ASU offense. Regarding the battle in the trenches, he had this to say about the ASU offensive line:
This group has held their own against some very talented defensive fronts, specifically Utah's last week. Sure, they didn't generate much push in the run game, but they did keep [ASU QB] Taylor Kelly clean and vertical. And that's pretty important in any offense. While I love our talent up front, I hate our inability to generate pressure. We have fewer sacks than ASU's three previous FBS opponents. We've got the guys, we're just not getting it done. And what we're doing defensively is an insult to Bob Gregory. Are we attacking? No. Are we containing? LOL NO. So what are we doing? Welp, besides missing assignments and not getting off the field on 3rd down... I'm not too sure! This would be a really good week to find our identity up front and execute accordingly. We have the horses to make life tough for this line. And we'll need to in order to win this game. So do we have it in us? Can't know.
This is a good offense, and it's going to take a really strong defensive effort to win this game. The kind of defensive effort we have yet to see this year. I don't doubt that we're capable of stringing together some defensive stops, but I have serious concerns as to whether we can do it for four quarters. With the way our offense performed last week and the fact that ASU has an aggressive defense, our defense will need to do its part on Saturday. Can we? Yes. Will we? No clue. It's been that kind of year thus far.
Enough hand wringing and talking. Time to go out and win a game. Because goodness knows Cal needs a win.