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CGB Pre-Season: Arizona Roundtable

TwistNHook: Yes! Not playing Arizona in November! The gods of scheduling have shined upon us. So, even if we lose, it won't be as emotionally devastating as in the past.

The key player for Arizona is Nick Foles, who I predict is neither the president nor a member of the Hair Club For Men:



Here are his career stats:










125. 25







That efficiency rating is not the greatest, but the completion percentage is really good. What I am looking at is our revamped Cal secondary beating their Air Raid attack this year. Last year, we harassed him greatly, but it took an illegal double pass at a key moment in the game for Cal to hold on. Foles is only going to get better and now we are playing them on the road.

This is definitely going to be a tough game. What do you guys think?

Kodiak: I think someone already said it quite eloquently. The desert is where Cal football dreams go to die. Sigh.

Arizona lost both their offensive and defensive coordinators this past year. In an interesting decision, Coach Stoops decided to promote their Oline and RB/TE coaches to the position of co-offensive coordinators, and their LB and Secondary coaches to the position of co-defensive coordinators. On the one hand, I suppose it ensures continuity - there shouldn't be any hangover effect from installing new schemes on either side of the ball. I think that it's a bad move, personally. It really increases the workload on the coaching staff and creates the strong possibility of friction as well as second-guessing. I remember that when Tedford participated more directly with the offensive playcalling, he didn't have enough time to closely monitor the pulse of the team. In this case, none of the position coaches have ever been coordinators before...and calling live plays is a lot different than offering input as the understudy.

When it was rolling last year, their spread offense was nearly unstoppable and it looks to be just as strong this year. They have two solid backs in Antolin and Grigsby, a dangerous WR in Criner, and Foles will be back for his second year as a starters. Foles is one of those guys that doesn't seems all that impressive in practice, but he understands their scheme, makes quick decisions, and is annoyingly accurate. Their O-line is pretty stout, and have two returning starters who were 2nd team all-league last year. Thank goodness that tank with legs (Gronkowski) took his act to the NFL.

Their defense isn't nearly as formidable on paper, but Stoops usually finds a way to present a tough match-up to Tedford's offenses. They have three seniors on their D-line, and one standout corner. (Wade) All three LB's are new and may rely on JC transfers.

Honestly, I have no idea how we slowed their defense last year, so I'm not sure how we'll manage it this year. Their offense is a horrible match-up for our defense because of how it exposes our uncertain depth and inexperience at corner. They get the ball out so quickly that it largely negates any attempt to get to the QB. And, they have a potent enough running game to make us respect it. Like it or not, rush 3 and drop 8 might be one way to go. Or, we try to man up, play tight press coverage, and take our chances.

It looks like our best chance is to hope our offense is up to the task of another shoot-out. Ball-control with sustained drives might be our best bet for slowing down their offense. If our O-line can dominate and let our running game take advantage of their inexperience at LB, we've got a shot.

OhioBear: The Arizona game will be a tough test, no question about it. It is in Tucson, where we have not won since 2004. It is the Pac-10 opener, so Arizona will probably have its home fans in a frenzy. Arizona has a very good passing attack, led by a quarterback who has a year of experience under his belt, and what Cal fan does not have trepidation about the Golden Bear pass defense? Plus, Nick Foles has now learned that he cannot throw two forward passes on the same play, so we cannot count on catching a break like THAT again this year. So what are we to do?

I would very much like to see Cal go in there 3-0 and come out of there 4-0. But this is just one of those games where I don't think we can expect Cal to win. Would it surprise me if we pulled it off? Heck no. We have a good enough team to get it done. And last year, I think Cal surprised us all by putting together an unexpectedly good defensive performance in slowing down Arizona's high powered offense. So it wouldn't surprise me to see Cal go in there and steal one. But I just don't think we can expect to have that happen.
Unless our guys on defense suddenly transform themselves into the 2009 Nebraska defense in the Holiday Bowl, we have to expect that Arizona will move the ball and gets its share of points. Arizona is capable of having a balanced rushing/passing attack. And even if we are able to muster a pass rush against Foles, the dude is still tough to bring down. Whenever I watched Arizona last year (including in the game against Cal), it seemed like Foles had a way of making the first would-be sacker miss, or just breaking the tackle. He reminds me of Ben Roethlisberger that way (which is better than reminding people of Ben Roethlisberger in that other way).
With Arizona's potent offense, we might be in position of having to outscore them. And while I might like that kind of party against Nevada, I'm not sure if that's the kind of party we can hang with in Arizona. As much as I would like to break our losing streak in Tucson and get off to a 1-0 start in Pac-10 play, I predict we will see Cal's first loss of the season in this one.
Prediction: Arizona 33, Cal 21.

Kodiak: Do I get flagged if I predict a Cal loss? (45-27)

Atomsareenough: Cal 42, Arizona 38

I think this is going to be a close one, but I don't think Arizona is as good as advertised.

I think it's going to be a relatively high-scoring affair featuring two potent and balanced offenses, but I'd give the edge to a revitalized Cal defense, confident after handling that crazy Nevada pistol attack the week earlier. Nick Foles doesn't get a ton of attention in a year when all anyone can seem to talk about is Jake Locker’s mom and Andrew Luck, but I'd say he's in the same ballpark as those guys. On our side of the ball, I think this will really be the game where we get a good sense of what our team is capable of. We should know by the end of this game whether Riley has really taken a step forward in his development or whether he's gonna be his same old inconsistent self.

Anyway, Cal hasn't been a good road team for a long time, but I think we're getting better. We won last year in Tempe, and this time around it's Tucson's turn. I'm expecting a close and exciting game. Though, I was expecting last year's Oregon, USC, and Washington games to be close and exciting, so what do I know.

Avinash: Well, two things come to mind when I think of the Arizona victory.

1) We stopped the run. Keoala Antolin ran all over us in 2008. Now, Antolin isn't a slouch, but that performance looks more and more inexplicable with each passing week. This forced the linebackers to play closer in, which allowed Willie Tuitama to air it out more against single coverage. And the secondary slipped up a bit. Boom. 28 point quarter.

Last season the front three dominated the line of scrimmage and kept Antolin at arm's length (19 carries for 78 yards, -5 yards for the rest of the team). This allowed the linebackers to be a little bit more active in the pass game; they weren't caught in those deadly 2nd and 3rd and short situations that Airraid offenses feast on, as they were able to focus on the air and cutting off passing lanes.

With Antolin and Grigsby returning this year and probably four 320-pounds-and-above linemen powering the attack ahead of them, I feel again that stopping the run is critical to ensuring Arizona's pass attack doesn't get rolling.

2) Nick Foles doesn't throw the ball very far. Maybe he can, but it doesn't really show. Arizona had one of the most efficient passing offenses in the conference, but averaged only 6.2 YPA, tying for next-to-last in the conference among the most productive quarterbacks.

Against Cal, Foles only averaged 4.9 YPA. They throw screens, they throw slants, they throw outs, they throw crosses. I don't remember him throwing it much further than ten yards last season, and the one throw I remember going deep got picked off by Josh Hill. It makes it a lot easier for safeties to play shallow and cram up the intermediate routes. An effective deep ball could go a long way to steering Foles and the Wildcats toward the next level.

If the Wildcats can get either one of those happening next season, they should be in great position to win it and turn the effort over to their defense.

TwistNHook: This is going to be a key game for Cal, even early in the season. I say that, because Cal is expected to battle Arizona for middle of the road status in the Pac10. Cal was picked 7th in the Pac10 Media Poll, while Arizona was picked 5th:

1. Oregon (15) 314
2. USC (12) 311
3. Oregon State (3) 262
4. Stanford (1) 233
5. Arizona (2) 222
6. Washington (1) 209
7. Cal 175
8. UCLA (1) 134
9. Arizona State 81
10. Washington State 39.

I'm a little surprised that Arizona got 2 first place votes, but not as surprised as the fact that UCLA got one. Whatever. Anyway, I think that this will be an important game to show where Cal is in the scheme of things. It's the first real away game of the season for Cal (because you know Reno is going to be blowing up with Cal fans). It is a tough team trying to improve from last year's successful squad.

This will be an interesting game for Arizona.

They start the season with Toledo and the Citadel, because clearly the SEC is scheduling Arizona's football games now. Then, they have Iowa at home, which could be difficult. Iowa surprised a lot of people last year by going 11-2. And then us. With a difficult Oregon State team coming to town the next week (because Arizona scheduled 4 home games in a row!).

So, Arizona might be overlooking us a bit sandwiched between one of the best BigX teams and a clearly good OSU team. One can hope, right?

NorCalNick: I really don't know what to make of Arizona. Last year 7 of their 9 Pac-10 games were decided by 8 points or less (only AZ victories over UCLA and Wazzu were by double digits). They didn't have the talent to pull away from good competition, but they had enough to play with anybody . . . until they just got demolished by Suh and Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. I guess that's an understandable loss, but the way it happened was rather shocking. They were outgained by almost 300 yards!

One of the few reasons I'm cautiously optimistic is because Arizona lost 7 starters on defense, including 3 linebackers. And I think we Cal fans have a pretty good appreciation on how hard it can be to replace three linebackers in one year (WHY DID YOU LEAVE US PAINTRAIN?!?). And the late arrest/suspension/transfer of WR Delashaun Dean means that the Wildcats lose 2 of their top 4 wideouts. Maybe that will hinder the pass happy air raid, although the system seems to treat WRs as if they were almost entirely fungible.

Berkelium97: It's even tougher to anticipate how Arizona will fare this year because they lost their defensive coordinator Mark Stoops and their offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes. At least their all-everything tight end Rob Gronkowski is in the NFL now.

TwistNHook: Also, its likely Vontaze Burfict will kill at least 3 Arizona players before the season even starts.

yellow fever: I'm wary, and not just because we're playing the Wildcats in Arizona. Strange things (and not good things) tend to happen when our Bears get out there, although as Mike Stoops told me, he doesn't thinkt here's any secret there. Our teams usually tend to be pretty evenly matched, so a key matchup in favor of either team can swing things. I'd say losing two starters from our secondary facing off against the Air Raid isn't a good matchup.

Avinash: Defensively, you have to look at how well Riley can attack the two areas of the field where they should be week--the middle, and the flats. With no linebackers returning, Anthony Miller has a really good chance to feast. If you can get someone like Lagemann who's capable of handling passes in the teeth of the defense, that'll force the safeties to play closer in, which could open up the deep post routes that Riley is so fond of throwing.


You could try throwing short routes to the sides via screens or little out routes, which would force linebackers to shield to the outside, which would open up the running game on the interior. There's a lot of different ways you could see Ludwig trying to checkmate Arizona's two new defensive coordinators.

Now, a crucial matchup I see here is between the two defensive ends of Arizona and our two tackles. Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed are likely to be the best pass-rushing duo on the front edge we see this year (outside of Oregon, we'll get to them later), so it's important Mitchell Schwartz and Matt Summers-Gavin hold their own. This'll be MSG's first legit pass rusher he'll face, so if he can hold his ground it's a good sign for the rest of the season.



The big reason Cal fans should be optimistic about this game is the running game, which should match up very well if the offensive line plays the way they did last season. Cal rushed for over 176 yards last season on Arizona ( you take Vereen's clincher at the end away, we still trail only Nebraska, Oregon, the Furd and Iowa. A solid effort from a not-so-great offensive line.

As norcalnick says, with the offensive line returning mostly intact and Arizona's front seven diminished, it'll be important to either

1) Establish the run.
2) Establish the short passing game.

I don't think we can win if Riley is trying to throw into the teeth of the secondary most of the game, which will happen if the run game gets stopped or the short passing game is ineffective. Marvin Jones and whomever's beside him will have their hands full trying to battle All Pac-10 second team Trevin Wade and senior Marcus Benjamin. If we can establish things close in, a lot of things will open up for us elsewhere.

HydroTech: What scares me about Arizona is the trend that the home team will win the game. From 2003-2009, the home team has won the match up every time but once. That one exception was in 2004, when Cal beat Arizona in Tuscon to a tune of 38-0. This is worth noting because the 2004 Cal Football team was perhaps one of the best Cal teams ever. So as since Cal is at Arizona in 2010, Cal's defensive secondary seems a little suspect, and Arizona's offense is returning everyone and their mother, this looks like it could be a very tough game for Cal.

Let's not jinx ourselves here. Arizona wins big time: 99-0.

Berkelium97: Some stupid, unpredictable events cause Cal to lose another game in Tuscon. Arizona 35, Cal 28

Avinash: If Shane Vereen rushes for 300 yards, I'd say we have a 94.2% chance of victory.

NorCalNick: I'm guessing that Shane has a big day running against Arizona's revamped front seven, but that Foles has an equally big day through the air against Cal's iffy secondary. Given all that I have to give the advantage to the home team. Wildcats 38, Bears 30.