Week 9 Game Matchup: Cal Bears VS. Arizona State Sun Devils
Cal Bears (5-2) vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (4-3)
Saturday, October 31, 12:30 PM PST
Las Vegas Favorite: Cal -6.5
Sam’s Take (36 – 14):
As it currently stands, there is a logjam in the middle of the Pac-10 that includes four teams with two conference losses. This Saturday, both Cal and Arizona State will look to separate from that jam and jump back into the top tier of the conference. This will be a match-up of strength vs. strength as the explosive Cal rushing attack faces off against ASU’s talented defense.
While Jeff Tedford’s squad will not reach the lofty goals set at the beginning of the season, the team is still in position to win 10 games and go to a high quality bowl. This week should tell us a lot about how far the team has come since the disheartening losses to USC and Cal. For the Bears to win in Tempe, they must establish the run early. Stanford was able to set the tone physically against a Devils D that is used to pushing offenses around. Cal does not have a 240-pound bulldozer at running back, so the onus will fall on the o-line to be extra nasty up front.
Jeff Tedford has stated that his offense will need to be patient in the running game, and I agree. Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen may not bust the big runs early, but I believe there will be room for them to maneuver later in the game. QB Kevin Riley must also stay patient, as the Devils are likely to throw a lot of blitz packages at him early on. Assuming Riley can weather the ASU surge, he should be able to attack a relatively vulnerable secondary.
For ASU, this is a season-defining game. Two weeks ago, the Devils were riding high after a dramatic win over U-Dub. One week later, the defense looked defenseless and the “bench Danny Sullivan” sentiments were as prevalent as ever. A win this week would put ASU right back on the path to Bowl eligibility, but the Devils will have to be substantially better in all three phases than they were in Palo Alto. Cal allowed WSU to throw the ball all over the field last week, so Chris McGaha and the ASU receivers could have a big day (especially if Syd’Quan Thompson doesn’t play).
I expect both Cal’s running game and ASU’s defensive front seven to be outstanding this week. So what does that mean? It means the winner of the battle between the Bears defense and the Devils offense will probably win this game. I believe Cal will win that battle, and while I expect a pretty tight game, the Bears will leave Tempe with a solid road victory.
Prediction: Cal 28 – Arizona State 20
Cal Player to Keep an Eye On: DE Cameron Jordan - Jordan can be flat out unblockable at times, and the Arizona native will be extra motivated to have a big game Saturday.
Arizona State Player to Keep an Eye On: RB Ryan Bass - Dennis Erickson has hinted that Bass will get more carries this week, and he gives the Devils a home run threat every time he touches the ball.
Dave’s Take (39 – 11):
I keep thinking back to Cal’s disastrous stretch against USC and Oregon, and the game plan for both of those defenses was simple; pressure, pressure, pressure. With the box stacked up and a ton of bodies flying into the backfield, it was difficult for either of the running backs to get any sort of a rhythm going, and it also forced Kevin Riley into making plenty of mistakes.
ASU’s front seven just might have the ability to emulate that defensive game plan when UCLA and Washington State were unable to. Considering UCLA put up 26 points and WSU put up 17 points, it stands to reason that even ASU’s sub-par offense should be able to get into the low 20s in scoring. Can they win the battle against Cal’s offense?
For some reason, I get the feeling that they can and will. Cal has looked great in their last two games, but they looked great in the first three games against soft opponents too (and actually, that Minnesota game was tied heading into the 4th). This is arguably the best defense left on Cal’s schedule; if they can prove me wrong and solve it, this offense just might power their way to a 10-win season.
As for ASU, this might be the weakest defense left on their schedule. If the offense continues to flounder and put way too much pressure on the defense to win them games, and they fall in this one, the road to bowling will be a lot tougher.
Prediction: Arizona State 23 – Cal 20