Know Your Foe – California

As ASU gears up for their third consecutive road game this weekend at the University of California, editor Mario Gomez answers several questions Devils Digest customers had concerning the Sun Devils' next opponent.

After the 48-14 loss to USC how hard has it been for Cal to get ready to play ASU this week?

The Bears hit the practice field Monday with the intent on learning from the debacle in the Coliseum and putting it behind them. This team has already faced adversity this season after being pistol-whipped 52-31 at Nevada then turned around to almost upset Arizona on the road.

Having the Sun Devils at home will make this much easier to adjust. The senior leaders on this team don't want to be the first to lose to ASU at Memorial Stadium in the Tedford era.

The L.A. media described Cal as unprepared with no game plan against USC, was it more coaching or personnel?

It was more of USC being better and finally playing a complete game on both sides of the ball. Everyone knew the Trojans were going to move the ball on offense, but could Cal's offense answer against a subpar USC defense?

Well, it didn't. And Cal's stout defense was unable to slow down USC in the first half. The Trojans offense showed the defense some different looks but for the most part, the Bears were just beaten straight up in the trenches.

If Cal's offense showed any life in the first half, the score likely doesn't get out of hand. But when you gain only three first downs and turn the ball over, how do you expect your defense to keep a potent USC offense from scoring consistently?

But to answer your question, the performance mostly hinges on the coaching for not having the Bears better prepared and not making proper defensive adjustments early in the game.

ASU has not won at Berkley since 1997; does that add to the Bears' sense of confidence this week?

Obviously, this team doesn't want to be the first to lose to the Sun Devils under Tedford. But to say it adds to their confidence is moot. Cal has played very well at home this season and their confidence stems from the home venue not so much the opponent. ASU is playing much better this season, and the Sun Devils will be arguably the toughest opponent to date to come to Memorial Stadium.

This game will go a long way proving if Cal is really the persona you ask in the next question…

What do you attribute Cal's Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde play so far?

Inconsistent offense! The Nevada defense is not very good; Cal could have won a shootout regardless of their defensive breakdowns in Reno on Sept. 17. The Kevin Riley pick-six turned a 3-pt game, where Cal was driving for the go-ahead-score, to a 10-pt Nevada lead and all the momentum. The Cal defense dominated the following week in Tucson, but the offense mustered only three field goals to lose a 10-9 heartbreaker in the final minutes.

Riley has played far too inconsistent for a senior quarterback. Most of his poor games have come away from Memorial Stadium. However, he passed for a paltry 83 yards versus UCLA at home.

Save last week's performance in the Coliseum, the defense has done more than enough for Cal to be a 5-1 top 25 midway through 2010. Riley and the offense have failed to do their part.

ASU has relied heavily on a four-man rush to get pressure this year, how has Cal's offensive line done in pass protection against similar fronts?

Cal's offensive line had to shift its starting five in training camp due to an injury to arguably their best interior lineman – Matt Summers-Gavin. Regardless, it has played well considering the Bears lack true left tackle – moving standout right tackle Mitchell Schwartz to left and having Donovan Edwards play right tackle.

Nevada and USC both had two sacks versus the Bears, but UCLA sacked Riley four times with three coming from the defensive line's four-man rush.

It wouldn't surprise many if ASU was able to pressure Riley with just the front four.

In your opinion, what could be some of the factors in Kevin Riley's (and the Team's) performance this year?

The offensive line lacks depth, the wide receivers have continually dropped passes and failed to make big plays, Isi Sofele is playing well but hardly the counterpart to Vereen as Vereen was to Jahvid Best, and Riley has yet to play like a senior starter.

As I said earlier, the Cal defense has done more than enough for the Bears to be 5-1 and in contention for a piece of the Pac-10 title. But the offense could play Cal out of the Pac-10 race just four games into the conference slate.

Who is Kevin Riley's backup and does coach Tedford have enough confidence to make a change?

Sophomore Beau Sweeney is the backup and junior Brock Mansion is the third team quarterback. Neither has had a shot to get into meaningful action.

Tedford has stated Riley gives the team its best chance to win, therefore, I don't believe Tedford will make a change unless he starts playing for the future if Cal suffers a few more losses.

Is Cal's defense able to generate a pass rush, and is the secondary able to get turnovers? Who are some of the playmakers on this side of the ball?

Cal has registered 17 sacks this season. New defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has installed an attacking 3-4 defense that has played very well this season. The secondary was an Achilles heel last year but this year the play improved until Matt Barkley shredded it for five touchdowns.

The DBs have made some big plays, including causing six turnovers. But the biggest playmakers on defense are at linebacker.

All-American candidate Mike Mohamed is the leader of this defense and the cornerstone of the unit at inside linebacker. But even Mohamed will tell you that OLB Mychal Kendricks is probably the biggest playmaker on the Bears defense.

Does it surprise you how quick defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has been able to turn around this Cal defense?

Not at all, considering the talent Cal has on the roster. The biggest surprise has been the improved play of the secondary and pass defense through the first six games despite losing three seniors, including NFL Draft pick Syd'Quan Thompson.

But it's still a work in progress. The D has played well enough for the Bears to be 5-1 to this point, but going forward is the USC game an aberration or a future trend?

Which player has been the biggest surprise until now and which one has been the biggest disappointment?

Darian Hagan is a nice surprise after his poor 2009 season. Fans weren't sure what to expect in 2010. Could he rekindle his standout form from 2008 or continue to regress and become a senior backup.

Riley is easily the biggest disappointment for this team. Fans simply expect more from a fifth year senior quarterback, especially one coached by a QB guru like Jeff Tedford.

Do the Cal team and its fans view this ASU game as a make or break game for the 2010 campaign?

After the loss at Arizona, Cal was in no position to lose any games at home if it wanted to contend for a Pac-10 title. UCLA was an important game as the Bruins were coming off three consecutive wins while Cal was coming off back-to-back losses. Cal beat UCLA handily and was considered a Pac-10 player with USC on the horizon.

Now, Cal is in a definite must-win situation after being smacked by the Trojans. Lose to ASU and the Bears face the reality of being in 9th place in the Pac-10 and an uphill battle just to become bowl eligible.

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