A rollercoaster of a performer throughout his entire collegiate career, quarterback Kevin Riley enters the final stretch of his Golden Bear career as he attempts to guide Cal back to the win column.
After a fiery start to the 2010 season, Riley has cooled off as of late, with season totals of 89-of-152 passing for 1,124 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Behind Riley is sophomore Beau Sweeney, the subject of mild speculation recently as some have questioned whether he should supplant Riley as Cal's starter. On the year, Sweeney has appeared in two games with one incomplete pass attempt.
Despite Riley's inconsistency, the Golden Bear running back machine continues as Shane Vereen is well on his way to all-conference honors, following the line of stellar backs out of Berkeley such as Jahvid Best, Justin Forsett, Marshawn Lynch and J.J. Arrington.
In total, Vereen has been the workhorse of Cal's offense, totaling 630 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 111 attempts, while also being a big factor in the pass game with 14 catches for 164 yards and three scores.
Sophomore Isi Sofele (41 carries, 204 yards) is a slight but dashing player that earns time behind Vereen at running back, while Arizonan Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson and Desarte Yarnway have seen limited duty at running back. Also look for Sofele to take direct snaps as the engineer of Cal's Wild*** (sorry but we can't mention the forbidden mascot name) formation.
One of the few teams to employ a traditional fullback in many of their formations, the Bears feature junior Will Kapp as their primary starter, with John Tyndall and Eric Stevens as the main reserves and though the three fullbacks have collectively made a limited statistical impact, their role is integral to help promote a proficient Golden Bear rushing attack.
At receiver, the Bears have found a trio of solid performers, led by junior Marvin Allen (29 catches, 398 yards, two touchdowns), who has worked his way to become one of the top-tier wideouts in the Pac-10. True freshman sensation Keenan Allen (18 catches, 274 yards, four touchdowns) was quickly elevated to the first team and has shown immense athletic potential, while veteran all-purpose threat Jeremy Ross (10 catches, 107 yards) serves as a high quality utility player for Cal's offense.
Seasoned pass-catchers such as Michael Calvin (five catches, 75 yards) and Alex Lagemann (one catch, eight yards), as well as first-year Bear Coleman Edmond (one catch), round out the wide receiver depth.
A slight surprise of the offense is tight end Anthony Miller, who was expected to vie for all-conference honors, but has only hauled in six passes for 71 yards after earning honorable mention All-Pac-10 accolades a year ago. Sophomores Spencer Ladner and Jarrett Sparks are ranked as the primary reserves behind Miller but have played a very limited role in the offensive production.
The chicken-and-the-egg element of Cal's offense under Jeff Tedford has been its rushing game, led by sensational, athletic running backs but orchestrated by an excellent offensive line.
With the injury of Matt Summers-Gavin, one of Cal's better linemen, standout Mitchell Schwartz moved from right to left tackle, with sophomore Brian Schwenke by his side and left guard and senior Chris Guarnero at center. On the right side, junior Justin Cheadle lines up at right guard while Donovan Edwards mans the right tackle spot, previously held by Schwartz when Summers-Gavin was in the lineup.
Similar to, but to a much greater extreme, Riley embodies a similar presence as the last quarterback ASU face in Washington's Jake Locker – a fifth-year senior that has shown talent but also times of inadequacy. Locker, of course, is a much greater athletic talent but Riley, but Riley has had times that he looked tremendously impressive in the pocket for the Bears.
With Cal on the mend after a whooping suffered at the hands of USC last week, the Bears likely will—and should—run their offense through Shane Vereen to help regain confidence before opening up much in the passing game. However, the Bears have more than enough firepower in their talented starting receivers to make ASU pay if wide opportunities are provided.
Though Cal typically boasts a stellar offensive line, Riley has been under siege on more than one occasion this year, sometimes just by line pressure, so the potential exists for Lawrence Guy, Junior Onyeali and company to pick up where the Trojans left off last week.
If Riley has time in the pocket and does not succumb to poor decisions, he has a holster full of weapons in Vereen, Jones, Allen and Ross to utilize. However, if there is any resemblance of what occurred last week in Los Angeles, the Bears are in for a long afternoon.
The Golden Bear defense, which ran a 3-4 front before doing so was the flavor of the week as it is now, had an excellent overall start to the season before a complete breakdown against USC a week ago.
Arizona native and one of the Pac-10's top pass rushers, senior Cameron Jordan (24 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks), starts at defensive end as does junior Ernest Owusu (eight tackles, 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks). Junior Trevor Guyton (six tackles, 2.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks) and redshirt freshman DeAndre Coleman (nine tackles, 3.0 TFL) are the top contingents behind Jordan and Owusu, respectively.
Among Cal's four-linebacker standard set, the Bears boast two of the league's top defenders in senior inside linebacker Mike Mohamed (38 tackles, 2.0 TFL) and junior outside linebacker Mychal Kendricks (31 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks).
Sophomore Robert Mullins (six tackles) and true freshman Nick Forbes (one tackle) are listed as the top inside linebacker reserves, while senior Jarred Price (seven tackles, 2.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks) and true freshman David Wilkerson (two tackles) are noted as the primary backups outside.
In the secondary, cornerback Darian Hagan (23 tackles, three pass breakups, one interception) has advanced noticeably in his final collegiate season and pairs with first-year starter and Chandler native, sophomore Marc Anthony (28 tackles, four pass breakups), as the Bears' starting duo.
Senior Chris Conte (39 tackles) and sophomore Josh Hill (23 tackles), a pair of former cornerbacks, stand as the starting safeties with junior Sean Cattouse (18 tackles) and junior D.J. Campbell (14 tackles) behind them.
The Bears began the 2010 season on absolute fire from a defensive standpoint, allowing only 10 points in the first two games and entered its showdown with Nevada as the nation's top-ranked defense. However, that game snagged matters significantly, as the nuclear Nevada offense racked up 52 points and nearly 600 yards of offense.
The next two games, Cal allowed only 17 total points in a loss to Arizona and a win over UCLA before being shockingly annihilated by USC's early-and-often first-half scoring orgy last week.
What does this mean? Who knows? Nevada can always be expected to put up big offensive numbers and USC is USC, despite a hellacious year for them. But more than anything, the fashion of the unpredictability and inconsistency is what boggles the mind the most.
There's absolutely no doubt that the talent is there; Jordan, Mohammed, Kendricks and Hagan are among the best at their position in the Pac-10 and are among the nation's better defenders, while the remaining starters and critical depth players create a deep, athletic and talented unit.
The enigmatic Jekyll and Hyde presence that the Cal defense has shown this year leaves little substance for confidently accurate predictions; it's feasible to expect that ASU can pick apart the Bears, but it's also reasonable to anticipate that Sun Devil quarterback Steven Threet can be rattled by Cal's aggressive defensive front.
Cal's defensive effort may boil down to its current mental state; is the D's collective confidence shattered after last week or has the line in the sand been drawn for the Bears to sack up and remind the country why they stood atop the defensive statistics earlier this year?
With assertive pressure coming from all angles, as is native to the 3-4 defensive scheme, ASU's offensive line will need to be on top of its game to allow Threet and the whole offense to play with the intelligence and discipline it did against Washington.
Special Teams Preview
The handler of the dagger to ASU's heart last season with his game-winning field goal, kicker Giorgio Tavecchio has connected on six-of-nine field goal attempts with a long kick of 40 yards, while Bryan Anger, one of college football's elite punters, averages 45.8 yards on 25 punts thus far.
Wide receiver Jeremy Ross is Cal's primary returns specialist, averaging 21.4 yards on eight kickoff returns and 12.2 yards on 14 punt returns.
Running back Isi Sofele and wide receivers Keenan Allen and Coleman Edmond have also earned repetitions at kick returner.
In all, no team in the Pac-10 this year has been more bipolar than Cal, and there's no telling whether this week will give the Bears the dose of Prozac they need to get back in the win column.
ASU fans know all too well how inconsistent quarterback plan can significantly affect the offense, and with Cal's unpredictable Kevin Riley, the potential for performances across the whole quality spectrum exists and can cause headaches for many people – sometimes including those wearing his same colors.
In addition to a potentially high-caliber defense and an offense with some dangerous components, it isn't far-fetched to assume that an anti-recycling, pro-Styrofoam pep rally likely will have better luck in Berkeley as ASU football has had for more than a decade, as the Sun Devils haven't left Cal with a win since 1997.
Athletes and teams respond to tumultuous times and adversity in different ways; last week's debacle at USC could signify the start of a slippery slope for the Bears or Cal may come out swinging against the Sun Devils, hell bent on turning the page from last week.
Despite the Golden Bears' collective emotional state, USC exposed a series of weaknesses that ASU can capitalize upon.
Lineup Notes and Injury Updates
• Wide Receiver Aaron Pflugrad is expected back after missing ASU's last game versus Washington.
• Linebacker Colin Parker may earn his first collegiate start.
• Dan Knapp may see action at right tackle after spending the early part of the season playing on the left side. This week in practice he was splitting these duties with Aderious Simmons and it will be a game time decision as to who will start.
• Kyle Middlebrooks likely will remain in the backfield after seeing time at wide receiver earlier in the season.
Five Questions: ASU at California
• How will California respond after a horrible performance at USC last week?
• Will ASU prove to have used its bye week productively?
• If Cal's defense played as it did earlier in the season, how will ASU counter?
• Can the Sun Devils play with the control they did at Washington?
• Will Thomas Weber be able to return to a greater level of consistency in the kicking game?
• California defensive backs coach Al Simmons previously coached at ASU (2006-07)
• California punter Bryan Anger attended Camarillo (Calif.) High School; the same as ASU quarterback Samson Szakacsy.
• California defensive back Marc Anthony and defensive lineman Cameron Jordan both attended Chandler (Ariz.) High School, as did ASU running back Taylor Walstad.
• California defensive back Chris Conte attended Loyola High School in Los Angeles, as did ASU kicker Thomas Weber.
• California running back Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson attended Chandler (Ariz.) High School, the same as ASU linebacker Gerald Munns, linebacker Colin Parker, wide receiver Gerell Robinson and wide receiver Kerry Taylor.
• California offensive lineman Geoffrey Gibson attended Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman High School, the same as ASU cornerback Josh Jordan.
• California cornerback Darian Hagan attended Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, the same as ASU safety Clint Floyd.
• California linebacker J.P. Hurrell attended Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra High School, the same as ASU cornerback Devan Spann. • California defensive back Isaac Lapite and offensive lineman Charles Siddoway attended Eugene (Ore.) Sheldon High School, the same as ASU defensive lineman Bo Moos and wide receiver Aaron Pflugrad. • California safety Alex Logan attended Denver (Colo.) Mullen High School, the same as ASU defensive end Junior Onyeali. • California long snapper Matt Rios is an Arizona native and attended Phoenix North Canyon High School.