Know Your Foe: Cal

Devils Digest invited CalSportsDigest.com Publisher Dan Greenspan answers questions concerning ASU's next opponent

It has certainly been an up and down season for Cal. What do you think has contributed to these inconsistencies?

Ask any coach and he will tell you that the quarterback gets too much of the blame for losses, but it's hard not to assign more of the causation for California's struggles to redshirt junior Zach Maynard.

The transfer from Buffalo has dealt with a steep learning curve in his first season leading the Golden Bears, struggling with accuracy and turnovers in the team's losses. Maynard is completing just 54.8 percent of his passes with four touchdowns against seven interceptions in defeat, but was better in a narrow loss to Stanford with 280 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions while completing 20-of-29 attempts.

Coaches are also doing a better tailoring the offense to the mobile Maynard's strengths by moving the pocket. They are also relying more on Cal's strong running game and defense.

Still, the Bears remain on the lookout for a true successor to Aaron Rodgers, a quarterback capable of leading them back to elite status in a conference of quarterbacks.

With playing their home games at AT&T Park, how much of an effect do you think it has had on the season?

Considering Cal went 4-1 at AT&T Park – their season-opening win over Fresno State came at Candlestick Park – it's hard to argue it had any adverse effect.

The lone loss came to a tremendously talented but young USC team that was just starting to hit its stride.

Cal is a team that is highlighted by its defense. What makes this group so special?

It starts and ends with a front seven as strong as any in the Pac-12. There is remarkable depth on the defensive line, where every man on the two-deep is capable of not only starting but contributing at a high level.

Defensive end Trevor Guyton has 10 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, while starting inside linebackers Mychal Kendricks and D.J. Holt are stuffing the stat sheet. The two have amassed 167 tackles and 20.5 tackles for loss.

The 3-4 alignment can create pressure from anywhere and are as stout against the run, allowing 3.6 yards per carry, as they are in taking down the quarterbacks. With 31 sacks this season, Cal is second only to Oregon and Stanford.

Aside from a 43-point outburst at Oregon by the explosive Ducks and a turnover-fueled mess at UCLA, the Cal defense has been solid all season long.

Isi Sofele and Keenan Allen are respectively among the best running backs and wide receivers in the conference. Were they expected to have this much impact or did they take everybody by surprise?

Sofele is a bit of a surprise considering there were major concerns he could handle the workload associated with a feature back in the Tedford offense, but the 5-foot-8, 180-pound junior has been a workhorse.

Aside from being shut down by USC, Sofele has rushed for at least 74 yards in every other game this season, posting a career-high 190 yards against Oregon State two weeks ago.

Allen has taken a step forward after a solid freshman campaign, in part because of tremendous chemistry with his half-brother Maynard. He ranks 10th nationally in both receptions and receiving yards per game.

A physical behemoth with NFL size (6-3, 205) and speed, he can get behind defenders on the long ball and overpower them on screens and other easy throws.

In a conference filled with elite young receiving including the tandem of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee at USC and Marquess Wilson at Washington State, Allen is as good as any and in the mix for first-team All-Pac-12 honors.

How much do you think Jeff Tedford is on the hot seat? Does the fact that he has a big part in the renovations still taking place now at Memorial Stadium buy him more time?

While the Bears have definitely taken a step back in the past few seasons and the natives are getting restless, Tedford is going nowhere soon. The San Jose Mercury News reported that Tedford's contract has no buyout, so Cal would be on the hook for roughly $10 million, the kind of money that all but guarantees a return in 2012.

Moreover, he has earned the chance to see what Cal can do with a renovated Memorial Stadium. Without Tedford, that project does not happen, giving the Bears a more even footing against traditional powers USC and Washington and vibrant Oregon.

But given that tremendous investment in the program, it puts him in the position of having to demonstrate major strides next season or else Cal could move in a new direction.

What are your keys for a Cal victory in Tempe?

First and foremost, the Bears must arrive in the right mindset after an emotional Big Game loss last week. Cal is closing with an opponent other than Stanford for the third consecutive season, but is 0-2 with a 16-13 loss to Washington last year on the game's final play to keep them out of a bowl.

Second, the Bears must keep the pressure off Maynard with a reliable rushing attack that can keep the offense on schedule. Avoiding obvious passing downs is critical to prevent another multiple interception mess.

Finally, Cal must be able to shut down the Arizona State ground game and put it all on quarterback Brock Osweiler. That strategy has been effective in each of the Sun Devils' last two games, as the lanky signal-caller has 109 pass attempts. If the pass rush can be unleashed, the Bears can use a variety of blitzes to create confusion and takeaways.


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