Cal Preview

Venturing on Saturday into Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif., a venue ASU hasn't won at since 1997, there has never been a more opportune moment for the Sun Devils to get the proverbial monkey of their back. While they will face a 1-3 Cal team, the challenges the Golden Bears pose could make this contest much tougher than meets the eye. Devils Digest's Joe Healey examines ASU's next opponent.

Offensive Preview

Comparable to the likes of Kevin Riley and Nate Longshore before him at Cal, quarterback Zach Maynard has brings a talented though inconsistent skill set to the lineup, making him a capable but unpredictable performer.

Though his statistics on average are up slightly from his effort last season as Cal's starting quarterback, Maynard remains a player that can be a liability to his team as frequently as he is an asset.

Despite his inconsistency, the southpaw is able to be a playmaker and has formed a solid tandem with star receiver Keenan Allen, and with Cal's talented stable of running backs the team has enough offensive weapons around him to be effective.

Not a burner on the ground, Maynard boasts above average athleticism and still netted 108 rushing yards with four touchdowns in 2011, but due to Cal's shoddy pass protection in 2012 he has a net total of -18 largely due to yards lost on sacks.

Similar to the myriad stellar running backs Cal has featured under Tedford over the last decade, the 2012 Golden Bear lineup includes a handful of dynamic and versatile runners.

Isi Sofele, who topped the 1,000-yard mark in 2011, leads Cal with 228 yards on 53 carries and has the experience to be relied upon whenever necessary. Behind Sofele, C.J. Anderson is the Bears' between-the-tackles threat, and few Sun Devil fans can forget his three-touchdown performance in Tempe a year ago.

Sophomore Brendan Bigelow is potentially the x-factor of the entire Golden Bear offense, as he is one of the league's unsung homerun threats with an unreal average of 20.6 yards per carry with two touchdowns on his 10 totes so far. Bigelow showcased a pair of amazing runs on the road at Ohio State, however Cal fans were shocked to see his limited action last weekend against USC. It remains to be seen how extensively Bigelow will be utilized against ASU, but he is a player that can make even a limited amount of playing time count significantly.

Cal features a unique dichotomy at wide receiver, as the depth includes one of the nation's elite overall athletes but a host of true freshmen beside him.

Keenan Allen, who caught 98 passes for 1,343 yards in 2011, is one of college football's most dominant wide receivers and is the clear-cut preference of his quarterback—and brother—Zach Maynard.

Aside from Allen, Cal's two-deep at receiver consists of three true freshmen in Chris Harper, Bryce Treggs and Darius Powe. The trio has performed admirably thus far, with Harper standing behind Allen in the team's stat books with 16 catches for 192 yards and two scores. Treggs is third on the team with 10 receptions for 145 yards, while Powe has hauled in a pair of receptions.

Other than these four, no true wide receiver has caught a pass in 2012 as the remaining stat books are filled with the team's running backs, fullbacks and tight ends.

With all-conference honoree Anthony Miller having graduated and Spencer Ladner out due to injury, Cal's tight end depth chart consists of sophomores Richard Rodgers and Jacob Wark. The duo has combined for six receptions, with Wark hauling in five.

The Golden Bear offensive line, usually a program strength, has been hampered by injuries this season and currently ranks 117th in the FBS in sacks allowed.

The starting lineup from left to right consists of tackle Tyler Rigsbee, guard Jordan Rigsbee, center Brian Schwenke, guard Chris Adcock and tackle Bill Tyndall.

Much of Cal's offensive line woes likely can be attributed to a striking lack of starting experience; Schwenke entered 2012 with 24 starts, but the remaining four first-stringers never started a game at the college level before this year and generally had very little playing experience.

Quality offensive line depth appears to be somewhat of a concern as well, as Geoffrey Gibson is listed as the backup at both right guard and tackle, starter Adcock is the backup center, true freshman Freddie Tagaloa is the backup left tackle with sophomore Alejandro Crosthwaite as the reserve left guard.

California Offense in a Nutshell

Simply put, Maynard should not be able to beat ASU single-handedly. The Sun Devil defense is playing at a very high level and has made a vicious habit of disrupting opposing backfields. The combination of Cal's porous offensive line and the Devils' outstanding ability to stop the ball behind the line gives ASU an open door to persistently press Maynard.

ASU, however, must remain disciplined in its attack as Cal's runners can find and attack holes with power and speed, while Maynard does not need ample space in order to complete passes to Keenan Allen.

If ASU can disrupt Maynard while also preventing large rushing gains by the Bears, the Sun Devils can gain field position ownership similar to last week against Utah. On the contrary, if Maynard and his offensive colleagues can make plays, momentum will swing toward Cal—a program in dire need of some good luck.

Defensive Preview

Under Jeff Tedford, Cal has been widely known for a solid, attacking 3-4 defense featuring dominant players such as Mychal Kendricks, Brandon Mebane, Tyson Alualu, Daymeion Hughes, Mike Mohamed, Cameron Jordan and others.

This year, however, the Golden Bear defense has yet to meet its typical standard as Cal ranks 87th in the nation in total defense, 91st in scoring defense and 96th in rush defense. Cal has experienced starters along the line and in the secondary, but limited depth and youth at a variety of spots have caused the Bears to produce a substandard defense as a whole.

Cal's line consists of tenured ends Aaron Tipoti and Deandre Coleman, backed by youngsters Mustafa Jalil and Todd Barr. At nose guard, senior Kendrick Payne starts with sophomore Viliami Moala behind him.

The depth along the line includes a solid mix of veterans and highly recruited underclassmen, with Coleman leading the way statistically with 20 tackles and 2.5 tackles-for-loss including 1.5 sacks. Tipoti has chipped in 10 tackles and a fumble recovery, while Barr, from his backup role, is tops among Cal's linemen with three tackles-for-loss.

At the Golden Bears' four linebacker positions, Brennan Scarlett has emerged as a potential future star, collecting 25 tackles including two for loss as a starter in all four games at outside linebacker.

Sophomore Chris McCain starts opposite Scarlett at outside linebacker, with senior Robert Mullins and freshman Jalen Jefferson at the two inside spots. Mullins ranks second on the team with 31 total tackles, while McCain has collected 19 tackles and Jefferson 15.

Dan Camporeale, Nick Forbes, J.P. Hurrell and Nathan Broussard are slated as the four backup ‘backers for Cal. Despite coming off the bench in three of four games, Forbes ranks third among Cal's linebackers with 23 tackles.

Cal's secondary includes a list of experienced starters, with two seniors and two juniors rounding out the first-team corners and safeties.

Chandler product Marc Anthony has become one of the Pac-12's better defensive backs over his four years in Berkeley. The senior has showcased his versatility this year as he leads the team with 3.5 tackles-for-loss among his 24 total stops.

Junior Steve Williams starts opposite Anthony, leading Cal with two interceptions while ranking third on the team with 29 total tackles.

At safety, senior Josh Hill and junior Alex Logan form the starting tandem, with Hill having captured a team-high 32 tackles thus far while Logan has added 18.

Sophomore Michael Lowe is listed as the top backup at both safety positions, while sophomore Kameron Jackson is the primary reserve cornerback behind both Anthony and Jackson.

California Defense in a Nutshell

Undoubtedly, Cal wants to follow the Missouri model of defense against the Devils and force the otherwise composed Taylor Kelly into mistakes. However, Cal has one of the Pac-12's poorer pass rush attacks, averaging only two sacks per game.

ASU has not yet been nearly as spectacular as initially hoped in the run game, however the Cal defense, which allows nearly 190 rush yards per game, is absolutely reeling after allowing USC to approach the 300-yard mark on the ground last week.

Basically, the primary weaknesses that ASU has on offense are in areas that are not necessarily Cal's defensive strengths. The Golden Bears likely will hope to use its tenured secondary to make plays both against the run and pass and generate turnovers to give Cal's offense a field position edge.

Special Teams Preview

Kicker Vincenzo D'Amato handles placekicking and kickoff duties for the Golden Bears. D'Amato has attempted more field goals (12) than anyone in the Pac-12, but in making only seven his 58.3% rating is one of the poorest in the league. D'Amato has made 12 of his 13 extra point attempts on the year.

In place of Bryan Anger, one of the league's better all-time punters, true freshman Cole Leininger has taken over for Cal. The results have been less-than-stellar as Leininger ranks 10th in the Pac-12 with a 39.7-yard average.

Cal has a pair of standouts in the return game, with WR Keenan Allen as the primary punt returner and RB Brendan Bigelow as the top kickoff returner. Allen averages 15.4 yards on punt returns with one touchdown, while Bigelow averages 25.1 yards on kick returns.

RB's Mike Manuel and Daniel Lasco are listed as the backup kick returners and have seen limited action in that role this year, while WR Bryce Treggs is Allen's top reserve at punt returner.

Conclusion

ASU's horrible recent history against Cal is well documented: A 2-9 overall record dating back to 1999 and no wins in Berkeley since 1997. Though history is not on the Sun Devils' side, many of the matchups this weekend are as Cal's traditionally powerful offensive line and defense are much weaker this season than has been the case during Tedford's tenure.

Undoubtedly, ASU still needs to learn how to play sound football on the road, as evidenced by the anomalistic performance the Devils displayed in defeat at Missouri two weeks ago.

It doesn't take a football genius to know that the Sun Devils have a world of potential, as the team's three home games this year have been about as collectively efficient and impressive as any games over the past several years. But for whatever reason, ASU has shown nothing but unimpeded impotence away from Tempe in recent years—a trend that could not end in a more poetic fashion than to occur in the Pac venue that has been more troublesome for the Devils than any other over the past 15 years.

Whether it simply takes greater focus, attention to detail or rum and live chickens to appease Jobu, Saturday's trip to Berkeley will be a test of the true character of this team and ASU must do everything necessary to overcome its challenges.

Very few people outside of the football offices at ASU would have predicted the Devils to enter their bye week with only one loss, but if the Sun Devils can finally exorcise their road demons, the clear opportunity exists for that to be the case.

Keys to a Sun Devil Victory

Avoid a Slow Start

The last two weeks for the Sun Devils have been night-and-day differences; had ASU not stumbled out of the gates at Missouri (among other factors), the Devils likely would have exited Columbia with a win, while versus Utah ASU steamrolled the Utes with a 21-point blastoff through merely 11 minutes of play.

Cal is a team in desperate need of success, and by the accounts of many this weekend generally could determine whether the Golden Bears have a legitimate chance at postseason play and also can go a long way in determining Jeff Tedford's fate in Berkeley. With such high urgency, the Berkeley fans and the Cal players are undoubtedly chomping at the bit for the Bears to prove themselves against the Sun Devils.

If ASU begins the game sluggish with poor play, penalties and turnovers, the momentum could quickly and decisively swing toward California. On the other hand, if the Sun Devils showcase an efficient start, the Bears could get buried early.

"Mayday!" for Maynard

Cal QB Zach Maynard has had an enigmatic career at Cal since it began last year, showing high-level athletic gifts but also a set of flaws that have marred his performances from time to time.

Statistically, Maynard is a lower-tier passer by current conference standards, as he ranks seventh in the Pac-12 in completion percentage and eighth in pass efficiency—two key statistics in terms of the decision-making skills of a quarterback.

These uncertain elements about Maynard's game, compounded with Cal's standing near the very bottom of the FBS in terms of quarterback sacks allowed, gives ASU a clear window of opportunity to enforce its will when on defense. In addition to Cal's weaknesses in protection, ASU is currently tied with Tulsa as the nation's leader in team tackles-for-loss. If the Sun Devils can consistently and commandingly harass Maynard, the end result likely will give a big boost to ASU.

Keep Cal Grounded

The clear strength of Cal's offense rests in its stable of running backs, a group that consists of returning 1,000-yard rusher Isi Sofele, C.J. Anderson, who had an excellent game against ASU last year, and high-impact youngster Brendan Bigelow. Between the three, Cal has every quality needed of a top-notch rushing group and the trio gives the Bears a fighting chance to be offensively impactful in every contest.

Though ASU's defense ranks 10th in the FBS in total defense and 14th in scoring defense, the main defensive weakness for the Sun Devils has been in the ground game as ASU ranks only 48th in the country in rush defense.

Without a doubt, this is the most talented running backs unit ASU has faced to date in 2012, and though Maynard is spotty at quarterback and Cal allows a great deal of sacks, the Golden Bears can make plenty of noise with their ground game if given opportunities to do so.

All things considered, ASU will have to combine discipline with aggressiveness on defense; the Devils certainly will—and should—pressure Maynard early and often, but must also remain focused enough not to allow big plays on screens, draws and other tactics to combat an overzealous pass rush.

Familiar Faces

• Cal DB Marc Anthony attended Chandler (Ariz.) High School.

• Cal DL Todd Barr and WR Darius Powe attended Lakewood (Calif.) High School, as did ASU DB's Kevin Anderson and Rashad Wadood.

• Cal LB Jason Gibson and LS Bradley Northnagel attended Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra High School, as did ASU DB Devan Spann.

• Cal WR Kenny Lawler attended Upland (Calif.) High School, as did ASU CB Osahon Irabor. Lawler was also verbally committed to ASU in 2011 before signing with Cal.

• Cal DB Alex Logan attended Denver (Colo.) Mullen High School, as did ASU DE Junior Onyeali.

• Cal DL's Puka Lopa and Viliami Moala attended Sacramento (Calif.) Grant High School, as did ASU LB Kipeli Koniseti.

• Cal DB Jordan Morgan attended Chandler (Ariz.) Valley Christian High School.


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