CAL Preview

Berkeley, California and the Cal Bears will play host to the Arizona State Sun Devils this Saturday in a pivotal Pac-10 conference match up. The winner of this game is still alive for a BCS bowl game slot, while the loser is virtually guaranteed having no chance playing in Pasadena or any other prestigious post-season game.

The Bears (5-1, 3-1 Pac-10) bring in a talented squad that is playing well on both sides of the ball this year. Jeff Tedford's arrival in Berkeley marked a resurrection in the Cal offense since year one but it wasn't until this season that the defense came up to speed. The much-improved defense has paid dividends this year and has Cal in position to have a special season.

The Bears have an arsenal of talent in the secondary and the result is the top rated pass defense in the Pac-10. Cal's secondary is chock full of guys that really play as a cohesive unit and aren't looking to be individual stars on the field. Donnie McCleskey was among the Pac-10's top returning defensive players after finishing the 2003 season with 102 tackles. This year he hasn't had to shoulder as much weight with a veteran cast surrounding him.

Safety Matt Giordano leads the team in tackles with 38. His sidekick, Ryan Gutierrez, has contributed 36 tackles. CB Tim Mixon is a great cover man and has 2 INT's on the year. Daymeion Hughes, Harrison Smith, and Mike McGrath are all capable cover guys at Cornerback.

Up front, Cal is just as tough defending the run as they are the pass. The Bear defense is only allowing an average of 86 yards a game on the ground to opponents. DE Ryan Riddle is having a phenomenal senior season with 7 sacks and 26 tackles. DTs Lorenzo Alexander and Brandon Mebane are tough in the middle and can shed blocks well to get in the backfield. Tom Sverchek and Mebane have combined for 6 sacks. Assisting the line is a good group of LBs.

Much like the secondary, it's not a group of individual stars but one that gets the job done well as a unit. Wendell Hunter leads the group with 36 tackles. Fellow Seniors Joe Maningo and Sid Slater are both playing well. 3 of Maningo's 21 tackles are for a loss. Sophomore Steve Kelly is a future star and has provided good depth behind the veterans.

Leading Cal's offensive attack is QB Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has passed for 14TDs and is averaging 229 yards in the air per game. He is perhaps the league's best in terms of accuracy with a 75% completion percentage. Cal's receiving corps took another hit last week when Jonathan Makonnen was hospitalized after suffering a jarring hit. Makonnen stepped up after Chase Lyman went out with a season ending injury against USC. However, Rodgers can still hook up with favorite target Geoff McArthur. McArthur has 29 catches and 4 TDs.

TE Garrett Cross is also another formidable option through the air, catching 20 balls so far this season. Picking up the rest of the slack will be receivers Robert Jordan, Sam DeSa, and Noah Smith. Those three have combined for only 8 catches on the year.

Cal's rushing attack is tops in the Pac-10, averaging 245 yards per game. RB JJ Arrington is capable of making big plays anytime he touches the ball. He's averaging 153 yards per game and is responsible for 10 of Cal's TDs. Arrington will be looking to surpass the 1,000 yard plateau this Saturday as he is just 82 yards shy of that mark. True Freshman Marshawn Lynch has been showing Cal fans a taste of what they can expect next year when he'll take over as the Bears' main back. Lynch has 3 TDs and is averaging 42 yards on the ground.

Terrell Williams gives the Bear offense a wrinkle as he can run and pass. Williams has already thrown for a TD this year. FB Chris Manderino is a great blocker and is good for a catch or two out of the backfield in any game.

DB Tim Mixon returns punts for the Bears and averages about 12 yards on each return. His longest return of the season was for 43 yards. On kickoff returns, Cal utilizes the talents of RB Terrell Williams. On his 5 returns, he is averaging 18 yards. Marshawn Lynch has also returned one kickoff for 69 yards.

Tom Schneider and David Lonie anchor the kicking game for the Bears. Schneider is 3 of 5 on field goals and is 1 of 3 in attempts of 30 yards or more this season. Lonie averages 43 yards per punt and has pinned opponents seven times inside the 20-yard line. Cal's kickoff coverage is vulnerable as they have given up the second most yardage in the Pac-10 on kickoffs. Opponents are averaging 22 yards returning kicks.

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