Cal Preview

The Sun Devils can exorcise some demons with a big win this Saturday over #18 California. Arizona State has struggled mightily against ranked opponents, posting a 2-19 record against nationally ranked foes over the last six years. Saturday's contest marks the first opportunity for new skipper Dennis Erickson to buck that trend against a cornered Golden Bear team.

Cal, in particular, has given ASU fits by blasting the Maroon and Gold in the last four meetings. With that in mind, the Sun Devils should expect to have a fight on their hands this weekend with a Cal team that many figure are much too talented to lose a third-straight game.


2007 Record: 5-2, 2-2 Pac-10
Head Coach: Jeff Tedford

Last Week: Cal was upended by UCLA at the Rose Bowl, 21-30, on an Alterraun Verner interception in the closing minutes.


*Projected Starters

WR Robert Jordan, Sr.
LT Mike Gibson, Sr.
LG Brian De La Puente, Sr.
C Alex Mack, Jr.
RG Noris Malele, Jr.
RT Mike Tepper, Jr.
TE Craig Stevens, Sr.
WR DeSean Jackson, Jr.
QB Nate Longshore, Jr.
FB Will Ta'ufo'ou, Jr.
TB Justin Forsett, Sr.

The ground game is led by tailback Justin Forsett. The senior has netted 811 yards on 161 carries this season. Forsett averages just under 116 rushing yards per game and is Cal's leading scorer with ten touchdowns. Freshmen Jahvid Best and James Montgomery are Forsett's back-ups. The two have combined for 318 yards and four touchdowns.

DeSean Jackson is undoubtedly one of the conference's top game breakers. The junior wideout typically comes up with big plays in big games and he'll be looking to have another solid day this Saturday. Jackson has caught 41 passes for four touchdowns so far this season. What makes this offense so dangerous is that opposing defenses can't sleep on the other receivers. Lavelle Hawkins has matched Jackson's four scores through the air and averages just under 80 yards a game. Senior Robert Jordan missed last week's game at UCLA but is expected to play against Arizona State. Jordan, who has 22 catches and a touchdown, can break the school-record for consecutive games played with a catch by hauling in a reception this Saturday. Two of tight end Craig Stevens' nine receptions have been touchdowns so keep an eye out for him in the red zone.

Featured Match up: Nate Longshore vs. Arizona State secondary

With Arizona State's defense built to stop the run first, Cal quarterback Nate Longshore will have an opportunity to put up some yards through the air if he's up to the task. Longshore has been bothered by an ankle injury suffered against Oregon but returned to action last week in Los Angeles. His ankle appeared to be bothersome, however, as he threw three interceptions against the Bruins. The junior has thrown for 1,369 yards and ten touchdowns this season and is capable of putting up big numbers with his aerial targets. ASU has the conference's second-ranked pass defense, allowing 214.1 yards through the air but Longshore and his receivers are likely to provide a big test for the secondary. If Longshore's ankle flares up, redshirt freshman Kevin Riley will take the reigns. Riley threw for 294 yards and two scores against Oregon State.


*Projected Starters

DE John Allen, Sr.
DT Matt Malele, Sr.
DT Mika Kane, Jr.
DE Tyson Alualu, So.
SLB Zack Follett, Jr.
MLB Worrell Williams, Jr.
WLB Anthony Felder, Jr.
FS Thomas DeCoud, Sr.
ROV Bernard Hicks, Jr.
CB Syd'Quan Thompson, So.
CB Brandon Hampton, Sr.

Injuries and inexperience have spurred some struggles in the pass rush and run defense but the problems haven't been insurmountable. Tyson Alualu has notched two and a half sacks but the production hasn't been up to par from the other ends. Cameron Jordan, John Allen, and Tad Smith have one sack between them. Defensive tackle Mika Kane leads all linemen with twenty-five tackles. Reserves Cody Jones and Derrick Hill have a combined twenty-seven stops and a pair of sacks.

Cal's secondary is surrendering an average of 245.1 yards per contest. Free safety Thomas DeCoud has been active with fifty-one stops, including a sack, and one interception. Bernard Hicks and Marcus Ezeff share time at the rover spot. Ezeff has collected forty-four tackles in six games. The cornerbacks are Syd'Quan Thompson and Brandon Hampton. Thompson has six pass break-ups while Hampton leads all defensive backs with two interceptions.

Featured Match up: Cal linebackers vs. Arizona State running backs

The Bears have a handful of linebackers capable of coming up with big plays. Anthony Felder and Worrell Williams are having their finest seasons to date in Strawberry Canyon. The two juniors have combined for 135 tackles and three sacks. Zack Follett is another playmaker at linebacker and is seventh on the team with twenty-nine stops despite missing two games due to injury. Senior Justin Moye is right behind him with twenty-eight tackles and an interception. The Bears are hoping their depth here will challenge the Arizona State ground game. Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance aren't new faces for ASU but they must rise to the challenge with first-string running back Ryan Torain gone for the year.


P Andrew Larson, Sr.
PK Jordan Kay, Jr.

PR DeSean Jackson, Jr.
KOR Lavelle Hawkins, Sr.

Cal's punt team has been solid this year with specialist Andrew Larson. He's averaging 41.7 yards per punt while the rest of the punt team has bottled up returners downfield. Teams are averaging under a yard per punt return against the Bears. Place kicker Jordan Kay has had some struggles this season as he's only connected on five of his ten field goal attempts. Kay has had troubles hitting from beyond 30 yards this season. His longest field goal was a 47-yarder at Colorado State last month.

DeSean Jackson's dynamic abilities in the open field make him one of the country's top return men. Jackson has returned nine punts for an 11.9 yard average, including a touchdown in the season-opener against Tennessee. Fellow wideout Lavelle Hawkins also notched a special teams touchdown this season with the kick return team. Hawkins and speedster Jahvid Best are worthy of extra attention as well when they return kicks. Both have ripped off runs in excess of 50 yards.


--Red Zone Scoring: The Bears are tied for last place in the Pac-10 in red zone offense, scoring just 74.2% of the time. That number has a good chance to improve this week as ASU is ninth in the conference in red zone defense by allowing opponents to score on just under 86% of their trips inside the red zone. Turnovers and poor special teams play are to blame for such a low clip here so if the Bears can improve on those two, things look good.

--Protect Longshore: This is an obvious bullet point as the signal-caller's ankle isn't 100%. The Cal offensive line has allowed the fewest sacks in the Pac-10 with just eight sacks in seven games. In Longshore's return last week at UCLA, the offensive line did a solid job of limiting sack-master Bruce Davis and the Bears will need to find similar success this week against Sun Devil defensive end Dexter Davis. Davis ranks second in the conference, along with Bruce Davis, in sacks with 6.5.

--Rattle Rudy: ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter passed for 177 yards and four interceptions in last year's game. With the big-game feel to this year's contest in Tempe, the Bears will provide the first test in seeing if the junior has really turned the corner mentally this season. For Cal, they are hoping Carpenter tries to shoulder more of the load with Ryan Torain out. For ASU, the Devils hope he continues to trust in his fellow teammates in the face of adversity.


--Turnovers, Turnovers: Cal leads the Pac-10 in turnover margin at +7 while ASU is right behind them with a +6 margin. Turnovers played a big role in both of the Bears' losses this season with Cal coughing up the ball seven times in the last two contests. The ASU secondary has intercepted at least one pass in every game this season so the opportunistic defense should look to pressure Longshore, who isn't a 100% healthy. The Sun Devil backfield should be on high alert this week to take care of the ball, however. Cal has forced ten fumbles this season, the most in the Pac-10. With Ryan Torain now out, Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance must continue to take care of the football.

--Establish the run: This hasn't been a real question mark for the Sun Devils this season until now. Top rusher Ryan Torain is out for the season so reserves Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance will have bigger roles in the offense starting this week. Cal has allowed rushing totals of 191, 153, and 183 yards in the last three games so the Sun Devils should aspire to have similar success on the ground this week. If they can't, that creates more pressure on Rudy Carpenter and gets away from the balanced attack Erickson likes to have.

--Solid special teams: Unless you've been living under a rock the last few years, you're aware of DeSean Jackson's ability to rip off chunks of yards when he fields punts. Can't help out the Cal offense by letting big plays develop on special teams if you're ASU. Thomas Weber will have his hands full with dangerous returners awaiting his punts and kickoffs so the coverage teams will need to be solid. It should be noted that in both of Cal's losses, the opponents held the Bears' returners from any big gains.

Sun Devil Source Top Stories