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The ASU Sun Devils haven't seen the Cal Bears since they thrashed the Bears 30-10 in Tempe in 2000. However since, then the Bears have gone through extensive changes. Out with the old and in with the new. While the players may not have changed but the mentality and attitude has changed for this often maligned team.
Gone is Tom Holmoe architect of a disastrous 1-10 campaign and in his place steps 40 year Jeff Tedford, and as a result the Bears are 5-4 with a few missed opportunities away from being 8-1 or 9-0. So how did the Bears get here? They certainly don't have the most talent or depth in the Pac-10. The key to this season has been turnover margin. The Bears are currently ranked 4th in the nation in turnover margin with a +15. Last season the Bears were a horrific –17 in the turnover margin category, which when coupled with a lack of talent and depth left them at a pitiful 1-10 with the lone win coming over one of the worst teams in the nation, Rutgers. However, turnover margin hasn't been the only reason for the Bears success this season. While the talent isn't on par with most of the Pac-10 it would be fallacious to say the Bears have no talent. It has been with their excellent returning talent as well as few newcomers, which have set the stage for the Bears remarkable turnaround.
When Jeff Tedford came to town the most highly visible skill set he brought to the team was his quarterback development skills. It was well versed that he had been greatly involved with the success of Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, on the college level. So with Tedford's presence many Cal fans began to wonder could he work his magic on arguably the most highly touted quarterback to don the blue and gold, Kyle Boller. Kyle coming out of high school only had 1 year of varsity experience but with his 48 touchdowns to 3 interception ratio he had colleges fawning after his services. However, despite the anointment as "Jesus in Cleats" Boller found his career at Cal had been plagued by inconsistency and poor play. The talent was undeniably there but the results were lacking. Through his first three years Kyle had not managed to complete 50% of his passes nor was he able to make up for his inaccuracy with wins. However, with Jeff Tedford's vast knowledge of quarterbacks he was able to make the game fun again for Kyle and give Kyle a sense of leadership. As a result Kyle Boller has responded crafting an excellent season statistically (171-310-2116 55.2 completion rate 19 touchdowns 6 interceptions 3 touchdowns rushing 1 receiving) and results wise compiling a 5-4 record for the Bears. While Kyle may still make mistakes his decision making process has vastly improved to the point where he will be a very highly sought after quarterback in the upcoming NFL draft.
However the success of the offense has not entirely rested on Kyle's shoulders. He has been give the time to throw by a much improved offensive line which has only allowed 16 sacks in 9 games compared to 23 sacks in his 9 games in 2001. Bolstering the line has been the strong play of junior Marc Wilson and senior Scott Tercero both of who are considered strong NFL prospects. In the backfield senior Joe Igber leads the charge needing only 326 yards in his last three games to reach the 1000-yard plateau. Freshman Chris Manderino has been a pleasant surprise as a pass catching fullback out of the backfield. As for the receiving corps they have been bolstered by the excellent play of Junior JC transfer Jonathan Makonnen. Makonnen leads the Bears with 41 receptions for 526 yards and 5 touchdowns. Lashaun Ward has also greatly contributed with touchdowns of 52,15,54,25, 2 on 32 catches. However, perhaps the greatest receiving threat for the Bears has been tight end Tom Swoboda with 29 catches for 301 yards and 5 touchdowns compared to only 8 catches for 89 yards in 2001. The use of the tight end has been one of the most notable differences between past and present Cal teams.
On defense the catalyst has been strong defensive line play led by Tully Banta-Cain who has 9 sacks on the year. Tom Canada has been coming on strong and has received Pac-10 defensive player of the week for his 1 sack 2 Tackles for loss performance in a 17-12 victory over UCLA. The middle linebacking corps has been buoyed by senior Matt Nixon whose crowing achievement came on a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown against Baylor. Safety Bert Watts has anchored a veteran secondary, which has two of the conferences interception leaders in Jemeel Powell and James Bethea. When the offense has struggled the defense for the most part has taken up the slack. However there have been defensive struggles against big punishing running backs. The Bears have lived and died by their ability to pressure the quarterback. If they can gain constant pressure the depth and talent for the defensive line has proved a difficult challenge for several teams this year.
Special teams have been excellent for the Bears this season with a few notable exceptions. Jemeel Powell has one 90-yard punt return for a touchdown and Lashaun Ward leads the conference in kick return average at 28.8 yards per kick. Field Goal kicker Mark Jensen has been excellent hitting 14 of 18 field goals including two 50+ yard kicks and he is a perfect 35-35 on extra points.
Tempe has been a very difficult place for the Bears to play and they haven't encountered much success recently against the Sun Devils. However the Bears hadn't defeated Washington in 25 years, a streak the ended on the road. However, Washington isn't a very good team and ASU has proven to be excellent through the first 10 games of the season. Dirk Koetter and Jeff Tedford should be very familiar with each other since both recently held the position of Offensive coordinator at Oregon. Cal must shut down ASU running game and put immense pressure on Andrew Walter. Turnovers as usual will be very important and Cal will need at least +2 on the turnover margin to win. However the offense must return to its previous success it has been inefficient the last few weeks. The Bye week should help the Bears get healthy and fine-tune the game plans. It is no secret that the Bears are the underdogs and that is a position that the Bears have grown accustomed to and acclimated to throughout the season.