Annually one of the nation's premier rushing teams, the Golden Bears will look to assert themselves against a Sun Devil defense that was largely overpowered by Stanford tailback Toby Gerhart a week ago.
From this point forward, the games will not get much easier and their magnitude will not decrease week-by-week as ASU needs to secure at least two more victories to return to the postseason after missing out in 2008.
Offensive Projected Starting Lineup
QB 13 Kevin Riley 6-2 221 Jr. Portland, Ore.
RB 4 Jahvid Best 5-10 195 Jr. Vallejo, Calif.
FB 33 Brian Holley 5-10 235 Sr. Pomona, Calif.
WR 1 Marvin Jones 6-2 190 So. Etiwanda, Calif.
WR 3 Jeremy Ross 5-11 216 Jr. Sacramento, Calif.
TE 80 Anthony Miller 6-3 258 So. San Jose, Calif.
LT 79 Mike Tepper 6-7 319 Sr. Cypress, Calif.
LG 75 Matt Summers-Gavin 6-4 291 RS-Fr. San Francisco, Calif.
C 54 Chris Guarnero 6-2 275 Jr. Arvada, Colo.
RG 61 Justin Cheadle 6-2 299 So. Bakersfield, Calif.
RT 72 Mitchell Schwartz 6-6 317 So. Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Even the most pedestrian college football fans could tell you the focal point of the California offense is, and will continue to be, star-studded tailback Jahvid Best, currently standing 14th in the nation with 775 rushing yards with 11 scores on 114 carries, also standing among the country's top-15 with a 6.8 yards-per-carry average thus far, allowing him to have already surpassed 3,000 career rushing yards just over midway through his third season as a Golden Bear.
Perhaps the most explosive runner in all college football, Best has the ability to break a game wide open with a single carry, California, the Pac-10's best rushing team, is far from a one-trick pony in its running attack as sophomore Shane Vereen (5-10, 198) ranks 10th in the conference with 375 rushing yards on 69 carries (5.4 avg.) with six scores. Senior fullback Brian Holley earns stable time in the backfield as a blocker while having also earned five receptions and two carries.
Junior quarterback Kevin Riley has suffered ups and downs and has both earned and lost starting duties during the early portion of his career but thus far in 2009 he has been consistent under center for the Golden Bears, completing 99-of-183 passes (54.1 pct.) for 1,454 yards with 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions; ranking him tied for second place in touchdown tosses while among the fewest interceptions thrown by a Pac-10 starting quarterback this year.
In the passing game, Marvin Jones, one of the west coast's top wide receiver recruits among the 2008 class, has evolved into a playmaker, leading the Golden Bears with 18 catches for 308 yards (17.1 avg.) with four touchdowns. Receiver Jeremy Ross has totaled 12 catches for 199 yards (16.6 avg.). One-time Florida Gator Nyan Boateng has added seven receptions for 92 yards (13.1 avg.) with a touchdown grab.
Sophomore tight end Anthony Miller has provided a reliable presence in the passing game, hauling in 14 receptions – tied for second best on the team – for 198 yards, while backup tight end Skylar Curran (6-4, 256) has added five catches for 50 yards with a touchdown.
The Golden Bear offensive line – traditionally a team strength – features senior Mike Tepper at left tackle, redshirt freshman Matt Summers-Gavin at right guard, junior Chris Guarnero at center, sophomore Justin Cheadle at right guard and sophomore Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle.
After the Sun Devils had noticeable issues limiting Stanford running back Toby Gerhart a week ago, the massive question mark in this week's affair for ASU is whether they can contain the ever explosive Jahvid Best, as well as Shane Vereen and the entire Golden Bear rushing attack.
Defensive Projected Starting Lineup
DE 44 Tyson Alualu 6-3 295 Sr. Honolulu, Hawaii
NG 76 Derrick Hill 6-2 302 Jr. Oakland, Calif.
DE 97 Cameron Jordan 6-4 287 Jr. Chandler, Ariz.
OLB 9 Eddie Young 6-0 239 Sr. Berkeley, Calif.
ILB 10 Devin Bishop 6-1 239 Sr. San Francisco, Calif.
ILB 18 Mike Mohamed 6-3 237 Jr. Brawley, Calif.
OLB 3 D.J. Holt 6-1 250 So. Santa Clarita, Calif.
CB 5 Syd'Quan Thompson 5-9 191 Sr. Sacramento, Calif.
CB 26 Darian Hagan 6-0 186 Jr. Los Angeles, Calif.
S 29 Marcus Ezeff 5-11 219 Sr. Santa Rosa, Calif.
S 25 Brett Johnson 6-1 194 Sr. Las Vegas, Nev.
The Golden Bears, who employ a 3-4 defensive alignment, rank near the middle of the Pac-10 in most major defensive categories but feature excellent talent in the front seven and one of the nation's premier athletes at cornerback.
Linebackers Mike Mohamed and Mychal Kendricks rank among the conference's top tackles, collecting 62 and 48 total stops, respectively including a combined eight tackles-for-loss and three interceptions. Devin Bishop and Eddie Young have also earned high marks thus far in 2009, ranking not far behind Cal's top two tackles, as Bishop has totaled 30 tackles and three tackles-for-loss, while Young has posted 28 stops and 4.5 tackles-for-loss.
Senior defensive end Tyson Alualu is a menacing force and nightmarish pass rush threat with his combination of size and athleticism, leading California with five sacks and six tackles-for-loss among his 32 total tackles, which ranks him third on the team in total stops.
Chandler native Cameron Jordan is regarded as one of the league's more underrated defensive linemen and starts opposite Alualu. In his third year on the field for the Bears, Jordan has collected 23 tackles, including 5.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks.
Junior Derrick Hill clogs up the middle of the Bears' three-man front at nose guard and has totaled 18 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss and two sacks.
Syd'Quan Thompson, a full-time starter during his three-plus seasons in Berkeley, has become one of the nation's most renowned cornerbacks. Darian Hagan joins Thompson as starting corners to create one of the Pac's most athletic combos at the position, and the pair has combined for over 50 tackles and 10 pass breakups this year.
Seniors Marcus Ezeff and Brett Johnson patrol the back of the secondary at the two safety spots. Johnson statistically leads the way, rating fourth on the squad with 31 tackles while Ezeff has chipped in 26.
Special Teams Lineup and Preview
K 40 Giorgio Tavecchio 5-8 173 So. Moraga, Calif.
P 19 Bryan Anger 6-4 202 So. Camarillo, Calif.
KR 34 Shane Vereen 5-10 198 So. Valencia, Calif.
3 Jeremy Ross 5-11 216 Jr. Sacramento, Calif.
PR 3 Jeremy Ross 5-11 216 Jr. Sacramento, Calif.
True freshman Vince D'Amato and sophomore Giorgio Tavecchio have both seen duty at placekicker for the Golden Bears, with D'Amato connecting on four-of-eight tries and Tavecchio having split his two attempts.
Bryan Anger, proven to be one of the better punters in the conference, averages 41.6 yards on 36 kicks with 11 placed inside the 20-yard line.
Punt Returner Jeremy Ross has shown some flash this year, averaging 27.2 yards on his four returns with one score while he also averages 29.7 yards on three kickoff returns.
The Sun Devil nation is in dire need of positive events Saturday; after an up-and-down four game stretch to begin the Pac-10 schedule, the games ahead likely pose challenges much greater than the first half of the season and ASU can ill-afford to allow itself to continue to slide out of the win column.
As usual, most Sun Devil eyes will focus on quarterback Danny Sullivan, as the senior looks to rebound from a rough outing at Stanford that ended in injury.
There's little guesswork involved regarding what the difference-making factor likely will be; if ASU's defense doesn't step up its level of play to a noticeable extent from what it showed last week, this Halloween affair will be no treat for Sun Devil fans as Jahvid Best and company have the talent to haunt the maroon and gold all 60 minutes.
Injury Update and Lineup Notes
- Wide receiver Kerry Taylor is questionable with a hamstring injury.
- Wide receiver Kyle Williams will return to the field after missing last week with a hamstring injury.
- Punter Bryan Anger was a teammate of ASU quarterback Samson Szakacsy at Camarillo (Calif.) High School.
- Defensive back Mark Anthony (Chandler High School), defensive end Cameron Jordan (Chandler High School) and long snapper Matt Rios (North Canyon High School) are Arizona natives.
- Linebacker Ryan Davis and ASU cornerback/wide receiver LeQuan Lewis were teammates both at Artesia High School and Cerritos (Calif.) College. Former ASU All-American basketball player and current member of the Oklahoma City Thunder James Harden and current Sun Devil point guard Derek Glasser both attended Artesia High as well.
- Kicker Vince D'Amato was a teammate of ASU offensive lineman Evan Finkenberg at El Toro High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. Golden Bear junior linebacker Charles Johnson also attended El Toro High School.
- Running back Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson was a high school teammate of Sun Devils Patrick Jamison, Anthony Jones, Colin Parker, Gerell Robinson and Kerry Taylor at Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton High School.
- Cornerback Darian Hagan and ASU safety Clint Floyd both attended Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles.
- Wide receiver Marvin Jones attended Etiwanda (Calif.) High School, the same as former ASU basketball star and current Portland Trailblazer Jeff Pendergraph.
- Defensive backs coach Al Simmons coached ASU's cornerbacks (2006-07) under Dirk Koetter and Dennis Erickson.