Cal vs. Arizona State: Keys to the Game

Following the disaster at USC, Cal (3-3, 1-2) returns to the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium to face Arizona State (3-3, 1-2). The term "friendly" is an understatement, given that the Bears are 14-2 in their last 16 games in Strawberry Canyon. For ASU, Memorial Stadium has been anything but friendly, as they have not won a game in Berkeley since 1997. Here are some key matchups to look for…

Cal's fire and passion versus Arizona State

For California, this is an extremely crucial game at a critical junction of the 2010 season. Following last weekend's 48-14 loss to USC – a game many expected to be very competitive – doubt has been creeping into the minds of Cal fans everywhere. With that said, the team itself cannot have those thoughts. The Bears must come out with the correct mindset and approach that have led to their three blowout wins, which were all at home. There is little doubt about physical talent on California's side. But combine that with a team that is mentally prepared – with that fire and passion – then the Bears will come out victorious.

Cal head coach Jeff Tedford felt that his team had the right mentality all week in practice.

"Yeah," said Tedford when asked if he liked how his team responded. "Especially, as the week went on. You know, earlier in the week there is always a little bit of a hangover from a game like that. But, as the week went on and the preparation for Arizona State [was implemented], your mind gets focused on that."

The Bears will need a good game plan against a good Arizona State team, whose three losses are by a combined 15 points.

And if the Bears do not come out with that "fire and passion," expect the negative rumblings to be even louder.

Cal's front seven versus Arizona State's offensive line

In California's two big losses at Nevada and at USC, the California front seven was tentative and hesitant. In those two losses, California surrendered 52 and 48 points.

In California's other four games, the front seven was – as senior defensive end Cameron Jordan said earlier this year, "dictating what the offense does."

Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast was unpredictable, the defensive line was penetrating into the backfield, and the linebacking core racked up tackles. In those games, California only surrendered a combined 27 points.

Thus, it goes to saying that the front seven must dictate the tempo and win the battle at the line of scrimmage on Saturday to give California its best chance. That is no different with Arizona State coming in on Saturday.

ASU junior quarterback Steven Threet has racked up yards this year, leading a Sun Devils air attack that ranks 15th nationally with 299 yards per game. And while he has the arm and the skills to pick apart any defense – Tedford compared him to Arizona's Nick Foles – he has to be protected in order to do so. This is where Arizona State's offensive line comes in.

The Sun Devils' offensive line has notoriously struggled in recent years under head coach Dennis Erickson, resulting in an offense with great skill players to be very average. It has been no different in 2010. While Threet has thrown for 1,719 yards and 11 touchdowns, he has also been sacked 16 times and thrown 11 interceptions. Therefore, the defensive game plan is obvious against Arizona State: be unpredictable, be aggressive, and – simply put – be in the backfield.

If Cal sets the tempo on defense, then they will have the upper hand on Saturday. If not, it could be a huge day for Threet.

Cal junior running back Shane Vereen and the offensive line versus Arizona State's defense

By this point of the season, opponents are fully aware that stopping Vereen is key to slowing down California's offense. Thus, it is to be expected that Arizona State will pack the box with their own talented front seven, lead by defensive lineman Lawrence Guy and linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Gerald Munns. For the most part, Arizona State's defense has excelled in 2010, keeping the Devils in every football game.

However, a strong rushing performance from Vereen – helped paved by the offensive line – will be crucial for the Bears to score points. Through 2010, the offensive line has seen improvement and growth – that is, until the Bears faced USC last weekend. It will be on the offensive line to dictate the tempo on that side of the ball – and it will be a challenge, going up against another very talented defensive front seven.

A 4-3 record sounds much, MUCH better than a 3-4 record, and the winner will still have chances to take the lead in the conference race. But if the Bears are going to stay in the thick of things in the Pac-10, they must come out with the right mentality and control the line of scrimmage to win.

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