Four Downs: Arizona State

The Cal offensive line must reassert itself against an aggressive Arizona State defense that leads the nation in tackles for loss.

BERKELEY, Calif. – How can California get back on track after losing consecutive road games? Cal Sports Digest offers up its four keys to a win over Arizona State.

-Play A Complete Game
The Bears have shown flashes this season. For a play, for a drive, for a quarter, but they have yet to deliver for two halves, for four quarters, for 60 minutes.

To salvage this season, Cal must execute consistently. That means no more slow starts, no hoping for the offense to bail out the defense when there is a no-show and vice versa. The Pac-12 is too strong to waste extended periods of time and still come away with a winning record to secure bowl eligibility.

-Rattle Kelly
Name the conference leader in passing efficiency. Thinking Matt Barkley of USC? Nope. One of the stellar emerging redshirt freshmen, either UCLA's Brett Hundley or Marcus Mariota for Oregon? Wrong again. It is Arizona State sophomore Taylor Kelly, averaging nearly 287 yards of total offense per game.

Kelly was an afterthought coming into spring practice, the job of replacing Brock Osweiler expected to fall to either Mike Bercovici or Michael Eubank. Eubank was the superior athlete, Bercovici the better passer, but it was Kelly's steadiness that won him the job.

He has performed well at Sun Devil Stadium, but lost a fumble and threw two interceptions – one just outside the red zone with a chance to win the game – in a 24-20 loss at Missouri. Cal needs to make life miserable for Kelly in his first career Pac-12 road start, never let him get into a rhythm, and force him into more mistakes.

-Hold Tough Up Front
Arizona State leads the nation in tackles for loss, with nearly 10 per game. Cal has allowed 33 tackles for loss in four games, including 18 sacks.

The offensive line has been gutted by Ohio State and USC, 14 sacks coming in those two road trips. If the Bears can't protect quarterback Zach Maynard or establish any sort of ground presence, why even play the game?

Getting veteran right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin back from a knee injury soon will be an immense boost, but the other four men up front must do their part as well. Cal's personality under head coach Jeff Tedford has always started up front, one that must be rediscovered to pull out of this 1-3 start.

-Spring Keenan and Brendan
One of the few things Arizona State hasn't done well under new head coach Todd Graham has been on special teams, where they have allowed 18 yards per punt return. Of their 17 punts in four games, five have been returned and three were touchbacks.

Field position will be a terrific asset to Cal given its struggles, so they need to be aggressive in the return game with their two most electric players in wide receiver Keenan Allen and running back Brendan Bigelow.

If Allen and Bigelow can get loose and maybe even score, that lessens the burden on the offense and dramatically increases the chances of getting back into the win column.

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.


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