The last time California quarterback Davis Webb faced Arizona State, the Sun Devils had a different defensive coordinator and a different defensive scheme. He was a freshman a Texas Tech. Arizona State was coming off of a Pac-12 Championship Game loss to Stanford. Despite that, the Sun Devils came into the 2013 Holiday Bowl as 17-point favorites.
Webb dissected then-No. 14 Arizona State, going 28-of-41 passing to the tune of 403 passing yards, with four touchdown passes, en route to earning game MVP honors and upsetting Arizona State.
From that Sun Devils defense, Honorable Mention All-American linebacker Salamo Fiso returns as the lone main contributor who's faced Webb before, though he's been suspended for the first three games, and will be making his 2016 debut this Saturday. That game, he tallied nine tackles. The only other returners? SPUR linebacker Laiu Moeakiola played as a redshirt freshman in 2013 and made 21 tackles on the season, but didn't record one against the Red Raiders, though he did see action. Ditto with defensive tackle Viliami Latu.
Moeakiola underwent shoulder surgery in December, expecting to play at safety because of the perceived strength of the linebacking corps and the personnel weaknesses in the Arizona State secondary -- rather the opposite of the move that Derron Brown made for Cal -- and last year, played in 11 games with 51 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and two sacks at the Spur linebacker position.
“Jake Spavital worked with me at Tulsa, so he’s got his own little flare that he puts on it (the Air Raid),” Graham said. “It’s a little different. I’m impressed with their physicality. They've got a two-back set. No. 99 (sophomore fullback Malik McMorris) is 300 pounds at fullback so they are very physical. I was very impressed with them. Their physicality and heart that they showed against Texas you know, very similar scheme (to Texas Tech). I think they are one of the top two offenses in the country passing the football.”
That similarity to Texas Tech is what Webb will lean on, since his old teammates -- led by 540 passing yards from the man who Wally Pipp'd him in Lubbock, Patrick Mahomes -- lost 68-55 to the Sun Devils two weeks ago at Sun Devil Stadium.
"Pat Mahomes and I talked for a little bit last night," Webb said on Tuesday. "[I've talked to] numerous receivers, numerous guys on defense, just former teammates that I've kept in contact with, throughout the four or five months I've been here, just really good friends of mine on the team, to see how they were doing, how I was doing, and obviously, we talked a little bit about Arizona State. Hopefully, we'll be ready to play, because if we don't, they're going to get after us a little bit, because they're a very good football team.
"I'm talking to former players, and former teammates there at Texas Tech. They reiterate it -- they're a great football team, one of the best in the country, and they've proved that on film the first couple games of the year."
Key Numbers: Arizona State Defense
- 0.67 turnovers forced per game (106th nationally)
- 65% opponent completion percentage (112th nationally)
- 4.50 opponent TD to INT ratio (101st in nation)
- 163.55 pass efficiency defense (122nd in nation)
- 2.0 passes broken up per game (112th nationally)
- 41.0 passing attempts per game for opponents (118th)
- 26.67 completions allowed per game (125th)
- 14.67 passing first downs allowed (122nd in nation)
- 3.0 passing TDs allowed per game (116th)
- 28.67 rushing attempts against ASU per game (10th-fewest in nation)
- 3.33 rushing first downs allowed per game (4th)
- 2.33 sacks per game (49th in nation)
- 0.06 sacks per opponent passing attempt (72nd)
- 4.3 touchdowns allowed per game on defense (100th)
- 9.25 yards per passing attempt allowed (125th)
- 14.22 yards per completion allowed (107th)
- 2.57 yards per rushing attempt allowed (13th)
- 15.31% of opponent plays resulting in a turnover, sack or TFL (53rd)
- 32.06% of opponent plays that result in a touchdown or a first down (93rd)
Statistically, Arizona State is far from the best. The Sun Devils do a stout job against the run, ranking ninth in the nation in defending the rush, allowing a paltry 73.7 yards per game. That can partially be attributed to the fact that the Red Raiders -- and head coach Kliff Kingsbury -- are built, much as the Bears are, around the pass, throwing 53 times compared to 22 runs for 82 yards (stats eerily similar to Cal's ground game against San Diego State).
On the other hand, Arizona State is the worst in the nation in defending the pass, ranking 128th out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in passing yards allowed (379.3), allowing those 540 to Mahomes, but also 229 against Texas-San Antonio in a narrow 32-28 win, and 369 yards on 23-of-33 passing from Northern Arizona's Case Cookus.
http://www.scout.com/college/arizona-state/story/1708918-asu-spur-bandit... "They've seen some teams that are going to throw it," said Bears head coach Sonny Dykes. "Texas Tech is probably as good as anybody in the country at throwing the football, and didn't really run it much against them. Sometimes, those are a little bit misleading."
That's not much different from last year, when Jared Goff went 30-of-51 for 542 yards and five touchdowns, with no interceptions in the 21-point comeback win in Berkeley. That season, Arizona State was ranked 127th out of 127 possible teams in passing defense, allowing 337.5 yards per game through the air.
In that win, Chad Hansen had four catches for 91 yards -- a pittance, compared to his 13.3-catch, 182-yard average through the first three games this season -- but still, a game that's considered his coming-out party. As he stood at the banner for a post-practice interview on Tuesday, defensive back Darius Allensworth shouted at him, "BIletnikoff Chad!" Hansen had, earlier in the day, been added to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List for the nation's top receiver, fulfilling former receiver Bryce Treggs's prediction.
"They did lose one of their really good corners from last year [Lloyd Carrington], but they gained a new guy, who's a really good player, super athletic, very long," Hansen said, referring to JuCo transfer J'Marcus Rhodes, who stands at 6-foot, 180 pounds, but has just four tackles this season, while Texas transfer Bryson Echols, who was expected to be a big early contributor, only has two stops, both coming against UTSA.
The Sun Devils are still tinkering with their defensive backfield after the win over UTSA, with Moeakiola -- who started the game at Bandit safety, moving to Spur linebacker, replacing junior Marcus Ball and Rhodes moving to Bandit safety. Once Rhodes was inserted, Arizona State forced four three-and-outs.
The Roadrunners specifically targeted Ball, with wheel passes to its running backs out of the backfield, and finding its running backs on passes to the flats.
Despite the Arizona State defense being somewhat out-of-sorts, in terms of personnel moves, and despite what the numbers say, Cal isn't taking the Sun Devils lightly, in the least, with Webb in particular roundly praising their physicality.
"That's why I don't pay attention too much to stats," Webb said. "I'll watch them on film, and they're the best team we're going to play this year, so far. Their D-line is very athletic, their secondary is very athletic, very aggressive. That's a credit to coach Graham. He's a great defensive coaching mind, he's a great head coach, and he has his guys ready to play each and every Saturday. On film, they look pretty good. Their D-line is pretty athletic, their secondary is very good. I think they're just as good as Texas, if not better."
"They're very disciplined," said receiver Patrick Worstell. "They're aggressive. They're a physical defensive back team. But, I think we can bring that right back. We're going to work on that, watch their film. I think that we'll be prepared when the time comes."
While the 60% blitzing of last year's Keith Patterson defense is gone, Patterson's Sun Devils will still occasionally bring pressure, and will do it more often than other defenses. When they do bring pressure, it will come from the edges, particularly from D.J. Calhoun, the WILL linebacker. When that happens, slot receivers can go uncovered, which means the likes of Melquise Stovall could have a big impact.
Even with that blitzing defense last year, though, Arizona State failed to sack Goff. The Bears return both tackles, the left guard and the center from that offensive line, though Dominic Granado has been leapfrogged by redshirt freshman Addison Ooms in the middle.
"Watching the film, it's a little bit different," said inside receivers coach Jacob Peeler. "He's still going to do what he's comfortable with. We've got to prepare for everything. At the end of the day, we've got to do what we're good at, make sure the guys are ready to see everything. The first couple weeks, we thought we knew what we were going to see, and we saw some stuff that we didn't expect. We're always anticipating the worst ... Early downs, they're doing a little bit more zone looks, instead of the craziness and blitzing, but he (defensive coordinator Keith Patterson) is still doing it. That's what he's comfortable with, so that's what we've got to perpare for and expect on every down."
One of Peeler's charges -- Bug Rivera -- got in last year at the end of the comeback win, and has seen a marked increase in his role this yar, as the switch to inside receiver has netted him eight catches for 100 yards, and a role in the punt return game, with Vic Wharton sidelined.
"I don't want to say I've seen improvement, because they were good last year," Rivera said. "They had some athletes out there, and they really get after it on their coverage units. They're guys who know how to really play the game. There are some fast guys out there."
Where Rivera and Stovall can be most effective is in the inside screen game. UTSA drew in the pass rush of Arizona State and was able to capitalize by hitting dump-off inside screens for chunks of yardage, just as Stovall and Rivera did on Saturday. The yards that the Roadrunners got were not just big down field passes late in the game; they were yards that mattered.
Webb threw for 396 yards on 27-of-40 passing, with four touchdowns and no interceptions against the Longhorns, but that was also with a run game that kept Texas honest, rushing for 111 yards on 40 attempts. Take out the three sacks for 30 yards, and the Bears rushed for a respectable 140 yards on the ground, but that was against a Longhorns defense that is now ranked 68th in the nation in rushing defense.
"Their front is really good, and they've done a great job stopping the run," Dykes said. "People have not been very efficient at all, running the ball against them. For us, we want to be balanced. I think the more balanced we can be, the better we can be. I think that we talked about trying to be more balanced last week, and I would not have thought we would have been 40-run, 40-pass, but I think that makes it better for our quarterback, when we can run the ball. So, I think that's always important for us to be able to run it, and we'll have some opportunities, based on numbers, to run it this week, but you still have to be able to block them up front, and they've changed their scheme a lot, defensively.
"They're not blitzing as much as they were last year. But, obviously, that's still part of their package. Those guys know how to do it, and when they have blitzed this year, they've been effective. They've gotten to the quarterback, when they've done it. It's a little bit different approach than maybe it was last year, but I think they're playing good defense."null