Arizona finds themselves in a circumstance similar to Cal's last season. The only difference is that a re-enactment of the "Mutiny on the Bounty" took place this week in Tucson. Approximately half the U of A team went to the president of the university to air grievances and to request the removal of John Mackovic. The issue was "settled" for the remainder of the season and Mackovic will remain in command. This has got to cause division within the team. This is Mackovic's second season as the head coach of Arizona so less than half of the players are his recruits. The majority are ex-recruits of former head man, Dick Tomey. The initial original player demand was that Mackovic be removed as the coach or the players would not travel to face Cal. Well, guess what, some unhappy campers will be forced to play another game under Mackovic against their will.
Cal's problem is that they cannot seem to win two games in a row. The Bears upset Michigan State on the road to earn a #23 national ranking, only to return home to be upset by Air Force. Then Cal traveled to Seattle and ended a 26 year streak of futility against Washington, only to lose the following week against USC. The Bears enjoyed homecoming with an upset of UCLA but then stumbled the subsequent week in Corvallis against Oregon State. Will it happen, again, this week? Cal upset another top 25 team, ASU, last Saturday in Tempe to put an end to another long-standing losing streak... This does seem to be the season to put an end to streaks - the fact of the matter is that Cal has NOT won consecutive Pac 10 games since 1998.
Historically, Cal and Arizona have a track record of close games (12 of the past 13 contests have been decided by a touchdown or less). The only one-sided affair in the series was last season when these same Wildcats, not Mildcats, charged to a 31-3 lead in Memorial Stadium, only to hold off a late run by the Bears, winning 38-24. Arizona's recent play is reminiscent of Cal's demeanor last season. Cal could play an opponent tough for a half but at the first sign of adversity, the game could turn on a dime into a blowout. Well, Arizona has experienced that same phenomena the last two weeks. They visited Oregon State and got shellacked, 38-3. Then, for homecoming, UCLA embarassed the Wildcats in front of their fans, 37-7. The result was Arizona's sixth consecutive Pac 10 defeat-a school record. No wonder "all hell broke loose this week"...
Cal's Offense vs Arizona's Defense
Larry MacDuff has returned as the defensive coordinator, the founder of the famous Double Eagle Flex defense. Two hybrid positions exist in the scheme: the "rover" linebacker and the strong safety. They are basically interchangeable, and mirror each other. The 2002 unit has not lived up to its prior reputation as the Desert Swarm. The Wildcats are #9 in total defense, last in rushing defense, last in conference sacks (18), last in turnovers forced (12) but amazingly #3 in pass defense without their best player, Mike Jolivette. Most importantly, Arizona is #5 in scoring defense allowing a respectable 23.5 points per game. Their defense is led by a one-man wrecking crew, two-time all-Pac 10 MLB, Lance Briggs (6'2" 245), from Elk Grove HS in Sacramento. Mr Boller will have to account for him on every single down as he approaches the line of scrimmage. Briggs led the Wildcats in sacks in 2001 with 6.5...
Cal is #8 in total offense based on yardage but #2 in scoring offense, averaging 35.6 ppg. The Bears are #6 in the "pass happy" Pac 10, averaging 249 ypg, but might face a challenge with the secondary of U of A. Fortunately, quarterback Kyle Boller is efficient, throwing for 27 TDs vs 7 interceptions. Arizona's DBs must have "hands of stone" because they have managed only 3 picks in 10 games. The next fewest is USC with 10 in 9 games.
Jeff Tedford has seen the Arizona game film of Oregon State and UCLA games. Both teams bulldozed the Arizona "D" with the running game. The Wildcats yield an average of 172 ypg, but give it up in chunks of 4 yards per pop! The second highest average yards per carry given up in the Pac 10 is UCLA's 3.4. Most assuredly, the Bears will attempt to exploit fours yards per carry. That will translate into the public address announcer repeatedly chanting the mantra: "first down, California!" Cal is seventh in run offense (102 ypg) but had a prosperous outing against ASU last week. Igber was injured last season when the Bears played Arizona so he has never faced these players. Arizona did not play Cal during the 1999 and 2000 campaigns. Ziggy Iggy can definitely create havoc the first time a defense faces his unique running style.
Jeff Tedford directed the Oregon offense to an impressive 63-28 demolition of Arizona last season in Tucson. The Duck offense was balanced with 282 yards rushing as well as 325 yards passing for a monstrous total of 607 yards of total offense. The Ducks OL gave up just one sack. Hopefully, this Saturday, Cal will open up the offense again featuring three wideouts like it did early in the season. Since the Wildcats might demoralize quickly if they fall behind early, be ready for 1 or 2 trick plays in the first half orchestrated by the Maestro. Cal's offense had a tough day in Berkeley with Kyle Boller being sacked a season high 8 times last season at the hands of the Wildcat "D". Kyle Boller has not forgotten that beating and would like to teach these guys some respect in 2002. Four senior defensive ends (Johnny Jackson, Alex Luna, Eli Wnekand Austin Uku) have graduated, and much of the ‘Zona pass rush departed with them. Arizona registered 3.3 sacks per game in 2001 and are only notching 1.8 times this year.
***Offensive Line vs Defensive Line***
To be fair, three of the four starters coming out of spring practice, are not on the two-deeps, now. The defensive ends were supposed to be juco AA, Andre Torrey,and from Laney CC and redshirt freshman, Isaac Watts, from Encinal High in Alameda. The new defensive tackle was supposedly another redshirt frosh, Brad Brittain(6'5" 255). The only Arizona DLs that are legitimate pash rush threats are converted linebacker, Joe Siofele(6'2" 255), strongside defensive end with 4 sacks, and walk-on weakside DE, Copeland Bryan (6'4" 230), a redshirt freshman from Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose. The Wildcats have four big, physical run stoppers rotating @ DTs. Young Thompson (6'2" 305) is a force. Cal should have good pass protection if the offensive line comes ready to play. The Bear's OL is one of two in the conference that yields less than 2 sacks per game. To further illustrate, ‘Zona's front seven is only racking up 4.8 TFLs per game, the lowest total in the league.
***Running Backs vs Linebackers***
Arizona has two top linebackers in MLB Lance Briggs(8+ tpg) and rover backer, Ray Wells(5.8 tpg). To fill Siofele's spot at weakside backer is true freshman, Spencer Larsen (6'2" 225), who is making 2.9 stops per contest. He blitzes on occasion and has 2 sacks. Cal's running back, Joe Igber, makes the opponent respect the run threat, enabling the Tedford's passing game to be successful. Cal should be able to run the football to the weakside behind Mark Wilson and Scott Tercero...
***Wide Receivers/Tight Ends vs Secondary***
Cal has four receivers with 33 receptions or more. Geoff McArthur has yet to face Arizona so he should be excited. Jonathan Makonnen has the same situation. Only LaShaun Ward played last season and got deep against Arizona. Ward will usually face redshirt freshman, Darrell Brooks, from Moreno Valley. Makonnen will line up opposite David Hinton. The tight end, Tom Swoboda, will challenge the skills of the strong safety, Clay Hardt. The free safety, Jarvie Worcester, was hurt but returned to action last week. He has started for three seasons and is a hard hitter. He totalled 70 tackles last season and averages 5 stops per game so far in 2002. Wih time to pass, Kyle Boller should have a solid game!
Cal's Defense vs Arizona's Offense
Cal has the weakest defense and Arizona has the weakest offense in the Pac 10, respectively. Something has to give - who really is the weakest of the weak?
Arizona has a one-dimensional offense that scores 15.5 points per game. They are ranked #117 out of 117 teams in the NCAA in rushing offense, averaging a paltry 47 yards per outing (actually the rushing stats include minus 378 yards due to 44 quarterback sacks). Somewhat suprisingly, despite a porous offensive line, the passing offense is ranked #5 in the Pac 10, generating 272 ypg. Senior quarterback Jason Johnson had a career day in Berkeley last season throwing for 337 yards and 3 touchdowns to all-conference WR/PR, Bobby Wade. This is Arizona's chance to win this game. Cal has the #9 rated pass defense, coughing up 269 yards of real estate weekly. If Cal can focus on pressuring Johnson and doubling on all-star Wade, they'll triumph.
***Defensive Line vs Offensive Line***
Once again, Arizona was struck hard by injuries early in the season. On their offensive line, they lost two right tackles, Brandon Phillips (6'7" 285) and Darren Safranek (6'7" 295), as well as two left guards, Aaron Higginbotham and John Vorseck. The Wildcat coaching staff moved Reggie Sampay from right guard to left guard to fill the void. This results in a formidable left side of T Makoa Freitas and G Sampay coupled with Keoki Fraser at center. However, it leaves two true freshmen starting on the right side, strong side guard Kili Lefotu (6'5" 298) of Riverside, and strong tackle Tanner Bell (6'8" 324) from North Monterey County High School. For the sake of this discussion, Cal needs to put tremendous pressure on this group. They have fallen victim to 44 sacks, 4.4 per contest. However, this line has been getting progressively worse with 25 sacks given up in the last 4 Pac 10 encounters. On the other hand, Cal has rocked opposing quarterbacks for 33 sacks in 10 games. If the Bears can garner a half a dozen sacks by rotating 8-10 defensive linemen constantly, they will prevail. Tom Canada (7 sacks)and Josh Gustaveson (4.5 sacks) need to wear down the local lad. Tully Bana-Cain (10 sacks)and Jamaal Cherry (3.5 sacks) should give Mr Freitas a workout, too. Cal's defensive tackles need to collapse the pocket and join the party this week, racking up a couple of sacks...
***Linebackers vs Running Backs***
Arizona lost an all-Pac 10 running back, Clarence Farmer (6'1" 215), to a knee injury in game four. They have since been rotating three excellent freshmen prospects to no avail. Cal's linebackers played their best game of the season last week in shutting down ASU's ground game. Cal leads the Pac 10 in turnover margin (+17) while Arizona places last (-6). Bad omen.
***Secondary vs Wide Receivers/Tight Ends***
Cal needs to play better on pass defense than Jemeel Powell and James Bethea did last week. Both cornerbacks were beaten deep thrice! Well, Arizona also owns two outstanding speedsters at WR, Bobby Wade (76 recs for 1058 yards and 7 touchdowns over 10 games) and Andrae Thurman (48 recs for 722 yards and 3 scores). Senior Jason Johnson has thrown for more yardage per game than Kyle Boller. Arizona only throws to their tight ends 1 or 2 times a game. They also do not feature passing to their running backs - they have been attempting only 2 or 3 a week.
Hopefully, Cal can double-team Wade with Asomugha or Powell and a safety. A linebacker should be assigned to tight end Hugo. This would free up the rover, McCleskey, to help out on the star, Mr Wade. Perhaps Cal can mix zone coverages in the game plan, too, to keep the ball in front of them. For goodness sakes, why give up the homerun if it's not necessary. It's like not giving Barry Bonds anything good to hit.
Special teams have not been a strong area for John Mackovic. Thanks to the punt return prowess of Bobby Wade, Arizona leads the conference in punt returns. This is another scary area for Cal because the Bears given up some decent punt returns. Bobby Wade "can take it to the house", baby. In virtually every other area of special teams, Cal is statistically superior. Remember, the punt block is the talent equalizer!
Time for the Bottom line:
Cal must come out ready to play some football. Arizona's roster is made up of 22 former Texas and 5 former Hawaii/Samoan high school football players. These young men take this game seriously. Even so, Cal should be able to succeed in ALL areas of its winning formula:
#1 - Cal should be able to build a lead by halftime. Arizona has lost every quarter on average this season. The Bears have been in front at intermission in 9 out of 10 games so far.
#2 - Cal should again win the turnover battle given that they are facing the last place team in the conference in this statistical category. Cal has lost the turnover battle only once (Oregon State) and been tied twice (USC and Air Force), losing all three football games. Cal NEEDS to win here!
#3 - Cal is #2 in red zone scoring with a 90% batting average whereas Arizona is #7 in red zone defense, allowing their opposition to score three out of every four trips inside the twenty yard line.
#4 - Cal has won every game in which they won the sack battle. Cal is second in pass protection while Arizona is the worst. Cal is fourth in number of sacks per game and third in sack yardage in contrast to ‘Zona's last place standing, again. On paper, it's no contest.
#5 - Cal had its best special teams game against Arizona State a week ago. Cal simply needs to contain Bobby Wade on punt returns and execute in the others facets...
Prediction: Cal 41, Arizona 20.