ASU Defense Presents Challenge

Statistically, there is no better defense in the Pac-10 Conference. However, Stanford was able to amass 473 yards of total offense (237 rushing, 236 passing) last week versus the Arizona State defense. Cal looks to put up similar numbers this weekend when the Bears travel to Tempe on Saturday for a 12:30 p.m. PT kickoff…

Stanford became the first team to gain over 400 yards offense against Arizona State when the Cardinal beat the Sun Devils 33-14 last week in Palo Alto. Through seven games in 2009, the Sun Devils have only allowed two other teams to amass over 300 yards of total offense (Georgia 334 yards, Washington 378 yards).

ASU was allowing an impressive 57.3 yards per game rushing prior to the Stanford matchup. Nonetheless, the Sun Devils still rank No. 6 in the nation at 83.4 yards per game.

Stanford's success begs the question if Cal will duplicate the Cardinal's success by following the pattern it used. But Golden Bear head coach Jeff Tedford quickly refuted the notion during Tuesday's press conference.

"Stanford is different as far as we're concerned," said Tedford. "They have a big back who pounds in there. Those aren't our backs. We're not big, pounding backs. Stanford runs downhill a lot at you and they don't care if you have extra guys in there. They're going to run downhill at you and let him run through tackles. I'd have to say that we're not going to look at that game and say, 'We're going to do what Stanford did' - because we don't, we aren't Stanford."

But the Bears do present a different problem for the ASU defense. Speed!

Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen are arguably the fastest backs the Sun Devil defense will see this year. However, ASU's defense resembles one that shut down the Bears earlier this month.

"Very similar," Tedford said comparing the Sun Devil defense to USC. "Very similar as far as personnel is concerned. Great athletes, great team speed.

"They're physical and they're fast. Their linebacking corps is very fast; their two defensive ends are very fast [and] physical inside with their tackles. They get up and challenge you outside. Get in your face and play bump on you. It's a good group."

USC held the Bears to a paltry 86 yards rushing, and 285 total yards, back on October 3. But a lot had to do with the Trojans building a 17-0 lead just seconds into the second quarter, which forced Cal to abandon the run early. ASU is not quite as explosive and that should allow Cal to develop the run over the course of the game.

Cal has averaged 299 yards rushing in its last two games but the competition hasn't been stellar as UCLA and Washington State are both winless in Pac-10 play. However, the Bears have shown much promise after being outscored 72-3 in losses to Oregon and USC. That is what makes this week's matchup very intriguing.

Is Cal hitting its stride and becoming an elite Pac-10 team many expected in the preseason? Has ASU peaked as it hits the toughest stretch of its schedule?

The Sun Devils have put up very impressive defensive numbers thus far. While allowing just 280 yards per game, nearly 20% of all offensive plays against ASU have gone for negative yards.

But did the Stanford offense expose an average Sun Devil defense?

ASU has defeated only one team with a winning record (Louisiana-Monroe). And take away Georgia, Oregon State, and Stanford's wins against the Sun Devils and those teams combined are just one game over .500. Cal will be the first ranked opponent (No. 24 in the BCS) they have faced since UGA in late September. Furthermore, ASU still has not faced any of the conference top three teams (Arizona, Oregon and USC).

Saturday's game will have huge bowl implications as well. A Golden Bear victory makes them bowl eligible and sets up the Bears to reach eight wins with two consecutive home games against Oregon State and Arizona before traveling for its final two games. A Sun Devil loss just might eliminate them from a chance at bowl eligibility with only one game remaining on the schedule versus an unranked team (at UCLA).

Notes

  • ASU might lead the conference in total defense, but the offense ranks second to last averaging 359.9 yards per game.

  • Jeff Tedford has never won more than one October Pac-10 road game as head coach at Cal. On October 17, he won at UCLA achieving another milestone – his first career win in Los Angeles.

  • With a win, the Bears will be bowl eligible for a school record eighth consecutive year.

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