Following their decisive win over Utah and some help, Arizona State now finds themselves tied with Colorado atop the Pac-12 South. Yes, it's still early, but the first third of the season has been promising for the Sun Devils.
The same can't be said of ASU's opponent this week.
The California Golden Bears have stumbled out of the gates, partially due to a tough schedule and partially due to a rebuilding defense.
They do have one major advantage in their match-up against ASU: home field. The Sun Devils have not won by the bay since 1997.
Let's take a first look at the Bears and what the will bring to Saturday's game.
Cal's Season to Date: The perennially warm seat of head coach Jeff Tedford is once again getting hot now that the team is off to a 1-3 start, with their only win coming against Southern Utah. The Bears were competitive in close losses to Nevada and Ohio State, although that's of little consolation.
Cal's Last Game: Following up their hard fought loss on the road to the Buckeyes, Cal faced another ranked challenge away from home. They opened conference play against USC. The Bears held Matt Barkley to just 192 yards and two touchdowns while intercepting him twice, but their defense was gashed for 292 yards and the Cal offense could only muster 250 yards in a 27-9 defeat.
Cal's Stat Leaders
- Rushing:Isi Sofele - 228 yards, 4.6 ypc, 1 TD
- Passing: Zach Maynard - 927 yards, 4 TD, 4 INT, 130.95 rating
- Receiving: Keenan Allen - 29 receptions, 309 yards, 1 TD
- Tackles: Josh Hill - 32
- Sacks: J.P. Hurrell - 2..5
Cal on Offense: The Bears offense has been unremarkable this year, ranking in the middle of the pack nationally in both yards and scoring.
This makes perfect sense considering that Zach Maynard is their quarterback. Now in his second season as Cal's starter, Maynard is equally adept at making a phenomenal play as he is a boneheaded one. The lefty has been unimpressive so far this year, but does have a live arm and good mobility, as ASU found out last year when Maynard threw for 237 yards and a touchdown and ran for 40 more with another score, all without a turnover.
Like ASU, the Bears have a trio of good running backs. Isi Sofele is coming off a 1,322 yard season, and is compact, tough runner. Behind Sofele is the powerful C.J. Anderson, who had three touchdowns against ASU last year, and the explosive Brendan Bigelow, who is averaging 20.6 yards on his 10 carries. The backs are an active part of the passing game, as ASU found out last year when Anderson had a 74-yard touchdown reception.
On the occasions when Maynard is on target, he has one of the nation's best wide receivers (and his brother) in Keenan Allen. The 6-foot-3, 210 pounder is a great blend of size and speed, and should contend for All-American honors. The top targets after Allen are both freshman. Five-star recruit Bryce Treggs is the other starter, and has 10 catches thus far, while Allen's backup Chris Harper is second on the team with 16 grabs.
Outside of Maynard's inconsistency, the Cal offensive line has been the biggest problem area. The non-descript group has done a decent job in the run game, but have given up over four sacks a game, ranking 117th in the nation in that area. For a quarterback already on shaky ground, this is not a good trend. for Cal.
Cal on Defense: Over the last two seasons, Cal's fielding a very aggressive 3-4 defense that has ranked among the nation's top 30 units overall, and has been especially good with their pass rush.
This year? Not so much. Currently, the Bears rank 87th in total defense and just tied for 58th in sacks. That lack of a pass rush has exposed a secondary that has underwhelmed despite fielding experienced players at all four spots.
Much of these struggles have to do with the loss of five starters, including the outstanding Mychal Kendricks, but there still have been some disappointing play.
Like many 3-4 defenses, the line is tasked with engaging the blockers so the linebackers can make the plays, but there is still some talent up front. The three-man line is anchored by 309-pound end Deandre Coleman, a very talented player who has 2.5 tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks thanks to his blend of size, strength and quickness. Tackle Kendrick Payne and end Aaron Tipoti are each over 280 pounds and provide power to challenge ASU's offensive line.
The linebacking corps was hit hard by the losses, and three of the four starters on Saturday will be freshmen or sophomores. The group is used in the pass rush frequently, but thus far has had little success. Inside linebacker Robert Mullins is one of the team's top tacklers, and the very talented Chris McCain is a sophomore who could inherit Kendrick's spot as the next star Bear ‘backer.
The secondary is led by the cornerback duo of Marc Anthony and Steve Williams, who have combined for 53 tackles and six tackles-for-loss. Behind them, Josh Hill leads the team with 32 tackles.