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ASU Football Opponent Primer: Cal Golden Bears

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Week two

NCAA Football: Arizona State at California Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

ASU’s 2020 Schedule

Nov. 7: @ USC

Nov. 14: vs. Cal

Nov. 21: @ Colorado

Nov. 28: Utah

Dec 5: UCLA

Dec 11: @ Arizona

Cal’s 2019 Season

Cal went bowling for the second consecutive season last year, defeating Illinois in the Red Box Bowl to finish the year with an 8-5 record, similar to ASU.

Justin Wilcox continues to make strides in Berkeley, and the Golden Bears will be looking for payback in this matchup after the Sun Devils took them down last season in the Bay Area when Cal was ranked No. 15 in the nation and sitting at 4-0 prior to the loss.

In the midst of their defeat against ASU in 2019, Cal starting quarterback Chase Garbers went down with an injury and was out for the next four weeks. The Golden Bears went 1-3 in that span, shattering any hopes they had of trying to make a run at the Pac-12 North title.

Cal was a perfect 7-0 in games that Garbers started, as he returned in a backup capacity in a week 10 loss against USC, then started the final three games, which included victories against Stanford, UCLA, and Illinois.

The win against the Cardinal was Cal’s first rivalry win in “The Big Game” since 2009, and it was capped off by a game-winning Garbers touchdown scramble with 1:24 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Cal-Stanford Rivalry Axe returned to the East Bay.

Cal’s defense held opponents to the fourth lowest average in the conference last year, giving up 21.9 points per game, while the offense averaged 21.2 points, which was dead last in the Pac-12. Though, much of that can be attributed to the Garbers missed games.

Key Returners

As noted above, Garbers is a key returner due to his presence and Cal’s record when he was healthy.

His stat line for last year included going 131-215 with 14 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions for a quarterback rating of 148.86.

Another key returner on the defensive side of the ball is defensive back Camryn Bynum, who helped a stingy Golden Bears secondary last year. Bynum originally opted out for the season, but changed his mind and elected to opt back in yesterday afternoon.

Biggest Losses

Losing the leading tackler in the Pac-12 is never easy, and that’s what Cal is dealing with after linebacker Evan Weaver was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals.

He averaged 14 tackles per game last year and was a force all over the field. Though, ASU fans favorite memory of Weaver might be when running back Eno Benjamin stiff armed the Cal standout linebacker last season on his way into the end zone (see video below, 25-second mark). Now the two are teammates in the same organization in the NFL.

Aside from Weaver, safety Jaylinn Hawkins was also drafted in the fourth-round by the Atlanta Falcons.

Reason Why ASU Could Win

The Sun Devil offense is expected to be new and improved this season under Zak Hill. Cal’s defense and its secondary was a strength last season, and ASU had a grind-it-out type of matchup on a chilly Friday evening with the Golden Bears last September.

It was Jayden Daniels first true conference road game, and the offensive line was still a mess. Add in the offensive deficiencies under former offensive coordinator Rob Likens with a freshman quarterback and a very young o-line, and it’s easy to see how the game turned into that type of ground and pound stalemate.

With Hill’s new system and a more experienced o-line and quarterback, if ASU is able to open the flood gates and take the offensive strides that they are hoping for, Cal might not be able to out score them and the Sun Devils could run away.

Weaver and Hawkins are also big losses on the defensive side of the ball, and ASU’s offense could try to take advantage of that unit early in the season. Though, the Golden Bears do return eight defensive starters.

Reason Why ASU Could Lose

On the flip side of that, Cal has not yet shown that they are a dynamic offense. They aren’t an air raid or a high-powered offensive machine, but they do control the ball well and have a very balanced attack.

Add in the capabilities of Garbers, and they are a much different team compared to how they play without him. If the Golden Bears defense shows up and they control the clock with a time of possession battle, that might bode in their favor.

Cal and ASU are similar in the sense that both coaches had to take over and rebuild programs and recruiting. Both Wilcox and Herm Edwards have tried to establish identities and a new culture within their programs, and both teams have similar records over the last two seasons, both going 7-6 in 2018 and 8-5 in 2019.

Wilcox is entering year four in Berkeley, and Edwards is entering year three. Both coaches have something to prove as they try to make a run at their respective conference titles. On paper, this one has the makings of fun, competitive matchup.