Stake Your Place: Arizona State Preview

Posted by: Avinash on Friday, October 3rd, 2008

From a yardage standpoint, Cal looked on even terms with the Sun Devils last season (359 to 363). The Bears defense also came up big early, garnerng an early fumble return for a touchdown and two sacks and maintaining strong pressure on Carpenter through the first half. Even the running game was less than sparkling, as the unsteady run defense gave up only 2.7 yards per carry even as Arizona State took over the game.

It didn’t matter though, because the Sun Devils made up for the promising start with time, time, time. Arizona State held the ball for 37 minutes , including 12 minutes in the fourth quarter to rush the Bears out of the desert. Arizona State converted nearly half of their third down conversions, and both of their fourth down conversions, both of which resulted in touchdowns on their respective drive. Just like Oregon State, those conversions made all the difference.

Injuries, penalties, and those aforementioned late turnovers in turn allowed Arizona State to just run out the ball on Cal’s Rose Bowl hopes and placed themselves in a position to dominate the Pac-10. So what comes next?

Bears Wih Fangs has the following:

Veteran senior Rudy Carpenter is throwing his way into ASU records books, and is the obvious focal point on the Sun Devil offense. However, this is mostly attributed to ASU’s struggling rushing game, which currently ranks 110th out of 119 teams in Division 1 Ball.

The return of RB Keegan Herring figures to help (please no pitches to the outside, our defense doesn’t like that), especially when Bears fans remember the way Keegan contributed in ripping Cal a new one on the ground in last year’ win. But how much Herring will matter remains to be seen, with ASU’s patchwork offensive line that features a plethora of young green talent.

It’s a good thing they have Herring back, because Arizona State’s rushing game can best be described as turgid. Against UNLV, the eighth worst rushing defense in the country, they managed a glorious 3.64 yards per carry. It bottomed out against Georgia at home, managing a superb 19 carry, 4 yard performance.

Keegan Herring has been out of the lineup, but his stats from last season don’t seem to indicate he’s capable of dominant stretches as opposed to schizophrenic play.

Although Herring did spectacular things against UCLA and Oregon, he was stuck in the mud against USC and laid eggs against Colorado and Washington State. Against Cal he was right at average, doing no more, no less.  We should see a steady diet of Herring and Nance, but they averaged only 4 yards per carry in last year’s games. They should be watched, but they shouldn’t be the focal point given how strong our run defense has looked this season (currently 1st in the Pac-10).

The key is as always Carpenter, who has either played average or above average against the defenses he faces. It was the trend last year, and it continued into this season (including the Georgia game).

Although it doesn’t necessarily translate into wins, it’s okay to let Rudy Carpenter run wild if you get ahead early and punch the team’s offense in the mouth. His consistency is impressive.

The key will again be putting pressure on the Sun Devil offensive line and keeping Carpenter from running through his progressions or finding his receivers. Against Cal, the pressure came early but subsided as the quarters wore along; the Bears’s goal will have to be maximizing the pressure on Carpenter and keeping it up as the game goes along.

Danzig has a good point about the receivers we’ll be facing.

Rudy will often throw into coverage and I can usually count 3-5 balls that should’ve been picked.. but because his WRs are so tall there are not many corners that play the ball when it’s in the air.. they’re scared. In 2006 Dante [Hughes] was not afraid of Jones and made plays on the ball… we gotta do that again.

First off, I can’t tell the difference in his perf when you flush him out or when you leave him alone… he’s equally as good. But one thing is for sure.. he likes it when teams play zone… he’s got very smart WRs that find the soft spots in the zone.

Last year we thought we won the 2006 game because we pressured Rudy and he became irratic… so we alternated between zone and sending everyone and nothing in between. BUt in reality it was just good corner play… 2006 taught us that stopping their WRs and secondary play is the key… we can let them run like we did in 2006..i think Torain had a career day against us…. but we need to play some man… send Zack often on delayed blitzes but stop their WRs.

Jones is everywhere… but I noticed he gets alot of balls even when covered… and with him being 6’4 vs SydGOD’s 5’9… Rudy won’t avoid throwing to Jones.. mark my words. Syd needs to play the ball and less on jones because he’ll get a chance for a pick in this game. Jones will get yards, but we need a pick in this game… it wasn’t the sacks that made Rudy erratic in 2006… it was the PICKS!

This Scott guy is dangerous… and they use him alot like the Hawk… in fact they play him exactly like the Hawk.. they send him over the middle on 3rd downs… in fact I get this strange feeling he’s improvising sometimes and just finds a zone and sits down… and Rudy connects with him… we can’t let him do that.. we need to do what Taylor Mays used to do to the Hawk.. hit him during his route.

Magaha is Rudy’s clutch guy.. i notice Rudy goes to Magaha when he’s in trouble… He’s got Nance as his dump off or Magaha down the sidelines… that’s the rub, he shouldn’t be going to Magaha when in trouble but he does because Magaha has so many of those impossible catches… he just catches the ball… so I think Hagan will have a chance at a pick too… and we shouldn’t be afraid of Magaha’s speed, he’s slow.

The Golden Bears are again ranked in the top 15 in passer efficiency defense through four games, a number that doesn’t earn much dap consideirng how meek some of the quarterback competition we’ve faced in comparison to Carpenter. But it’s worth something that our secondary has looked strong going into the heart of conference play. Still, the battle will be won at the line of scrimmage and whether Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan can penetrate through that front, even with the loss of Rulon Davis.

Obviously the key will be to hold down Arizona State’s offense, because I don’t think Cal’s offense is capable of more than 30 points at home against that solid defensive front. The offense will be going against a team that gives up 3.8 yards per carry, which is right on the level of Maryland, a team that dominated the Bears at the line of scrimmage and shut down the run game. With Shane Vereen and Tracy Slocum now starting in the backfield, you can’t expect the rushing offense to take us home.

Hence why Tedford reopened the quarterback competition:

Everybody has heard that we’re evaluating our quarterbacks, but that position is not the only one. We always look at every position, whether it be quarterback or safety or punter, and we want to put our best options on the field. All along I have said that we may need both Kevin Riley and Nate Longshore to contribute for us to reach our goals. We are in a great position in that we have two very talented players at that position, but we need to figure out which one will put us in a position to start faster offensively.

Tedford knows the key; jump out early before ASU gets in sync. The Sun Devils have managed a meager 16 points in the first quarter this season, continuing a trend of ineptitude from the 2007 season (26 points in the first quarter in their nine Pac-10 games); The Bears could have had a 21-0 lead through the 1st quarter but missed two crucial red zone chances and settled for two Jordan Kay field goals (and a third one just outside the red zone was blocked). Convert early and Cal can probably rest easy the rest of the way. Whoever starts tomorrow will have that responsibility to hold, although it’s not out of the question we see the other sometime during the game if we don’t get going.

Otherwise it could be a lot like USC last season; frustrating quarterback play in the pouring rain.

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