September 22, 2006

Ask the Expert Q&A: California Golden Bears

Throughout the remainder of the 2006 football season, will run a story previewing Arizona State's upcoming opponent through the view of a beat writer from that team.

This week, Chris Huston from was kind enough to take time out to give ASU fans insight into their next opponent, the California Golden Bears.

How would you rate this Cal team overall compared to the team the school had in each of the last two seasons?

I'd rate it better than last year's team, but not as good as the 2004 team that went 10-2 overall and was a play away from upsetting eventual national champ USC at home. The one difference is that the 2004 team had a first-round pick at quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. Nate Longshore has some talent, but it is not yet clear if he has as bright of a future as Rodgers.

It seems like Longshore has made dramatic strides in the last couple weeks. Is that how you see it and what has led to this development?

He has made strides as he's gotten more comfortable in the offense. It also doesn't hurt that the last two games have been in the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium and against easier competition than what was a fired-up Tennessee team and crowd in Neyland Stadium. He needed reps and less pressure to improve and he has gotten that the last couple weeks.

What happened to the team defensively between the first week against Tennessee and their performance more recently?

The team has gotten back to fundamentals and has worked on tackling and playing assignment football. The whole team was maybe a little wide-eyed and out of it against Tennessee. So chalk that game up as an anomaly.

Daymeion Hughes has three picks right? Who else, besides him are the team's top defensive playmakers and what can we look for from them in this game in particular?

Hughes does have three picks and is playing fantastic ball right now. Besides him, keep an eye out on No. 10 Desmond Bishop at MLB, No. 52 Brandon Mebane at DT, No. 4 Thomas DeCoud at safety and No. 8 Mickey Pimantel at OLB. I think these guys are Cal's best playmakers on defense and they will need to do as much as they can to disrupt Carpenter and keep him from getting in a groove.

Cal has a duo of great running backs with Lynch being one of the nation's best. Can you talk about the success of the offense running the football and will it be impacted by some offensive line injuries to the team? Also, please explain what is going on with the O-Line injuries.

The Cal spread offense is very conducive to running the ball. Both Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett are excellent in space and that's what the spread tries to accomplish. Tedford has called this line smaller, but more athletic than his past lines. Unfortunately, the Bears have been snake bit by injuries that last few years and this year is no different. Left tackle Andrew Cameron is questionable for the ASU game because of a sprained ankle, while right tackle Scott Smith is out for the next couple weeks. Mike Tepper and Mike Gibson are expected to either start or play a lot in their absence.

What are Cal's defensive keys to playing well against ASU?

I think it's too keep Carpenter from getting into his rhythm. He likes to scramble and make plays on the run and the Bears need to keep him from doing that. I think that Cal should probably dare ASU to commit to the run and play as many guys back in the passing game as possible. If ASU is completing a lot of balls to the tight end, Cal may be in trouble.

Tedford is 3-0 against ASU and the Bears shut out ASU in Berkeley in the last meeting there. Why had Tedford had so much success against Koetter and will that continue?

I think some coaches just have other coach's schemes figured out and then they transfer that confidence to the rest of the team. Tedford also seems to have Pete Carroll figured out and that's why Cal has played USC so well of late. So much of the game is mental and I think that is the case here. I think it will continue.

The ASU defense appears to be relatively improved. It leads the nation in sacks and number of tackles for loss. What is Cal doing to prepare for this? Anything unique?

At times Cal will max protect by bringing in a couple tight ends to help. But I also think Cal sees this as an opportunity for some big plays. Sometimes blitzes can backfire and leaves players in one-on-one matchups. I think that Tedford will take his chances with some shots down the field to DeSean Jackson if the Sun Devils show too much pressure.

What is the overall injury situation with Cal. Who is doubtful/probable/questionable?

The aforementioned offensive linemen are doubtful. Lynch is nursing a sore ankle, but he should be okay. Tight end Craig Stevens may be back in full force after recovering from a concussion. Of course, cornerback Tim Mixon is out for the year and end Phillip Mbkagou is still out as well.

What outcome do you expect in this game and why?

I expect Cal to win this one solidly. I am not convinced that ASU has played to its potential so far despite playing some lesser opponents. There also seems to be some residual issues between Koetter and his players and I'm not sure that they are ready to fight hard for him. Whatever the case, I do think Tedford has Koetter's number and in a home game for Cal, that will be key.

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