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October 22, 2010

Who has the edge?

BearTerritory publisher Ryan Gorcey and ASUDevils.com publisher Chris Karpman break down Saturday's Pac-10 match-up, unit-by-unit.

Despite last week's dismal performance, the Bears still own the No. 2 pass defense in the Pac-10, and are No. 34 overall. However, Cal is eighth in the conference in interceptions, with only five. Marc Anthony and Darian Hagan are tied for 16th in the Pac-10 with four passes defended. Steven Threet leads the Pac-10 with 286.5 passing yards per game and ASU's up-tempo offense, orchestrated by first-year coordinator Noel Mazzone, is pass-heavy and capable of moving the football very effectively, though red zone efficiency is an issue. Mike Willie and Gerell Robinson are big target WRs.
Senior Mike Mohamed is seventh in the Pac-10 with 39 tackles and brings a lot of experience to the front seven. Cal is second in the conference in run defense, holding opposing RBs to 3.7 yards per carry. This is a veteran group with a lot of speed and physicality. True freshman Deantre Lewis is averaging 7.4 yards per carry and is very dynamic in space and on the edge, while sophomore Cameron Marshall is a physical between-the-tackles runner who grinds out extra yards. ASU's offensive line has been dramatically better at opening lanes.
The defensive line was stunned by some new motions along the USC front, but this season, the front three have been the strongest part of the Cal defense, led by senior DE Cameron Jordan. They're a big part of why the Bears are still a top run-defending team. Junior center Garth Gerhart leads an increasingly improved offensive line still devoid of a senior starter. The Sun Devils have protected their QB better and provided balance by more effectively opening holes for RBs than in the last couple seasons. Right tackle Aderious Simmons has major upside.
Inconsistency is the norm with this unit. To be effective, the Bears need to give Kevin Riley time to throw, receivers like Marvin Jones need to catch the ball and Cal needs to find more ways to get the ball into Keenan Allen's hands. Sophomore CB Deveron Carr was a force before being injured. Osahon Irabor takes his place and is promising, but not as polished. Junior Omar Bolden hasn't been as consistent as his capability should suggest. Safety has been a position of weakness with a lot of shuffling, but was better against UW.
Shane Vereen is going to have to depend on a very inconsistent offensive line to make some holes, but once he gets loose, he's a force. He's third in the league with 132.3 all-purpose yards per game and is No. 3 in the Pac-10 with 630 rushing yards. Vontaze Burfict is eighth in the league in tackles per game, but ran into a disciplinary issue and is coming off the bench. Still, with athletes like Oliver Aaron, Brandon Magee and Shelly Lyons, plus the cerebral Colin Parker and veteran Gerald Munns, it's well stocked.
If Dominic Galas and Matt Summers-Gavin are in there, it's a different game. With that tandem, run blocking improves dramatically. Center Chris Guarnero is suceptible to bull-rushing DTs, so he-and Riley-may be in for a long day if he continues to start. Lawrence Guy is one of the more imposing DTs in the league and is regularly doubled-teamed. Saia Falahola and Bo Moos are steady in their interior role. ASU has a pair of solid strongside ends in Jamaar Jarrett and James Brooks. True freshman rush end Junior Onyeali is impressive.
Kick return is a strength, with three viable options in Allen, Isi Sofele and Coleman Edmond. PR Jeremy Ross has worked on his decision-making, but is still a bit of a question mark. Cal is eighth in the Pac-10 in KO coverage, despite Giorgio Tavecchio averaging 65.7 yards per kick. ASU has the Pac-10's leading punter, senior Trevor Hankins, and former Lou Groza Award-winning kicker in senior Thomas Weber, though Weber has struggled at times this season. Bolden leads the Pac-10 in kickoff return average with teammate freshman Kyle Middlebrooks second, making ASU an imposing special teams unit.
Cal is better at home than on the road, but it remains to be seen just what this team is made of. Can they bounce back after a shellacking in LA? The D will keep the Bears in the game, and I think that may give the O some margin for error. CAL 24, ASU 17. Cal's randomness makes this a difficult game to predict, especially coming off the whooping suffered at the hands of USC last week. With ASU's confidence improved after a win against Washington on the road, coupled with getting a bye before the Cal game, it may be a corner-turning moment. 31-24, ASU.

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