GAME NOTES: The Arizona State Sun Devils are well rested and hungry for a win, as they head to Memorial Stadium in Berkeley to take on the California Golden Bears in a Pac-10 Conference showdown.
Coming off a bye last weekend, Arizona State has had two weeks to prepare for this matchup. In their most recent outing, the Sun Devils snapped a three-game slide with a 24-14 victory over Washington two weeks ago. This tilt will wrap up a three-game road trip for ASU.
All three of Cal's wins have come at home, where the Golden Bears have outscored opponents by a 139-17 margin on the season. But the Golden Bears have lost three of their last four contests overall, with all three of those losses coming on the road. Last weekend, they were routed by USC in a 48-14 final.
Cal has won the last two meetings with ASU to take a 15-14 lead in the all- time series.
Despite a steady downpour last time out against Washington, Sun Devils' quarterback Steven Threet threw for 288 yards and a pair of scores to help lift his team to victory. It was exactly the kind of performance the team needed coming off three straight losses, as Threet battled the elements and completed passes to nine different receivers. Despite a half-dozen drops in the first half alone, ASU's gunslinger still managed more than 200 yards and both of his touchdowns by halftime. He also had only one interception after throwing seven in his last two games. Threet and the ASU passing offense is registering 299 yards per contest, which ranks second in the Pac-10 and 15th nationally. The Sun Devils are posting 32.8 points per game. Deantre Lewis had a string of three straight 100-yard rushing games broken up against Washington. He is the first Sun Devil since 2003 to rush for 100 yards in three straight games, and he is also a dangerous receiving threat, having registered 234 yards and a pair of TDs on the season.
Arizona State ranks fourth in the Pac-10 in both total defense (348.2 ypg) and scoring defense (22.7 ppg). After giving up 42 and 31 points in their previous two outings, the Sun Devils picked up their play against Washington by holding the Huskies to a pair of touchdowns. Still, ASU could certainly stand to generate some more pressure to try and create turnovers. Entering this tilt, the Sun Devils rank 10th in the conference in both turnover margin and sacks. They did manage three sacks against UW, although Huskies' running back Chris Polk managed 110 rushing yards on 18 carries to keep the ASU defense off balance. Senior Max Tabach notched a career-best 12 tackles in that game, and his play has steadily improved since earning his first starting gig at safety against Oregon State on October 2nd. Vontaze Burfict leads the team with 45 tackles on the season, and he also has three pass breakups and a forced fumble.
The last time the Golden Bears played at home, they put up 35 points in a lopsided win over UCLA on October 9th. But in their last two road games, they managed only a combined 23 points in losses to Arizona and USC. Last week against the Trojans, Cal didn't get on the scoreboard until late in the third quarter. Then again, USC was playing so well that it threw the Golden Bears off their game plan, as they were trailing 21-0 before even registering a first down. Kevin Riley had a rough day under center, throwing for 193 yards and a pair of interceptions. As a team, Cal accumulated only 10 first downs and 245 yards of total offense. The Bears also converted just 2-of-10 third downs for the game. Riley has been inconsistent in the passing game, as the team now ranks 81st in the nation in that department (192.2 ypg). He has had better success at home, and that trend will need to continue this week if Cal has any intentions of keeping pace with ASU's high-octane offense.
While Cal's offense was sputtering, the defense was getting torched by Trojans' quarterback Matt Barkley, who threw for 352 yards and tied a school record with five touchdown passes. Motivated to end their first losing streak in nine years, the Trojans took out their frustrations on Cal and put 42 points on the board by halftime. They finished the game with 32 first downs and 602 total yards. USC's ground attack gashed the Cal defense for 211 yards and a combined average of 5.9 yards per carry. It was a rude awakening for a defensive unit that entered that contest leading the Pac-10 in several defensive categories. Following last week's effort, the Golden Bears are now ranked 2nd in the conference in total defense (312.7 ypg) and third in scoring defense (21.2 ppg). However, look for the team to put forth a much more inspired effort playing at friendly Memorial Stadium. In three home games on the year, Cal has allowed a total of only 17 points.
The last time ASU played three consecutive road games was back in 1990. And with the fewest seniors of any Pac-10 squad (13), the Sun Devils will certainly be tested against a Cal squad that always seems to thrive at home -- the Golden Bears have won 36 of their last 42 home games.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: California 23, Arizona State 20
Saturday, October 23rd, 3:30 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Memorial Stadium (71,799) -- Berkeley, California. Television: FSN, CSN Regional. Home Record: ASU 2-1, Cal 3-0. Away Record: ASU 1-2, Cal 0-3. Neutral Record: ASU 0-0, Cal 0-0. Conference Record: ASU 1-2, Cal 1-2. Series Record: California leads, 15-14.