First off, I'd like to formally announce that I'm saying screw all this "Arizona State hasn't won against Cal in the bay since 1997" talk. And not because I'm a backer of the "different team, different year" theory.
Quite the contrary, my reasoning behind my "screw that" proclamation is that believe that the Sun Devils have much more to worry about beyond some discouraging stat; like really facing an actual starting quarterback for the first time in 2012. Oh yeah, and the fact that ASU had four of their seven 2012 turnovers in their only other road game of the season against Mizzou.
To top it all off, I'd argue that the Golden Bears, despite their 1-3 record, have more talent on an individual basis than any team the Devils have faced in the Todd Graham era.
See where I'm coming from now? There's a lot more to fear than just history and that's exactly what we're going to run through in the breakdown.
Everything begins and ends with the run game for the Golden Bears. Cal is paced by Isi Sofele, a senior running back who is almost impossible to take down when he gets rolling with his cannon ball-like stature. Beyond the workhorse Sofele, Cal also has big play machine Brendan Bigelow who is averaging 20.6 yards a carry with ten totes on the year. Senior C.J. Anderson is always in the mix as well with his 210-frame playing the earth role to Bigelow's wind and Sofele's fire.
All three backs contribute in the receiving game out of the backfield too but it's not like it's exactly necessary with a stud like Keenan Allen holding down the wide receiver position. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior has everything you could ask for from your WR1 with a rare mixture of size and speed. But Allen's uncanny timing and leaping ability is what will likely make him a future NFL first round draft pick. Arizona State's corners aren't tiny by any stretch but they're going to have their hands full if quarterback Zach Maynard can get Allen into some jump ball situations.
Unfortunately for Cal fans, that's not exactly something they can consistently count on from the erratic Maynard. Maynard, who is the half-brother of Allen, is a poor man's Jake Locker with worse decision-making (if that's even possible). But for every bone-headed blunder he has, he'll surprise you with play that makes you question if he could possibly be one of the country's elite. The lefty is also quite adept at making a play with his feet with athleticism that can surprise an undisciplined defense.
Maynard also has two freshman to work with at the wide receiver position. Bryce Treggs is a well-rounded five star recruit who usually sees the most snaps while Chris Harper is second in team win reception with 16 thanks to his mature route-running.
Another reason for Maynard's up-and-down play is Cal's mediocre offensive line. Forgive me, I shouldn't say mediocre as they can hold their own when it comes to run-blocking. But in the pass protection department, this unit seems lost most the time, with the 13 sacks they've given up the last two games being the low point of the season. Tackle Matt Summers-Gavin's absence has been a large factor in that but redshirt freshman Jordan Rigsbee and Chris Adcock are exploitable at their guard positions. And expect DT Will Sutton to do just that.
Cal is fielding the second worst scoring defense in the Pac-12 at 31 points per game and it's not like that's just because of facing USC and Ohio State. The Golden Bears gave up 31 points to both Southern Utah and Nevada in their first two games of the season and has shown no real ability to pressure the quarterback with only eight sacks on the season.
That's surprising considering they operate out of a base 3-4 but the Golden Bears simply have not been able to recover from the loss of LB Mychal Kendricks. Robert Mullins is average at best in the inside and OLB Chris McCain has shown flashes as a sophomore but has yet to consistently put it all together.
Despite the lack of edge-rushers though, Cal does know how to eat up some space with Deandre Coleman and Aaron Tipoti holding down the end positions nicely. Kendrick Payne also provides some power as a tackle but Viliami Moala is the more prototypical inside man weighing in at a cool 335 pounds. These gentlemen will get the best of ASU's o-line at times but with Taylor Kelly's mobility, it shouldn't be too much of a problem.
As for the coverage guys, senior Josh Hill brings experience and versatility to the secondary with his 32 tackles leading the team. Marc Anthony and Steve Williams can also hold their own at the cornerback position and have even chipped in six tackles for loss as a pair this season. But beyond those three, this secondary is quite thin. If you have the talent to go four or five wide on this team, you're going to be able to pick them apart with your intermediate passing attack, especially with a nearly non-existent pass rush.
X-Factor(s): Cornerbacks Osahon Irabor and Deveron Carr - While most folks like to poke holes in ASU's number one Pac-12 pass defense ranking due to the fact that they haven't really played a starting quarterback, I still find it somewhat impressive. Sure, they haven't faced the stiffest of competition but it would be quite easy for a team to run up some crazy garbage time passing numbers with ASU jumping out to huge leads at home. And the fact is, they haven't, which is encouraging from a discipline standpoint. Still, I'm curious to see how both Irabor and Carr perform when lined up across from Allen. I don't expect them to shut him down by any means but if they can take him out of the game a good amount of time, Maynard will begin panicking. And win Maynard panics, good things happen.
Final Prediction: Arizona State 34 - Cal 24 - Yes, I believe the drought ends Saturday. Cal has been outscored 37-7 in the first quarter this season and I don't think Todd Graham is going to be leaving the training wheels on Kelly for the second straight road game. The play-calling will be more aggressive and Kelly will have success when the defense is forced to pick their poison in the passing game. I see tight end Chris Coyle having another big game as Kelly likes to lean on him when things get sticky. Yes, Cal will get theirs in the run game but I wouldn't be surprised if D.J. Foster busts off a couple 15+ yard scampers of his own. ASU might fumble once or twice, but I don't see any picks from Kelly with the Devils winning the turnover battle and in turn the game.