At the end of last weekend's nail-biting finish against Arizona State, it was hard not to think back to the first few series of the game. The Sun Devils let key moments literally slip through their fingers early, and it probably made the difference in the game.
On the Sun Devils' first three possessions, they let three first-down passes go through their fingers, one on fourth down, and two more on third down, killing three drives. The fourth-down pass, high but catchable, slipped through the hands of leading receiver Chris McGaha as he sailed passed the California 20-yard line.
Cal's dirty secret is an eighth best defense against the pass. That's in the Pac-10, not in the FBS. The third-ranked rushing defense has mitigated the problems, along with some help from some slippery hands.
While Cal was able to benefit from the numerous drops from Arizona State, the defense is not likely to have such fortune going forward. Three of Cal's remaining four opponents have the top three passer ratings in the Pac-10 (Andrew Luck of Stanford, Nick Foles of Arizona, and Sean Canfield of Oregon State), as well as the top three QBs in passing yards (Luck, Canfield, and Jake Locker of Washington).
This week's test comes against Canfield, who was the first Pac-10 QB to break 2000 yards this season. He also has the help of the vaunted Rogers brothers.
The front seven will be responsible for containing the ever-dynamic Jacquizz, but the outcome of this game might hinge more on how the secondary can contain his dangerous brother James. James Rogers leads the conference in receiving yards and receptions, while sharing a tie with his five receiving touchdowns.
The other name that might surprise some is wideout Damola Adeniji. Adeniji, a senior, came into the season with one catch in his college career, a 39-yard touchdown last year in Oregon State's blowout of Washington State.
This year, the senior has shined opposite Rogers, currently sitting sixth in the conference in receiving yards with three touchdown catches.
Jacquizz Rogers will also be a threat catching the ball, as he leads all Pac-10 running backs in receiving yards. He also has more receiving yards than any Cal player, besting Marvin Jones by five yards.
These surer hands are more likely to hold on to the open first-down passes that come their way, so the Bears must tighten their coverage in the secondary. The good news for the defense is Canfield has been sacked more than any other quarterback in the conference, with the second highest sack percentage (sack per drop-back).
Tyson Alualu, Cameron Jordan and the rest of Cal's defensive front have the third-most sacks in the Pac 10 and will need to show up big this week if Cal wants to remain a ranked team.
Syd'Quan Thompson might be one of the best corners in college football, but it will take a team effort to stop the aerial assault from Corvallis. Otherwise, the strong finish and third place in the Pac-10 could easily slip from their grasp.