After a week in Arizona where the Sun Devils had a bye, the Cardinals had a bye and the Arizona Wildcats played Washington State (the closest thing to a bye in the Pac-10), football is back this weekend in the Valley of the Sun.
With the off-week in the rearview mirror, the focus shifts to the California Golden Bears. A week ago as the rain came pouring down, the Sun Devils were celebrating and feeling confident heading into a week to rest and regroup for the final stretch.
Following four straight tough games, the Sun Devils emerged 1-3. That record does not look impressive at all. However, when playing Wisconsin, Oregon, Oregon State and Washington, wins will be awfully tough to come by for any program. Still, the sense around the ASU football program and in the Pac-10 is that the Sun Devils will potentially make a push for a bowl berth, and possibly further.
Coming off of a hard-fought victory on the road against the surging Washington Huskies, ASU has momentum. That is an attribute that has not been felt since 2007.
Sure, Dennis Erickson’s squad beat Washington and that is it, but the Sun Devils looked surprisingly crisp. A team at the midseason mark should be crisp, and a week of practice, repetition and attention to detail should only help.
Speaking of crisp, the California Golden Bears were far from crisp at the L.A. Coliseum on Saturday afternoon.
One week after destroying and dismantling the UCLA Bruins 35-7, Cal laid an egg against the USC Trojans. Honestly, an egg sitting at the 50-yard line probably would have been more intriguing than the performance the Bears displayed.
The Cal players would be the first to own that as well. “We couldn’t slow them down on offense”, Cal coach Jeff Tedford said after the game. “They went up and down the field. In both phases of the game they dominated us.”
The score showed USC up 45-0 with five minutes left in the third quarter. It was not until the 2:59 mark in the third, when Cal running back Shane Vereen caught a pass from Kevin Riley for a 31-yard touchdown to finally get the Bears on the board.
By the game’s end, USC dominated in all facets of the game. The 48-14 final score showed how one-sided this contest was.
However, not many expected a result quite like this. California did not even record a first down until the score was 28-0!
Entering the game, the story for Cal was their defense. The Bears led the Pac-10 conference in several defensive categories before USC ran rough shot on them.
But big blowout losses are not unfamiliar around Strawberry Canyon. Just last season Cal lost in horrendous fashion to USC (30-3), Oregon (42-3) and the Washington Huskies (42-10).
Jeff Tedford still coached the Golden Bears to eight wins last Fall and a bowl berth.
This Saturday’s contest matches up two teams that are feeling completely different about their respective teams.
The Sun Devils are confident after “remembering” how to win, and on the road no less. California is licking their wounds after only earning 10 first downs and 14 points against a USC team that is nowhere near the Trojan teams of years past.
Both teams are 3-3 (1-2 in the Pac-10), so this game is a virtual must-win for both schools. On each sideline, the coaches understand that the conference slate is a meat grinder, and with each week that passes, that sentiment becomes more and more of a reality.
At the top of the conference is Oregon, and rightfully so. Behind the Ducks, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington and Arizona all follow with 2-1 records.
USC is at 2-2 in the conference, even though they are not eligible for a bowl game, the Trojans mark the division between taking a step to the top, and falling to the bottom of the barrel.
California and ASU are currently fighting to get to the top, but this game Saturday could determine what direction each team finishes the year.
Entering the game Erickson’s squad might be “emotionally” and “mentally” as fit as the Sun Devils have been all year. On the other hand Cal might be at the lowest point of their 2010 season.
Sure, Nevada did beat California earlier this season 52-31, but the Bears fought in that contest into the fourth quarter. This past Saturday, Tedford’s team did not even get on the scoreboard until two minutes before the fourth quarter.
Heck, Cal didn’t even look like they deserved to be on the Coliseum turf. The game was that ugly.
Just ask Dennis Erickson about responding to tough losses. The true test of a team is how they respond to those losses.
For California, the Bears are in a very similar situation as Washington this past Saturday. It is a virtual must-win game on their home field.
As for the Sun Devils, the same mentality that ASU brought and sustained on the road trip to Seattle has to be displayed this Saturday in Berkeley.
To close, there are a couple good things for ASU heading into Saturday’s contest.
First, for the Sun Devil defense, Kevin Riley will be calling the shots for the opposing team’s offense, not Jake Locker.
That is undoubtedly a plus.
As for the ASU offense, the weather is supposed to wet and rainy once again (64 degrees and 60 percent chance of rain).
Will the wet weather once again bring out the best in the Sun Devils offense?