Arizona State-Cal: Keys To the Game

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Arizona State-Cal: Keys To the Game
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With the rain clouds rolling into the Bay Area sky, the Sun Devils invade Strawberry Canyon. With both teams sitting in the middle of the Pac-10 conference standings and both squads entering the contest with 3-3 records, clearly for both schools, this game is a must win. 

California is questioning where their program is headed under Tedford.

Arizona State, believe it or not, is the confident team heading into today's showdown. 

The result at the end of the day will go a long, long way for the winner. A 4-3 record would set up both teams rather well in terms of bowl eligibility. 

But let's not get ahead. Today's game isn't in 3-D or on ESPN prime time, but this might be the biggest game of the week in the Pac-10. 

If Arizona State is going to leave Memorial Stadium with a win the first area for concern will be the line of scrimmage. The saying goes, "if you control the line of scrimmage, you win the game". That phrase should be reminded to the Sun Devils before this contest. 

On defense, ASU has started to get a better push on the defensive line with the addition of Junior Onyeali, but more is needed. A name that has not been mentioned often enough is Lawrence Guy. The big body in the middle of that line will have one job today: stop Shane Vereen.

Both teams want to establish their running games. California's most explosive player is  Vereen. For people that are not that familiar with Vereen, he might not be the third best running back in the Pac-10 like people call him. Vereen might be the best. 

Vereen is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and already has 11 touchdowns on the season.

Last week, the USC Trojans dominated the line of scrimmage and played most of the afternoon in the backfield. Vereen's total was only 53 yards. 

Vereen has the big play ability and the speed to take one to the house. His 59-yard run earlier this season versus Nevada proved that. 

And for ASU, their defense in the past has been known to give up a big play or two. However, before the bye week, the Sun Devils defense limited the Washington Huskies to minimal gains and earned the win. 

California is going to want to set the tone early. A couple runs early might lead to a play-action deep ball to Marvin Jones or the young freshmen, Keenan Allen. The Bears are going to want to score early and keep pouring it on. 

The Bears are kind of like "bullies". If they score, they want to keep scoring and pour it on. However, if the Sun Devils score and keep pounding the Bears, history shows that Tedford's team will fold. 

Maybe Vereen will be shown up by ASU star freshman Deantre Lewis. If you are looking for the big play from the Sun Devils, then keep your eyes on No. 25. 

Although ASU's rushing numbers against Washington were not great (99), each carry served a purpose. The Sun Devil offense worked their way up the field mixing run and pass and eventually found one of their many big-play receivers. 

With each week that passes, the wide receiving corps of ASU seems to get deeper and deeper. Mike Willie made an impact early this season. Kerry Taylor is bouncing back from a down '09 season and seems to make all the tough sideline catches. Finally, Gerrell Robinson has made a name for himself after being so highly recruited. 

This might be an offensive firework show even with two pretty solid defenses. 

Arizona State will have the talents of Aaron Pflugrad for the first time in two weeks after finally getting rid of his turf toe injury. When Pflugrad is healthy, he can do some damage and make the tough catches over the middle. 

But if fans are going to be entertained today, even with the rain, both teams will have to take care of the football. 

Cal's quarterback, Kevin Riley, has thrown six interceptions on the season, but none of them have occurred at Memorial Stadium. Is it a coincidence that Cal has not lost at home? 

For the Sun Devils, they sure hope so. By the way, the Sun Devils are last in the Pac-10 in takeaways, so ASU won't exactly force Riley into mistakes. 

Although I bet ASU defensive coordinator Craig Bray took a look at the USC tape and all those zone blitz schemes. Maybe today will be the day ASU gets four takeaways. 

For Steven Threet, he must continue to be conscious of ball security, especially in the red zone. Against Washington, ASU only had one turnover in the rain. I am sure Dennis Erickson will sign up for that in a second. 

All in all, both teams are coming into this game on different emotional levels. Cal is almost as down as they can be with a 3-3 record, and ASU is as confident and determined as any 3-3 team you have ever seen. 

Football is an emotional game, and Cal will thrive in front of their home crowd. All the more reason for ASU to have a big play early. Whether it is a kickoff returned for a touchdown or a big pass play, heck, even a takeaway, someone has to make a big play early. 

From that point on, one team might run away with it, and don't be surprised if that team is ASU. Confidence and determination is tough to break, and right now, the Sun Devils are both. Who would have thought a win at Washington would provide so much? 

But ASU won on the road, in a hostile environment no less. The Sun Devils won against maybe the most dynamic quarterback in the Pac-10 and shut him down. Dennis Erickson's squad even limited both the turnovers and penalties to almost nonexistent in an absolute downpour.

Hopefully today's rain-soaked game in Berkeley will provide an exact replication. 

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