What a win last week for the Bears. The importance of beating a ranked Texas squad can’t be overstated – this huge 50 – 43 victory will undoubtedly set the tone as the Bears go into conference play. The offense proved it can shred athletic, quality defensive squads and the defense proved that it can put together timely stands and put up just enough resistance to keep the Bear Raid in the fight until the end. This is undoubtedly the marquee win of Sonny Dykes tenure at Cal and will hopefully add some needed swagger to the program. The Bears will need all the confidence they can get to stand tall against the Pac 12’s elite, and will get a chance to build on their great start as they head to Tempe to take on ASU.
This week we’ll take a quick look at what made the awesome win against Texas happen and what the Bears need to do this week to get another big win against undefeated ASU.
Cal vs. Texas – Can anyone stop the Bear Raid?
Davis Webb is the real deal and it feels like his iteration of the Bear Raid under first year coordinator Jake Spavital can’t be stopped. Texas came in with a lot of confidence and energy, but it just didn’t seem to phase the offense at all. Webb spread the ball around, going 27 for 40 while gaining 396 yards with 3 TD’s and 0 interceptions. While Davis did find 8 other receivers, the star of the night was Chad Hansen. The Texas secondary had no answer for the breakout star, who came away with 12 catches 196 yards and 2 TD’s – this was another game under Hansen’s belt that proves why he should be a frontrunner for the Belitnikoff Award. While defenses will surely try to key in on Hansen going forward, the emerging supporting cast of Jordan Veasy, Melquise Stovall, Vic Wharton and Demetris Robertson has proven they can help out. This offensive air attack is going to carry the team this year.
The other side of the ball was not as seamless– the Cal defense gave up 568 yards with 307 coming on the ground. After three weeks, we have a good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the team -307 yards given on the ground this week, 334 given against SDSU and 248 against Hawaii all point to the fact that the defensive unit is unable to stop the run consistently. With that being said, it doesn’t seem that the Bears actually need a shut down defense to win this season, because of the huge boost they get on the other side of the ball. Opportunistic turnover creation and a “bend don’t break” philosophy late in games has put the Bears in position to win at the end in each of their first three games – if they keep putting up just enough resistance to stall a few drives and earn a few takeaways it will be enough to edge most games in the Bears favor.
While the Texas game was by no means a perfect outing, it gave this team a blueprint for success that can be replicated on the majority of teams left on the schedule – play fast, spread it around, get Hansen going and force just enough stops on defense to slow down the opposition.
Looking Ahead – Cal vs. ASU: Offensive firepower and winning the turnover battle.
Things are looking up for the Bears as the travel to Tempe to take on ASU, but they are going to have a talented offense that will be looking to expose them early and often. While the Sun Devils are undefeated, they have played largely overmatched teams and have had some tough moments. With that being said, one thing is clear – the offensive attack for ASU is no joke. They’ve amassed almost 1,600 yards of total offense this year and while that number is a couple hundred short of the Bear Raid totals, the attack has been much more balanced with a roughly 50-50 split between rushing and passing yards. One particularly worrisome matchup for the bears has to be the 6’3”, 230 Lb. running back, Kevin Ballage, who had 8 total scores in the Sun Devil’s win over Texas Tech. Ballage is built very similarly to the big Texas backs that gashed Cal on Saturday and the Bears should fully expect him to be heavily involved on Saturday night. While ASU does have some deep threats, the passing game is less of a concern this point and the Bear’s secondary should be able to match up well.
We know the Bears can put up points, and what we’ve also learned is that the ASU defense also has similar woes of not being able to stop anyone, particularly in the passing game. The Sun Devils currently rank 128th in the FBS in pass defense, which means Webb and Hansen should have a field day against them - look for this to be a high scoring affair.
While both offenses will score, this game may very well be decided by who wins the turnover battle. The Bears have forced 3 fumbles and 4 interceptions this year and have a total turnover margin of plus 3 for the season, while the Sun Devils have only 2 interceptions on the season with a turnover margin of negative 3. Everyone is expecting this to be a shootout, and the Bears will likely have a cleaner game that may allow them to force a couple of turnovers that will ultimately seal another victory.
The Bears have a great opportunity ahead in Tempe, but it may be another barn burner. Hopefully the blueprint established against Texas is successful and the Bears do enough to pull out another win.