Cal’s game against ASU ended up being a second half letdown, but the Bears reinforced what they have consistently shown all season - that they can hang with nearly any team in the country and that any given night can be their night if things break in their favor. This week we’ll take a quick look back at what went wrong at ASU and dive into what the Bears need to do to beat the Utes in Berkeley this weekend.
Arizona State – Turnovers Hurt More Than the Defensive Collapse.
Cal’s night turned sour in a tough 41-51 loss last week. After building up a 2 score lead to end the first half, ASU rallied for 41 second half points to beat the Bears by 10. Although the stat line looks damning on the defensive side of the ball, the late game offensive performance played a large role in dropping this game. I’d argue that based on this team’s obvious offensive potential and evident defensive ceiling, the primary responsibility for closing games is on the offense- the Bear Raid has to execute in order for the team to win. That being said, the late offensive turnovers were the true letdown in this game - Davis Webb was picked off twice with less than 3 minutes in the fourth, and one was returned for a touchdown. That was the deciding factor in this game, and the turnovers have to improve going forward.
At this point we know what this team is and what it is not. It IS: a team with a potent offensive attack which can put up points in a hurry and compete with nearly anyone in the Pac 12, and quite possibly the nation. It is NOT: a team with a high margin for error or with a defense capable of consistently generating stops, especially late in games and on a short field. Cal has two losses in close games this season, and Davis Webb has thrown picks at critical moments in both. The Bears need better execution going forward in order to win.
Looking Ahead – Cal Can Pull off Another Upset, Turnover Battle Will Be Key.
The Bears next opportunity is Saturday night when Utah comes to Berkeley, riding high as one of just three remaining unbeaten teams in the Pac 12. The Utah defense is formidable and is led by a front that has shown that they have what it takes to dominate. However, their counterparts on offense have been underwhelming. While the Ute’s defense will test the Bear Raid, the offense likely will not be able to hold serve in a shootout if the Bears can get rolling.
The Utes are averaging 27.3 points per game to the Bears 45.5, but give up less than 16 per game while the Bears give up almost 43 per contest. While the defensive numbers may be disconcerting, the Utes stiffest competition was against USC last week and the Trojans did not have trouble moving the ball (just holding onto it). The Trojans offense put up 253 yards in the air and 213 on the ground. If the Bears can bring a similar balanced attack to this week’s game and improve by limiting turnovers they may be able to outpace a Ute offense that is not made to win a horse race.
Winning a shootout will be nearly impossible though if the Bears cannot stop shooting themselves in the foot with late turnovers. If the Bears play a clean game this week, they’ll have the edge at home. Either way this should be a fun one, pitting one of the conference’s best offenses against one it’s best defenses – I predict Cal bounces back at home and ruins another ranked team’s road trip.