Beating Arizona State on Oct. 23 in Berkeley may not save Cal’s season, but it could prevent it from spinning out of control.
After the 35-7 victory over UCLA on Oct. 9, there were renewed thoughts the Bears could finish high in the Pac-10. But after being totally dominated by USC in the 48-14 loss on the road on Oct. 16, the Bears’ season is in jeopardy.
The Bears need a win to increase their chances for their eighth straight bowl berth and their ninth straight winning season. A loss will start some serious criticism from the fans, who are starting to become disgruntled.
The Bears have played well at home this season, and they are unbeaten at Memorial Stadium. Plus, they have fared pretty well against Arizona State in recent years, although recent history against a particular team gets more attention than it deserves, because teams change significantly from year to year and bear little resemblance to its squad of two or three years earlier.
It is noteworthy that Cal QB Kevin Riley had one of his best games in last season’s 31-20 victory at Arizona State last season, though.
As was the case last season, Riley’s numbers are far better in the Bears’ wins than in the losses. He is completing 63.3 percent of his passes with eight touchdown throws and no interceptions in the three wins, and he’s competed 55.4 percent with three touchdowns and six picks in the losses. The competition was better in the three losses, so the numbers don’t tell the entire story, but his statistics in the losses could easily be worse, because he padded his number in the second half against USC. With the game out of reach and the Trojans playing a lot of backups, Riley completed 12 of 17 passes for two touchdowns and no interceptions after halftime of that game. If we throw out those meaningless numbers, his completion percentage is 50.7 percent with one TD pass and six interceptions in the losses.
Coach Jeff Tedford said on Oct. 19, he has no plans to replace Riley as the Bears’ starting quarterback.
Riley typically plays better at home; however, several other issues are working against the Bears. First of all, Arizona State has played much better than expected this season, and the Sun Devils have been consistent. They stayed with Oregon before losing, and they played Wisconsin and Oregon State tough on the road before beating Washington in Seattle on Oct. 9. They have shown they can perform well away from home, and their offense seems to be getting better under new QB Steven Threet, who can make plays.
Their defense figured to be their strength when the season began, and that is still the case.
Furthermore, Arizona State is coming off a bye, and teams typically play better when they have an extra week to prepare. Cal found that out in its most recent loss as USC came off a bye week and dismantled the Bears.
So Arizona State has some momentum and confidence coming into the game against Cal, while the Bears’ psyche has to be fragile after the pasting they took against the Trojans.
The home field should relieve a lot of that insecurity for the Bears, but it is imperative that they get off to a good start. If they begin the game against Arizona State the same way they did against USC, the home crowd is liable to turn against the Bears, which has happened in the past That could bruise the players’ egos further and hasten their descent.
Last year, the Bears responded well when the season seemed to be unraveling, winning five of their next six after the consecutive lopsided losses to Oregon and USC. However, Cal never recovered in 2007 when it lost six of its final seven regular-season games after a 5-0 start.
A solid performance against Arizona State, even in a loss, would help keep hope afloat, and a victory by any means would significantly improve the Bears’ bowl chances.
A lopsided loss, however, might cause irreparable damage, both to the record and to the team’s attitude.
Cal is teetering. A win won’t save the season, but it could prevent a collapse.
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