SATURDAY’S GAME: Arizona State (3-3) at Cal (3-3), Saturday, Oct. 23, 12:30 p.m., TV: Comcast SportsNet Bay Area – Cal leads the series 15-14 and won last year’s game in Tempe, Ariz., 31-20. The Bears are 3-0 at home and have won their last four meetings with the Sun Devils. Both teams are 1-2 in the conference; however, Arizona State has played better recently than Cal, and the Sun Devils are coming off a bye. The Sun Devils nearly beat Wisconsin on the road, and stayed with Oregon for a good portion of that game. In its most recent game on Oct. 9, Arizona State beat Washington on the road, so obviously the Sun Devils know how to perform away from home. The defense is Arizona State’s strong suit, especially LB Vontaze Burfict, who is a monster hitter. ASU’s offense has flourished under mobile QB Steven Threet, who won the quarterback job in a preseason competition after transferring from Michigan following the 2008 season. He has thrown 11 interceptions, however, which is by far the most in the conference. The Sun Devils were picked to finish ninth in the conference, but they look much better than that.
WHAT CAL MUST DO TO WIN: As always, QB Kevin Riley is the key. If he can gain some rhythm early, he could have a productive game, and the Bears need him to be efficient to win. The Sun Devils will try to apply pressure, because Riley frequently makes mistakes when harried. The Sun Devils have a good defense, but they have just eight sacks this season, so the offensive line should give Riley enough time to throw. It is also up to Shane Vereen to produce enough yardage on the ground to keep the ASU pass rush at bay. Riley does not have to be great, but he must avoid sacks and interceptions and run when the situation calls for it. Defensively, the Bears must keep Arizona State QB Steve Threet in the pocket. He has a knack for making plays once flushed out of the pocket and rolling to one side or the other. However, he has thrown 11 interceptions, so Cal can turn the game in its favor by forcing a few turnovers.
TB Shane Vereen – Vereen was banged around pretty good against USC, and it remains to be seen how physically ready he is against Arizona State. The Bears need him to be at close to 100 percent to provide the running threat the Bears need. When he’s healthy, he is by far the Bears’ best offensive weapon, not only because he runs so well, but because he is such a good receiver.
WR Keenan Allen – The freshman has not had any big games since the opener, but he is capable of having one. The ankle injury that plagued him for a few games is no longer an issue, and he has the skills to produce a big play, either as a runner or a receiver. Cal may look for more ways to get him the ball with room to maneuver.
LB Mike Mohamed – He is healthy again after being slowed for two games with a toe injury, but he has not produced the big plays that have characterized his career. Mohamed is very capable of coming up with an interception or forcing a fumble, and he could produce a game-changing play against Arizona State, which has committed 14 turnovers this season, including 11 interceptions.
QB Kevin Riley — He is always the key to whether Cal wins or loses.
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