Oct. 1, 2000
For the third game in the last four weeks, Cal finds itself on the road in a hostile environment as the Golden Bears travel to the desert to meet Arizona State this Saturday. Likewise, Cal will be on national TV for the third time in four games as Fox Sports Net will televise the game live beginning at 3:30 p.m. PDT and MST. The Golden Bears and Sun Devils have a fairly even series that dates back to 1976 with ASU holding a 12-9 edge. However, Arizona State has an 8-4 edge in games played in Tempe, including four straight over the Bears at home by an average differential of 29.5 points. The last time the two teams met in Tempe, Cal saw a 10-7 lead with 11 minutes left in the first half deteriorate in a hurry into a 31-10 halftime deficit. Eventually, ASU emerged with a 55-22 victory. Last year, Cal rallied from a 9-point fourth quarter deficit to post a 24-23 victory in Kyle Boller's starting quarterback debut. Boller hit 17-of-32 passes for a career-best 213 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Cal in Character Test with 3 of Next 4 on Road and 5 Ranked Opponents Ahead
At the beginning of the season, many Cal fans had hoped the Golden Bears would emerge from its relatively favorable September schedule with a 3-1 record and sufficient momentum to carry it through a rugged league race in October and November. However, Cal lost a pair of games it had every opportunity to win in a two-point decision at Illinois and a four-point defeat to Washington State and now faces the task of turning its season around in a sea of mounting adversity. The Golden Bears are on the road for three of the next four games. Moreover, in Cal's final seven games, the Bears are scheduled to face five teams ranked in the national Top 25: No. 11 Washington, No. 15 Oregon, No. 16 USC, No. 17 UCLA and No. 23 Oregon State. Those facts are clearly the ingredients for a character test for a young Cal team that starts 10 sophomores and two freshmen in its 22-member line-up.
Cal Defense Continues to Be Rock Solid Through First 4 Games
After ranking first in total defense in the Pac-10 last season, giving up just 352.6 yards per game, many projected a major drop off in 2000 with the loss of five starters and an influx of less experienced players. However, through the first four games, the Bears have actually improved by almost 30 yards a game, ranking 41st nationally in allowing 324.8 ypg. That's a fairly remarkable accomplishment, considering the fact the Bears lost their leading tackler (Pete Destefano), the Pac-10 sack leader (Mawuko Tugbenyoh), their defensive captain (Matt Beck) and four other players who are playing in the NFL (Deltha O'Neal - Denver Broncos, Sekou Sanyika - Arizona Cardinals, Jeremiah Parker - New York Giants and Jerry DeLoach - Washington Redskins practice squad). This season, the Bears are tied for 36th nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 19.0 points a game. However, that figure should be much better except for some mistakes made by the Cal offense and special teams. Utah scored one TD on a punt return and another on an interception return. Last week, three of Washington State's scoring drives started deep inside Cal territory. The Cougars began drives at the Cal 20 (resulting in a field goal), the Cal 18 (touchdown) and the Cal 24 (touchdown) to account for 18 (one two-point conversion) of their 21 points. Cal starts five sophomores on its defense, meaning its nucleus appears to be in tact for the next few seasons.
Comparing the Golden Bears with Next Two Opponents
California continues to establish itself nationally on the defensive side of the football while a young offense struggles to produce points. In averaging just 14.8 points a game, the Bears rank last in the Pac-10 and 99th nationally among 114 Division IA schools.
Category Cal Arizona State UCLA Total Offense 94th (287.0 ypg) 59th (374.8 ypg) 67th (351.4 ypg) Rushing Offense 72nd (122.8 ypg) 69th (130.8 (ypg) 67th (131.2 ypg) Passing Offense 87th (164.3 ypg) 33rd (244.0 ypg) 50th (22.2 ypg) Scoring Offense 99th (14.8 ppg) 62nd (24.5 ppg) 53rd (26.0 ppg) Total Defense 41st (324.8 ypg) 70th (362.8 ypg) 61st (347.6 ypg) Rushing Defense 35th (116.5 ypg) 43 rd (125.0 ypg) 63rd (148.2 ypg) Pass Eff. Defense 66th (117.7 rtg) 23rd (99.7 rtg) 24th (99.7 rtg Scoring Defense T36th (19.0 ppg) T34th (18.8 ppg) T70th (25.0 ppg) Turnover Margin T46th (+.25 topg) T20th (+1.0 topg) T65th (-.20 tppg) Net Punting 64th (34.2 ypp) 14th (39.3 ypp) 53rd (34.9 ypp)
Nick Harris Continues to Pin Opponents Deep in Own Territory
Cal pre-season All-America punter Nick Harris is a player that comes from Arizona State's backyard, matriculating from Westview HS in Avondale, Ariz. Like many Pac-10 schools, ASU did not recruit Harris and the Sun Devils probably are regretting that fact. Harris' punting stats this season are rather ordinary, unless one looks more closely. Among his 28 punts thus far, Harris has placed 19 inside the opponents' 20-yard-line (an amazing 67.9 percent), including 7 punts inside opponents 5-yard-line and 10 punts inside opponents' 10-yard-line. His average of 38.4 yards per punt has obviously suffered as he's been asked to pooch nearly half of his punts this year, In fact, 46.4 percent of his punts have come with a Cal line of scrimmage inside opponent territory (13 of 28).The following is a list of Harris punts that have come in opponent territory: Utah 38, Illinois 33, 49, 40, 39, 43, Fresno State 30, 40, 41, 32, WSU 45, 41, 41. Last week, Cal's punting game fell apart, leading directly to 18 of WSU's 21 points on the day. Harris was tackled at Cal's own 20-yard-line after fielding a bad snap, setting up a Cougar field goal. He also had the ball slip out of his hands when attempting to punt and the resulting fumble was recovered at the Cal 18-yard-line, which led to a Cougar touchdown. Finally, he had a punt blocked, which was returned to the Cal 24-yard-line and resulted in another WSU TD. Harris now has 277 career punts for 12,025 yards and needs to average just 6.1 punts and 131.7 yards per game down the stretch to break the NCAA record of Cameron Young of Texas Christian, who had 320 punts for 12,947 yards from 1976-79.
Nick Harris Punting vs. Arizona State Year No Yds Avg Long 1997 10 457 45.7 63 1998 7 334 47.7 56 1999 6 275 45.8 6 Totals 23 1066 46.35 63
Lots of Familiar Faces on Opposite Sidelines when Cal Faces Arizona State
There are always a lot of subplots when Cal and Arizona State face off on the gridiron. The main storyline is the fact that ASU head coach Bruce Snyder got his ticket into the Pac-10 head coaching ranks at Cal, where he spent five seasons from 1987 through '91 and posted a 29-24-1 (a winning percentage of .546). In many ways, despite a pair of bowl appearances in 1993 and '96, Cal hasn't been the same since Snyder left on the heels of a 10-2 mark and a No. 7 national ranking in 1991. Since he's been at Arizona State, Snyder has also enjoyed one banner campaign, an 11-1 record in 1996, but his overall winning percentage of .578 (52-40) is similar to his time at Cal. There are many other connections between the two schools, including Cal defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich, who left ASU after that amazing '96 season when he was part of the brain trust that helped ASU to the No. 1 ranking in the Pac-10 in total defense. In the three years Setencich has been gone, the Sun Devils have finished in 3rd place in conference total defense in 1997, and then have fallen to 8th place in 1998 and '99. Cal's defense under Setencich has gone from 10th place in 1996 to 8th place in '97 to 3rd place in '98 to 1st place in '99. Arizona State assistant coaches Phil Snow and Dick Arbuckle each first served as assistants at Cal under Snyder, while Sun Devil DB coach Ron English lettered at Cal from 1987-90. ASU's Director of Football of Football Administration Jack Hart played halfback on Cal's last Rose Bowl team in 1958 ('59 Rose Bowl).
Cal Sophomore Tailbacks Combine to Provide Solid Rushing Threat
Lost in Cal's inability to put points on the scoreboard has been the fact that Cal has developed a solid rushing attack, thanks to the one-two sophomore combination of Joe Igber and Joseph Echema. The two combined for 36 rushing attempts (each had 18) for 146 yards last week, an average of 4.1 yards per run. The tailbacks are averaging 113.8 yards a game between them. The Bears are still looking for more explosiveness out of the tailback position as Igber's 21-yard-run tied for his longest of the season, while Echema's longest run is 18 yards.
Cal Continues Musical Chairs on Beleaguered Offensive Line
Cal entered the 2000 season with high hopes for its offensive line. However, while the line has performed admirably thus far in allowing just eight sacks this season compared to a league-worst 36 sacks last year, injuries have wreaked havoc on the Golden Bear forward wall. In week five of the season, Cal will be starting its fifth different line-up on the offensive line. That is hardly the recipe for continuity and success on offense. The bad luck started during the summer when guard Scott Tercero had arthroscopic surgery on his knee and was unable to start practicing until the week of Cal's second game. His expected replacement in the line-up, David Hays, suffered a knee injury in the pre-season and has been unable to play thus far. Tercero is now back to fulltime duties, but many of his fellow starters have followed him to the training room. Reed Diehl went down with a nerve palsy problem in his left leg in the first game and missed the Illinois game. He then moved to guard for the Fresno State game, before moving back to center against Washington State. Last week, left tackle Langston Walker suffered an ankle fracture and is gone for the season. Also, Robert Truhitte, who has started three of Cal's first four games, went down with an ankle sprain and is doubtful for this week's game at Arizona State. Below is a list of the five line-ups Cal has used thus far.
Game LT LG C RG RT Utah Walker Ludwig Diehl Truhitte Wilson At Illinois Walker Ludwig Bluntzer Truhitte Wilson At Fresno St. Walker Diehl Philip Tercero Wilson Washington St. Walker Truhitte Diehl Tercero Wilson At Arizona St.* Chick? Bluntzer? Diehl Tercero Wilson *projected