Sept. 25, 2000
After being on the road the past two weeks, Cal returns home to the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium where the Bears will host Washington State in Cal's Pac-10 opener. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. Cal and WSU will be renewing a series dating back to 1919 that sees the Golden Bears having a 36-22-5 edge. In recent years, the home team has dominated in the series with Cal winning 10 of the last 13 games in Memorial Stadium, and WSU capturing nine straight at home. A year ago, Cal managed only 174 yards of total offense and WSU took advantage of three Cal turnovers in a 31-7 victory. In the last game at Memorial Stadium, Cal's defense scored 21 points (2 interception returns for TDs and a fumble return for a TD) en route to a 24-14 victory in 1998.
Crucial Test in Conference Opener for Cal, WSU
It's hard to say a game is a crossroads for two teams when you're still in September, but this Saturday's match-up between Cal and Washington has all the earmarks of a crucial game. In most pre-season polls, Cal was picked to finish ninth and Washington State 10th in this year's Pac-10 race. Both teams have aspirations of finishing higher and possibly garner a bowl berth. However, both have struggled in the early going and enter Saturday's game at identical 1-2 records. A loss this week would put either team in a major hole that would be hard to crawl out of. Last year, Cal had Pac-10 victories over league favorites USC, UCLA and Arizona State and took Washington and Oregon to the final minute before losing heartbreakers. However, the one league game Cal lost badly was at Washington State Oct. 2. If Cal figures to make progress this season, a win over WSU at home seems to be a must. Washington State had to be devastated to see the momentum it created with an impressive 38-21 road victory at Utah disintegrate when the Cougars allowed Idaho to drive 57 yards in the final three minutes to pull out a 38-34 victory in Pullman.
Cal Defense Shines Despite Youth & Inexperience
With the insertion of sophomore safety Bert Watts and redshirt-freshman DT Josh Beckham into Cal's starting line-up, it means that a total of six sophomores and one freshman have drawn starts in Cal's first three games. The others are safety Nnamdi Asomugha, LB Matt Nixon, DE Tully Banta-Cain, DT Daniel Nwangwu and LB John Klotsche. Other than Nwangwu (who started the final three games of the '99 season), none of the players had ever started a college game before this fall. That makes Cal's defensive performance all the more impressive this season. Despite being given very little support from a Cal offense that has manage just 14.0 points a game, the Golden Bear defense has continued to be resilient, particularly early in games before a tendency to get worn down may occur. Last week, Cal didn't allow a first down for the first 11:43 of the game. In fact, Fresno's first six possessions resulted in 4 punts, an interception and a fumble. Of Illinois' first 7 possessions the previous week, the results were 4 punts, a touchdown, a safety and a fumble. Of Utah's first 10 possessions, the results were 7 punts, an interception and 2 fumbles. Cal ranks 54th nationally in total defense, allowing 340.0 yards a game, but the Bears have been dominant in the first half, allowing an average of just 9.3 points per game before the intermission. However, Cal has found itself behind in two of those games and tied in the third at the half.
Comparing the Golden Bears with Next Two Opponents
California opens the Pac-10 season with a pair of teams that have struggled in different categories. The Golden Bears have experienced offensive problems, ranking 86th nationally in total offense and 99th in NCAA scoring. Washington State, which gave up 38 points Idaho, ranks tied for 97th nationally in total defense, giving up 418.0 yards a game, and 79th in scoring offense, allowing 27.7 points per game. Arizona State has been superb on defense, but has struggled on the offensive side of the ball, ranking 71st nationally in total offense, with an average of 345.3 yards per game of total offense, and just 22.3 points a game, which ties for 70th in the current NCAA rankings.
Category Cal Washington State Arizona State Total Offense 86th (303.3 ypg) 47th (383.7 ypg) 71st (345.3 ypg) Rushing Offense 82nd (114.0 ypg) 45th (162.3 (ypg) 58th (141.7 ypg) Passing Offense 71st (189.3 ypg) 50th (221.3 ypg) 65th (203.7 ypg) Scoring Offense 99th (14.0 ppg) T47th (27.3 ppg) T70th (22.3 ppg) Total Defense 54th (340.0 ypg) T97th (418.0 ypg) 39th (317.0 ypg) Rushing Defense T53rd (141.7 ypg) 70th (156.7 ypg) 22nd (89.0 ypg) Pass Eff.Defense 44th (107.2 rating) 82nd (127.3 rating) 14th (89.2 rating) Scoring Defense T42nd (18.3 ppg) 79th (27.7 ppg) T13th (12.3 ppg) Turnover Margin T44th (+0.33) T38th (+0.67) T13th (+1.3) Net Punting 42nd (36.1 ypp) T67th (34.1 ypp) 14th (39.7 ypp)
Statistics Don't Begin to Tell the Story for Cal All-American Nick Harris
A cursory look at the stats will show to the casual observer that Cal punter Nick Harris, a pre-season All-American, is averaging 39.5 yards per punt after the first three games. That may look like the 6-3, 220-pound senior is having a down year as he entered this season with a career average of 43.98 ypp. However, further investigation reveals that Harris has been almost flawless this season in playing the field position game for the Golden Bears. Although he does have a 64-yard punt this year, he mostly has been asked to pooch punts deep inside opponent territory. In fact, 10 of his 24 punts have come with the line of scrimmage inside opponent territory, including punts from the opponent 33, 32 and 30-yard lines. That's an amazing 41.6 percent. Among his 24 punts thus far, Harris has placed 7 punts inside opponents 5-yard-line and 10 punts inside opponents' 10-yard-line. The following is a list of Harris punts that came in opponent territory: Utah 38, Illinois 33, 49, 40, 39, 43, Fresno State 30, 40, 41, 32. Harris has also done a great job of hitting his punts so high that very few have been returned. Cal ranks No. 42 nationally in net punting with a 36.1, but that includes one punt by reserve Tyler Fredrickson when Harris was sidelined late in the Utah game with a concussion that was returned 46 yards for a touchdown. Other than that, opponents have only 24 return yards on 26 Cal punts. On 24 of Harris punts, only nine have been returned for a total of 24 yards. In the last two games, Illinois and Fresno State returners have attempted to return only six of Harris' 21 punts and have a cumulative total of just six return yards on those six punts. Harris now has 273 career punts for 11,898 yards and needs to average just 5.9 punts and 131.1 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.
Cal Passing Game Should Improve Dramatically as Youthful Combos Mature
There are obvious frustrations for those close to the Cal program because of the inconsistency of the Golden Bear passing attack. However, when one considers that the Bears are starting a sophomore at quarterback, with just 11 games of starting experience under his belt, and a pair of true freshmen at the wide receiver positions, it's perhaps not all that surprising that there have been struggles. The good news is that Boller has improved in nearly every statistical category, and both Chase Lyman and Geoff McArthur have shown signs they could evolve into one of the top pass-catching combinations in the conference. Lyman has been consistent for a first-year player, contributing a pass play of 20 or more yards in each of the first three games. McArthur has been equally effective, as he was Cal's leading receiver in the Utah opener with four catches for 34 yards. He played sparingly against Illinois due to a hip flexor, but came up big again last week when he had three catches for 79 yards, including a 56-yard reception, the longest play of the year for Cal. Cal's leading receiver is Charon Arnold, another new face in the Cal line-up as he is a junior college transfer from El Camino City College.
Two of Youngest Teams in Conference Match Up on Saturday
Two teams that feature primarily underclassmen in their respective starting line-ups will be tested this Saturday as Cal shows 13 of its 22 starters on offense and defense being underclassmen (4 freshmen and 9 sophomores). Washington State is equally young with 11 of its 22 starters being underclassmen (1 freshman and 10 sophomores). Whichever team can get its young players to execute the best this week should have a big edge in winning the football game.
Scott Fujita Making a Big Statement at Outside Linebacker
For a player who didn't even know if he would be playing football during the summer, Cal junior outside linebacker Scott Fujita is having a major impact on the Cal defense. The 6-5, 240-pounder was a question mark entering the fall because of off-season neck surgery, but he appears completely healthy after playing the entire game for three weeks in a row. Fujita had a series of "stingers" last year and a particularly severe one in the UCLA game. After that incident, the medical staff limited his practice time, and he was relegated to limited action the last five games of the 1999 season. After considering various options, the decision was made to surgically repair compressed nerve roots in his neck. The surgery was done in March and considered successful, but he was not cleared to play football until August. Even Fujita didn't know how he would hold up in contact drills. However, he hasn't shown any residual effects from the injury and is clearly playing the best football of his career. Stationed primarily behind All-America defensive end Andre Carter, most teams try to run away from that side at every opportunity, and Fujita has only 11 tackles in the first three games. However, the coaching staff indicates he has played flawlessly thus far and is a major reason for Cal's defensive success in the early season. Last week, he was named the team's Player of the Game after registering a career high six tackles, including three tackles behind the line of scrimmage for minus 14 yards, including a 10-yard sack.
There will be a couple of people named Chris Ball on the opposite side of the field this week, Cal linebacker Chris Ball and WSU secondary coach Chris Ball, no relation...After facing three straight offensive lines with average weights over 300 pounds, Cal's 254-pound defensive line will face a WSU line that averages 294.4 pounds...Cal's schedule was ranked the sixth toughest nationally by Sports Illustrated...Freshman James Bethea had a big impact in his debut as a kickoff returner for Cal last week as he averaged 26.5 yards on three returns, including a 50-yarder to open the game, he now ranks 19th nationally and third in the Pac-10 in that category, he celebrated his 18th birthday the day after the Fresno State game (Sept. 24).