Midweek Notebook: Week 9
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Category: Sports > Fall > Football
In its last two games, the Cal football team has been perfect on three scoring chances from inside the 20-yard line. It has also made a habit of bypassing the red zone altogether.
Before Jahvid Best's two-yard touchdown run with 11:07 left in the third quarter against Washington State, the Bears' last 10 offensive touchdowns had come from outside the red zone -- and even Best's scamper was set up by a 61-yard pass from Kevin Riley to Jeremy Ross.
But as coach Jeff Tedford cautioned during Tuesday's press conference, Saturday's game against Arizona State will probably require a little more patience by Best and the Cal offense. The Sun Devils have the stingiest defense in the Pac-10, allowing just 280 yards a game, and featured the conference's best rushing defense until Stanford overpowered them on the ground for 236 yards last weekend.
Still, currently allowing just 83.4 rushing yards per game, ASU is only one of two Pac-10 teams -- USC being the other -- that is giving up under 100 rushing yards per game.
"Ripping off big chunks, well, you don't do that against these guys," Tedford said. "You're going to have to stay patient. There's going to be some two-yard gains and some eight-yard gains and some zero-yard gains, and you have to stay patient and hopefully leave yourself in situations where you can convert third downs. It's going to be that type of game."
That type of game hasn't been the Bears' strong point this season. In its five wins, Cal is averaging 6.56 yards per carry, compared to 2.9 yards per rush in losses to Oregon and USC. The Bears also appeared to go away from the running game early against the Ducks and Trojans, when those defenses showed they could consistently keep Best and Shane Vereen from breaking loose into the open field.
Facing an ASU defense that Tedford said is similar to USC's in its personnel and speed, then, means preparing mentally for a game in which ground gains may come in smaller increments.
"We have to educate them to that," Tedford said. "They're going to be watching tape all week long, so it's not going to be a surprise, but it's something we've got to make sure that our mindset is right -- and that our mindset is that we're playing a very difficult defense."
That said, players sounded confident that the explosiveness of the past two weeks won't disappear completely.
"I still think we'll make some big plays because that's what we do," Riley said. "But I don't think they'll come as often and as easy as they have. We'll just take our turns, be smart with the football like we've done a good job of this year, and when the opportunity comes up, we'll make them."
Take Notes From Stanford?
Although the Cardinal rushed for more yards against ASU than its four previous opponents combined, Cal won't be treating the film from that game as a tutorial on how to run against the Sun Devils. The Bears don't run like Stanford does -- they use their speed on the ground while the Cardinal employs a bruising, downhill attack.
"They have a big back (Toby Gerhart) who pounds in there," Tedford said. "Those aren't our backs. We're not big, pounding backs. ... I'd have to say that we're not going to look at that game and say, 'We're going to do what Stanford did,' because we don't. We aren't Stanford."
Gerhart recorded 125 yards and a touchdown on the ground, while the Cardinal ran for four scores as a team. If Cal does take something away from Stanford's performance, it will be simply that ASU's run defense is not impermeable.
"I thought one of the best things Stanford did against them was be patient with the run game," Tedford said. "They didn't go away from it. I think Gerhart had 125 yards or something like that, but there was a lot of runs there where he was stopped for nothing, and they stuck with it, and they made some plays."
-- Cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson is still being bothered by a hip injury and is "touch-and-go" for this week.
"He felt better on Sunday than he did last Sunday, so that is encouraging," Tedford said. "So we'll just have to take it day by day."
-- Nose guard Derrick Hill is also day-to-day with a shoulder injury that he sustained against the Cougars.
-- Jeremy Ross, who had a punt return for a touchdown on Saturday, won't necessarily handle return duties against the Sun Devils. Tedford said it will depend on the status of Thompson and Vereen.
Contact Matt Kawahara at email@example.com.
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