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October 23, 2010

Bears bash ASU 50-17

BERKELEY-Yet again, the good, kindly and meek Dr. Jekyll transformed into the beastly, brawling and merciless Mr. Hyde today in Strawberry Canyon, as the Cal football team (4-3, 2-2 in the Pac-10) sprinted out to a 23-point halftime lead before finishing off a 50-17 stomping of Arizona State.

"It looked today, by the crowd, that some people have given up on us," said Bears head coach Jeff Tedford, referring to the sparse gathering of 51,599 in the wake of last week's loss to USC. "But I'm proud of our team, that they didn't give up on themselves. That's what it was about this week. This is about heart, because that got questioned this week, and it was a huge challenge to the team."

Throughout the week, fans, alumni and media have excoriated the program for its lack of heart and motivation against the Trojans last week, but Tedford said that the public outcry had no effect on how the team approached the game this afternoon.

"It was nothing but negative, all week long, from outsiders. The only ones who believed were the ones in that locker room," Tedford said. "I'm really proud of them. I don't think negativity ever helps. When you're trying to get something done, in my opinion, nothing positive comes out of anything negative. It's reality. It's the way it is, and you can't get away from it, just because it's so readily-available with the websites and all that kind of thing. It's really, really important, as we talked on Monday, to handle adversity. How we handle adversity is going to test our true character, and I thought that they did a great job of answering that today."

Cal crushed a Sun Devils squad that hasn't lost to any opponent by more than 11 points this season, putting up 371 yards of total offense and limiting Arizona State to 234.

"We beat a team by a lot of points who's biggest loss was by 10 or 11 points, and that was against (No. 1) Oregon," said senior quarterback Kevin Riley. "I think we showed something today."

The offensive game was a complete departure from last week's abortive effort against USC as Riley started off completing short passes and handing off to a hard-pounding Shane Vereen before slowly turning to a more vertical game.

Vereen saw most of his 91 yards on the ground come out of the wildcat formation.

"It seems pretty simple, from a defensive standpoint: we're going to run the ball," Vereen said of his success in taking the direct snap. "But I think it's just a great job by the O-line to get after them and to get a big push up front, and all the pullers doing a great job of sealing blocks. We work on it in practice, a lot, so that way, in games, we get those big plays. You're back there five yards, and you're able to sit there and see and wait for plays to develop. You're free."

Riley piled up 240 yards through the air-his third-most in a game this season-and posted a 67.9 completion percentage (19-for-28)-his second-highest mark this year.

"There were things that we needed to do to try and offset the pass rush, because that's a very good front," Tedford said of the early short passing game. "We tried to get the ball out a little quick to slow them down. I don't know if it gives him more confidence to complete a wide screen or to complete a 12-yard hook. I don't really think that was the case. That wasn't the plan, at least, to throw it to give him confidence. That wasn't the plan."

But whatever the reason, Riley clearly had one of his best passing days of the season.

"I'd say it helped, but I'm always comfortable throwing the ball down the field," he said. "That's one of my strengths, and in practice this week, we took a lot of shots, and they went well. Coach had confidence in us and called it."

Despite falling behind early to the Sun Devils (3-4, 1-3), 3-0 on a Thomas Weber 28-yard field goal to open the game, the Bears roared back, scoring 40 unanswered points.

"We wanted to start early, and we did a good job of that," Riley said. "Every time we've been at home, when the defense gives up three points, we'd better win the game."

Riley was also looking for true freshman Keenan Allen early and often, hitting the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder a career-high six times for 40 yards. Allen also gashed the Sun Devils on their only kickoff of the first half, taking the ball from his own 11 out to the 50, and in the second half nearly ripped off a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, before it was called back to the ASU 36 on a penalty. Still, that 61-yard take back was a career-long for Allen, and the longest by a Bear this season. His first kick return went for 39 yards-the third longest by a Cal player this season.

Allen piled up 140 all-purpose yards on the day on nine touches (six catches, one rush and two kick returns), his second-highest total since the season-opener against UC Davis, when he posted 176.

"What we did early on was, we ran screen plays," said junior wide receiver Marvin Jones. "We ran a lot of screen plays, because their corners were off, so we attacked them with the screen plays, which made them stay honest. The big-play potential was there. It was available because the safeties and the corners would squat, and we knew going into the game that they like to rally up to short passes, so the deep threat was there."

Showing off Allen's big-play ability early opened up the rest of the offense as Cal progressed, especially for Jones, who caught a 52-yard scoring strike in the second quarter.

"It was one of our main play-action plays, a kind of three-level stretch," Riley said. "The safety came down with the play action, he had a one-on-one with the corner, and if you get that opportunity, you take that shot, and Marv made a good adjustment and got in the end zone. Any time you look at Marv, the past two years, when you throw the ball downfield and he's got a one-on-one, there's a good chance that he's going to make a play."

Despite that highlight-reel catch, Jones was more concerned with the touchdown that wasn't, when he made a spectacular one-handed grab in the waning moments of the first half, but was ruled to have just barely come down out of bounds on the replay.

"I definitely don't appreciate the one that wasn't a touchdown," Jones laughed. "But, you know, it comes and goes. The touchdown catch was a nice pitch-and-catch."

Despite the gloomy and damp weather, the Bears' receivers showed off some stick-um hands, hauling in passes through traffic-including a thread-the-needle TD pass from Riley through three defenders and into Allen's waiting paws.

"It was a really tight window, I can tell you that," Riley laughed about his scoring toss to Allen. "When I threw it, I was like, 'whoof, get in!' We practice that play, and it's the same play we scored on against Colorado, but Keenan kind of got pushed a little left, but the corner stayed on that fullback and there was a window there, and you just got to throw it in his chest, and it worked out."

Riley's wideouts also made several big plays while leaping high into the air, something in which Jones seemed to specialize. Jones posted his third career 100-yard receiving game, catching four balls for 110 yards and a score. Two of his catches were highlight-reel grabs of more than 40 yards apiece.

"Marv adjusted to some balls and made some great plays, and that's just what he does," Riley said of Jones, who dropped two crucial passes last week in Los Angeles. "He was a little upset about the game last week, and he responded well."

Riley was 19-of-28 on the day for 240 yards and two scoring strikes, and was at his best on the hurry-up drive at the end of the first half, when he went 6-of-8 for 55 yards, nearly finding Jones for a touchdown in the back left corner of the end zone, before the play was called back on a review.

"He did a nice job with the two-minute offense, going down the field just before the half," Tedford said of the drive that ended with a Giorgio Tavecchio field goal-one of his season-high-tying three on the day.

In contrast, the Sun Devils' signal-caller, Michigan-transfer Steven Threet had difficulty finding much traction, as he was regularly flushed from the pocket and forced to throw on the run. Threet finished the day 8-of-16 for 125 yards in two quarters of work before he was lifted for Samson Szakacsy in the second half.

"Steven had a concussion," said Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson. "They wouldn't let him play the second half. He got it at the end of the first half. Obviously, you can't play with a concussion, so he didn't play. (Backup quarterback Brock Osweiler) wasn't completely healthy, so we went with (Szakacsy)."

As the rain started to come down midway through the third quarter, Arizona State receivers had more and more trouble coming down with the ball, and the Cal defense was there to pick up the pieces. The Bears tallied three picks and five pass break-ups on the afternoon, with junior safety Sean Cattouse notching a season-high eight tackles, one pick and one break-up.

"Coach gave me the nod today, gave me the opportunity, and this whole week of practice, the biggest thing I just wanted to let guys know was that I was still here," said Cattouse, who started at safety all of last season but has been platooning for the first half of 2010. "I just wanted to let guys know that I played last year, I started, but I haven't been there this year, so that was my biggest focus. I wanted to make an impact and show the guys that I'm here. I'm back."

Cattouse played a lot in nickel situations, but also played a bit of zone in the base defense, breaking up passes and rushing the passer. A starter last year, Cattouse has seemingly earned his way back on to the starting lineup with such a strong game.

"It was amazing, I just feel so amazing right now," Cattouse said. "It was great, just being out there with the guys and just being able to contribute. We all played well, top to bottom, and it was just great to contribute and have a couple big plays."

Two of those big plays came back-to-back in the second quarter. On second-and-six at the ASU 36, Cattouse was able to stop Deantre Lewis just short of a first down, and on third-and-inches, he cracked Lewis for a TFL, forcing a fourth-and-one punt.

"I just knew where the sticks were on the first play, and I just tried to beat him to the sticks," Cattouse said. "I just knew that they were going to run it the next play, and I may have abandoned my technique, but I saw it and I was confident, and I just took what I saw and made the play."

Cattouse likely earned quite a bit more playing time with his performance Saturday afternoon, at least as far as Tedford is concerned.

"Sean, I thought, played really well," Tedford said. "He tackled real well, drove on the ball hard. I thought he did an excellent job, and yes, he deserves more playing time."

Overall, the defense was back to its stingy ways, allowing just 57 net rushing yards to the Sun Devils and 177 yards through the air without allowing a single offensive touchdown. At home this season, Cal has allowed just two offensive touchdowns, a sharp contrast to their defensive record on the road.

"You can't really put your finger on it," said defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. "We've got to do a better job on the road; that's the bottom line. Period."

The only times that Arizona State saw paydirt was on a one-yard blocked punt return by Oliver Aaron in the third quarter and a 25-yard fumble recovery by Clint Floyd.

"I've got to give the defense credit, they played great today," Tedford said. "We gave up quite a bit last week, and they bounced back with a nice game plan and played very hard today."

The damp conditions allowed the Bears defense to take advantage of turnover opportunities, forcing two fumbles and notching three picks. Senior safety Chris Conte had a huge play in the third quarter, sliding around the edge to block a punt and then take it 17 yards to the house.

"We took advantage of some, but we left some out there," said Pendergast. "We went into the game wanting to play with three safeties, with Cattouse, Josh (Hill) and Conte on the field, based on the personnel groups that they were going to give us, and based on some of the schematic things we were going to do, I felt that was going to be the best match-up for us."

Senior defensive lineman Cameron Jordan was particularly proud of his unit, which bounced back from a 602-yard shellacking by the USC offense.

"The defense definitely stood up," Jordan said. "They definitely rallied, pretty much this whole game, and that's what it was all about. We didn't have as many errors as we did last week. That was key: we definitely harped on getting better from last week, and that was one heck of a lesson."

Jordan said that the key to forcing what was the Sun Devils' worst offensive performance of the year was in stopping the run.

"Our outside linebackers stepped their game up on the edges and it worked," Jordan said. "We made their running backs cut back probably more than they wanted to. I think it disrupted their run a lot and helped us have a great game."

Notebook
• Late in the game, junior Brock Mansion took the reins under center and played out the rest of the game, apparently edging out sophomore Beau Sweeney for the No. 2 spot behind Riley.

"He's been a little bit more consistent," Tedford said. "That's a competitive spot, there, and he's been consistent in practice, throwing the ball a little bit better (than Sweeney)."

• Junior wide receiver Jeremy Ross scored his first touchdown of the year in the fourth quarter. Following a three-and-out by the Sun Devils, Ross returned a punt 32 yards to the Arizona State 19, tip-toeing along the western sideline before barely stepping out. The next play was an end-around to Ross, who took the ball in over the left side for his first six of the season.

"It was a good feeling getting in there for the first time this year," Ross said. "I know I've definitely been craving that feeling, craving that first touchdown, but it felt pretty good getting back into the end zone again."

After barely stepping out on the return, Ross was focused on finishing the job on his next touch.

"I think that's what the coach said," Ross smiled. "They called my number on the second play and I was definitely ready for it. I think the coaches just trust me. I had a good feel for it, and being put in the right spot, as far as field position, it was the right situation, and I think with the run game being so effective today, that was able to open up that play."

Ross had three catches for 44 yards, four punt returns for 77 yards and one rush-the 19-yard scoring scamper.

• Senior linebacker Mike Mohamed moved into sixth place all-time at Cal with his six tackles today.

D.J. Holt had a sack, playing as the QB spy on second-and-11 at the ASU 23-yard line, early in the second quarter. The sack was the first of his career.

Marc Anthony grabbed his first career pick late in the fourth quarter, taking it back for 18 yards.

Mychal Kendricks made a pick in the first quarter, his first of the year and his fourth turnover recovery (the other three being fumble recoveries).

• Tavecchio tied his season-best with three field goals. His 40-yarder tied his longest of the season, against Arizona. He also hit kicks from 23 and 26 yards.

• Conte's blocked punt, which he recovered and returned for a TD in the third quarter, was the first time since 2008 that a Cal player accomplished such a feat. Bryant Nnabuife pulled the trick against Colorado State in 2008.


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