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September 26, 2012

First look: Cal

The last time Arizona State came home from Berkeley with a win, Todd Graham was coaching high school football in Texas and D.J. Foster didn't know his "A, B, C's."

Back in time 15 years ago in 1997, the Sun Devils took down Cal, 28-21, on the back of 114 rushing yards from J.R. Redmond and two touchdown passes from Ryan Kealy. Since then, however, ASU hasn't won in Memorial Stadium while losing eight of the last nine meetings overall.

"I don't think about that, I guess when you're involved in coaching a football team, what you did last year has nothing to do with what you're going to do this year," Graham said. "The hardest thing you have to do is win on the road but each year it's a different team. They're not even the same guys. I don't see what that has to do with anything besides being something to talk about."

Hoping to end that streak and their road woes in general, the Sun Devils (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) will have to stop a Golden Bears (1-3, 0-1 Pac-12) team led by senior quarterback Zach Maynard, the first BCS opening game first-string signal-caller ASU has faced to date.

On the season, Maynard has completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 927 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 111 yards and another score.

Last season in Tempe when the Golden Bears defeated ASU, 47-38, the Cal quarterback tore the Sun Devil defense apart, collecting 237 yards and two touchdowns through the air and 40 yards and a score on the ground.

"He's mobile, where he can throw on the run, he does a great job of understanding what we want to get done," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "He can extend the play and that's an advantage. He's able to pull the ball down and run the ball. His athleticism is his overall strength."

The biggest problem for the Cal offense through its poor start to the 2012 season has been its protection of Maynard. Allowing 17 sacks in four games, only Colorado has surrendered more in the Pac-12.

Furthermore Cal has given 8.25 tackles for loss per game thus far while the Sun Devils are averaging 9.75 per game, which leads the nation.

"Very concerned, they are a very good defense," Tedford said. "We're going to make sure we can keep Zach protected. That's going to be key. That's not just the pass game, that's in the run game. The key is to get positive plays so we don't get into third and extra longs."

Hoping to jumpstart the Golden Bears' offensive line is senior tackle Matt Summers-Gavin, who hasn't played so far this year, but could suit up Saturday against ASU.

"He practiced a little [Tuesday], he's a day-to-day thing," Tedford said. "We'll see how he feels. Matt is much more experienced, as of right now we have one guy with experience before this season. Matt would bring stability. It's nice to have a veteran up there when you need direction and leadership."

That experience Summers-Gavin could bring is something Cal wants to help open up its running game. The Golden Bears boast three tailbacks with more than 150 yards this year but against Southern California last week, they only were given a combined 17 carries.

"We weren't getting positive yards on first down so we got stuck and needed to throw it, that was really the effect of it," Tedford said. "You have to have some success running it. We can probably be more patient. It all starts there."

Even though Cal's main running backs, senior Isi Sofele, senior C.J. Anderson and sophomore Brendan Bigelow, are coming off a poor showing, Graham is still concerned with the group as a big threat come Saturday.

"We've got to be disciplined and tackle, a lot of running backs go down when they get hit, but they make you tackle them," Graham said. "They've got three guys that are as good as we've played against. I really believe that this is the best personnel we've played against."

Defensively, Cal ranks 11th in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 31 points per game. The Golden Bears are worst in rushing defense, surrendering 189 yards per contest on the ground.

With the Sun Devils still having question marks at the wide receiver position, the rushing attack of Foster, senior Cameron Marshall and junior Marion Grice could see a big day come Saturday.


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