September 24, 2010

Who has the edge in a unit-by-unit breakdown?

BearTerritory publisher Ryan Gorcey and beat writer Jason Nimrichter break down Saturday's match-up, unit-by-unit.

Darian Hagan has been solid in coverage this year, and while his numbers aren't particularly gaudy, he's a wet blanket for receivers. CB Bryant Nnabuife hits hard, but he got picked on quite a bit against Nevada, making only one tackle. Nick Foles has improved in many ways in 2010 and that was on display against a tough Iowa defense where he threw for 300+ yards. The Wildcats have a deep set of receivers they like to rotate often. They have the sixth-ranked passing attack nationally.
The trouble with Arizona's ground attack is that it's supplemented by short passes underneath. The Bears are thin at linebacker with the injury to experienced senior inside backer Mike Mohamed, but D.J. Holt has come on strong to lead the team with 27 tackles. Arizona utilizes three running backs, led by starter Nic Grigsby. Eight of UA's touchdowns have come on the ground; five of those have come from Grigsby. UA may be more known for its air attack, but the running game is more than serviceable.
Probably the most experienced group on defense, the defensive line is what could win the game for Cal. With an immobile QB in Foles, expect senior NT Derrick Hill and senior DE Cameron Jordan to force the junior signal-caller into making hasty decisions. The offensive line looks better every game. Left tackle Adam Grant held Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn in check and center Colin Baxter is one of the best interior linemen in the nation. They are one of the main reasons UA's spread is so successful.
Cal has plenty of playmakers to catch passes, but after a three-INT game against the Wolf Pack, senior Kevin Riley needs to find his rhythm throwing them. If he regroups, Keenan Allen, Marvin Jones and Jeremy Ross are probably the best trio of downfield threats in the conference. Outside of Trevin Wade, this area is a bit of a question mark. Robert Golden was switched from safety to corner and has been serviceable, but starting safeties Joseph Perkins and Anthony Wilcox have struggled against the deep pass. Expect to see a lot of rotating here.
Tailback Shane Vereen finally had that breakout game he'd been waiting for, peeling off a career-high 198 yards against Nevada. Now that he's back in the groove, expect another high-octane performance, especially if he can get past a questionable offensive line and into the secondary. The surprises of the early season so far have been the three new linebackers. JUCO transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo have been tackling machines while sophomore Jake Fischer is smart and quick. Co-Defensive coordinator Tim Kish has this unit improving each week.
Despite Vereen's career night in Reno, this unit is probably the Bears' biggest question mark. With Matt Summers-Gavin seeing limited playing time after losing much of camp to a bone bruise, Cal has only one true tackle in Mitchell Schwartz. The staple of the defense is its line. Everyone knows about ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, but the player making a name for himself is redshirt freshman defensive tackle Justin Washington, who leads the Pac-10 with four sacks and blocked an extra point against the Hawkeyes.
Bryan Anger is averaging 46.9 yards per punt with three inside the 20 and two touchbacks. Giorgio Tavecchio is getting more than 4.1 seconds of hangtime on his kickoffs, giving the coverage team plenty of time to seal off any long returns. Kick returner Travis Cobb returned a kick for a touchdown against Iowa, the second return for a score in two seasons. Kicker Alex Zendejas is perfect on the season, but punter Keenyn Crier struggles with consistency. Punt returner Bug Wright has muffed three punts in two weeks.
Arizona Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Bears the past two times they've visited. This will be the offensive line's biggest test this season, and it remains to be seen how Clancy Pendergast's defense will do against the spread. Just too many question marks. Arizona 37, Cal 27. The Wildcats offense at home will be too much for Cal. I expect the Bears to put up decent numbers on offense, but their defense won't be able to stop Foles and the passing game. UA pulls away in the second half. Arizona 37, Cal 24.

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