October 21, 2004

Cal at Arizona: Awefense versus Awwwfense

Arizona is #80 in the sagarin ratings (67.28) and unranked in both polls. Cal is #6 Sagarin (89.16) and 7/8 in the polls, as well as #8 in the first BCS rankings. Cal is a 22-point favorite by the oddsmakers, and Sagarin predicts Cal winning by 25. Arizona is riding a 5-game losing streak and have lost 7 of their last 8 going back to last year. Their only win this year was over Div 1-AA Northern Arizona, 21-3.

Over the years, however, it seems that Arizona is Cal's annual "let-down" game. In the 23 games the teams have played, the difference in scoring is an average of ONE POINT per game (Arizona holds a narrow 24.7 to 23.7 lead). Thirteen of the games have been decided by 7 or fewer points. And we all remember the game that caused the "Tomey Rule," which requires teams to go for two-point conversions after TDs in every overtime after the second. With the last four meetings in Berkeley, the Bears have not played at Arizona since 1997, Holmoe's first year as coach.

Last year, the Bears demolished the Cats in Berkeley, 42-14, with 327 yards rushing. Echemandu had 201 yards rushing in that game, and Arrington averaged over 8 yards a carry on his way to 92 yards. But that was Last Year. We only care about This Year.

Arizona is much improved, at least on defense. They are still pretty questionable (I hesitate to say "bad"), but the defense has improved by 100 yards and 16 points per game since last year. In their past two games, they held the Pac-10's 2nd and 3rd leading rushers under 100 yards rushing (each). CB Cason was the Pac-10's defensive player of the week the first week of the season. But their top two players in the DT spot on their depth chart are out (suspension, injury), and statistically they just can't match up to the Bears.

Arizona's defense is, unfortunately for them, their strength. They held Wisconsin to just 9 points (1 TD, 1 FG) and held Utah to 23. But their last two games they gave up 37 points to UCLA and 28 points to Oregon

The Cats allow a respectable 3.1 yards per carry and have allowed only 7 rushing TDs in 6 games. They give up a respectable 117.3 yards per game rushing, including holding WSU to just 28 yards rushing and UCLA to 114 yards rushing. In passing defense, however, Arizona gives up a league-worst 7.5 yards per completion and is third-worst in the league in allowing a 57.1% completion rate. (Rodgers completes an astounding 75% of his passes.) In addition, they have the worst TD-to-interception ratio in the league (9 TDs allowed to just 3 picks).

Arizona's defense allows 18.5 first downs per game and gets just 1.25 sacks per game. They allow a league-worst 44.2% 3rd down conversion (the Cal offense is tops in converting at 51%), and they allow 50% 4th down conversion. The Cats have allowed opponents 23 trips to the red zone, where they've given up 14 TDs and 3 field goals.

Arizona's DL averages about 260 pounds, compared to Cal's 315 pound offensive line. The linebackers are all in the 220-235 range. UCLA's OL is also big, and they scored 37 points on the Wildcats. I expect Arizona to put no pressure on Rodgers, and again the passing game will balance off the run game in the first half, and the Bears will simply overpower Arizona in the second half when the run game finally gets going full steam. I am expecting another 150-yard day for Arrington and several receptions for Lynch and McArthur and Cross. It looks especially bad for the Wildcats when you see that their two starting cornerbacks are true freshmen, and for most of the 4th quarter against the Ducks, Arizona had three freshmen playing in their defensive backfield.

Clearly, Arizona's defense will have their hands full with Cal's intense offense (I think we should start spelling it "awefense").

On the other side of the ball... well, let's just say that I think the scouts will all get a good look at Arizona's punter. If Cal's offense is spelled "awefense," then Arizona's should be "awwwfense." That's why Stoops has dumped the sophomore QB in favor of a freshman, who will get his first start on Saturday. This does throw a wrench in things because you never know with a new QB how the offense will respond. They may fall apart, or they may pick up their game and play better than ever before.

The sad part is that even with a doubling of productivity in Arizona's offense, they still would be three touchdowns behind the Bears.

Arizona has scored 20 or more points against only I-AA Northern Arizona, and there they managed just 21. They were held under 10 by Utah and Wisconsin, and in Pac-10 play they are averaging a meager 16.7 points per game. They are last in the Pac-10 in Passing offense, total offense, and scoring offense, and they're only 6th in rushing offense.

On the ground, the Wildcats get 3.6 yards per carry and have scored just 5 TDs in 6 games. They will be going against the league's best defense (2.5 yards per carry, only 3 rushing TDs allowed, and just 86 yards per game rushing allowed). Their passing game is worse, with just 5.9 yards per completion and a 1:1 ratio of TDs to interceptions (5 of each). This adds up to a total of 283 yards per game of total offense, and a league-worst 4.5 yards per play. That's going against the league's best defense, which allows a league-best 4.2 yards per play and 273 yards per game.

It gets worse: U of A is last in 3rd down conversions with a paltry 35% converted. They also achieve a sad 16.3 first downs per game (compared to Cal's 25.4 first downs per game). They are going against the league's best defense again here: Cal allows a league-low 15.4 first downs a game. Arizona has visited the red zone only 16 times in 6 games and has come away without points five times; they only have 6 TDs in the 11 successful drives. There's little reason to believe that trend will change with a freshman quarterback in his first start against the league's best defense.

There are just three things Arizona does really well, judging from the stats: They lead the Pac in kickoff coverage (just 16 yards per return), they avoid penalties, and they get good attendance (nearly 50,000 a game for THIS team?!?).

All in all, this is another clear mismatch for the Bears. The wild cards are the new QB, the letdown factor, and the series history. Again, however these Bears are focused and on task, and a letdown does not appear to be in the cards. The series history is all but moot, and a freshman QB behind an O line that averages around 290 pounds is unlikely to change this game except to make the point spread questionable.

The Bears will dominate this game from start to finish, though in the first half their run game may take a while to get started again. I expect to see a lot of Robertson and the other backups in the 4th quarter. I think Cal goes into halftime 28-0 and rolls away with the game, 48-10.

Go Bears!

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