Arizona State will need to set the tempo at No. 15 California
There is one undefeated Pac-12 team remaining and Arizona State will face it on Friday.
The California Golden Bears are 4-0 for the first time since 2015 and are coming off of a massive 28-20 road win at Ole Miss. They jumped into 15th on the AP Top 25, its highest ranking in nearly a decade.
Meanwhile, ASU dropped its first game to Colorado last week 34-31, which knocked it out of the rankings.
Despite the different outcomes in Week 4, there are a lot of similarities between the two teams.
Both have very talented defenses and have been gradually improving this year on offense. This game has the making to be an intense defensive battle like ASU’s outing at Michigan State, but both teams scored their season-high in points last week, which creates an interesting wrinkle in this matchup.
What: Arizona State (3-1) @ California (4-0)
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Radio: ESPN 620 AM
Cal quarterback Chase Garbers has seemingly broken out this season.
The dual-threat quarterback completed just 14 touchdown passes and 1,506 yards in 2018, numbers he is on pace to pass by game eight this year. He threw for 357 yards and four touchdowns against the Rebels last week, both career bests.
ASU’s coaches know that the Devils will need to put pressure on him in order to contain the Cal offense. But that is a tough task after they struggled to break into CU’s backfield last week (no sacks, three hurries).
“If we give him (Garbers) the same time we gave Montez, he will look like a Heisman candidate,” ASU defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales said. “You can only cover him for so long. So, we’re going to stunt and blitz and I promise we’ll be a lot more aggressive.”
The Golden Bears have not had a sustained rushing attack this season, so keeping Garbers pressured and in the pocket will be the main focus for the Sun Devils.
On defense, Cal has had a bend-not-break performance thus far.
It allows just 17.3 points per game which is the 27th-fewest in the FBS (130 teams). But, it also allows 366.5 yards per game (64th-fewest).
Where Cal excels is in containment and on third downs.
“They have a deep safety, and they don’t let you get the big play,” ASU offensive coordinator Rob Likens said. “They make you earn it.”
How ASU matches up
Arizona State has been marvelous this season at stopping the run, which should continue on Friday.
But since Cal relies on Garbers to make the offense go, the Devils’ pass rush is the most important aspect of their defense this week.
ASU’s rushers were not winning their one-on-one matchups last Saturday, but the Cal offensive line has allowed 3.5 sacks per game.
This could be the matchup that decides the outcome, so the Sun Devils will need to learn from their mistakes this week before heading to the Bay Area.
“We have a lot of movement up front to create some mobility to get to the quarterback,” ASU head coach Herm Edwards said. “Somebody is going to have a one-on-one and we have to win that. We didn’t contain the edge on Saturday. It’s hard to live that way. This Cal quarterback can run so we have to contain him.”
As for the ASU offense, it had its best game of the season in Week 4.
It converted on eight of 13 third downs (which will be key for Friday), picked up its best yards-per-rush numbers of the year and quarterback Jayden Daniels looked very good in the pocket.
If those continue, then ASU should be able to march down the field at Berkely. Cal does not allow many big plays, but ASU won’t need them to score as long as it picks up consistent yards on the ground and in the short passing game. Beating Cal requires patience, but controlling the ball and the pace will be major.
Arizona State has more firepower than Cal and similar defensive numbers. If the Sun Devils can put together long drives and convert in the red zone, it should be able to command the momentum of the game.
The big key will be not allowing huge plays on defense, which was an issue last week. The adjustments on the ASU defensive front could be the deciding factor.