Arizona State flopped. The Sun Devils lost the Territorial Cup at home to Arizona, fell one game behind UCLA in the Pac-12 standings and dropped its third consecutive game despite being favored in each.
The Cal football team impressed. The Bears fell just short of defeating their heavily favored archrival, witnessed vastly improved play from their typically inconsistent quarterback and looked the part of a team that has improved throughout the season.
And so you get a matchup of two teams going in opposite directions but hold the same overall record. After a bruising Big Game, the Bears (6-5, 3-5 in the Pac-12) travel to the hostile confines of Tempe, Ariz., to take on the Sun Devils (6-5, 4-4) in a game that matches up the improving versus the flailing.
And at the end of the day, it’s hard to imagine that either team is particularly thrilled with its current standing at this point in the season.
After the Bears suffered back-to-back blowout defeats against Oregon and USC, they were again cast as a team that could seldom ever win on the road and only beat inferior teams at home. Any Jeff Tedford-coached team is a ways away from shedding that moniker, but the Bears have churned out three solid efforts in a row, highlighted by an especially gritty Big Game performance at Stanford. Now, they must combat a short week before traveling to Tempe.
“We have to make sure that they are fresh,” Tedford said after the Stanford game. “It is a short week, but I feel comfortable and confident that we’ll come back with a lot of focus.”
In stark contrast, Arizona State went from one of the conference’s top surprises to one of its laughingstocks in one fell swoop. After igniting their fanbase in late September with an emphatic 21-point victory over USC, the Sun Devils have gone into a tremendous tailspin with losses to UCLA, Washington State and Arizona.
Coach Dennis Erickson’s squad has lost all of its bearings in recent weeks despite having seemingly every opportunity to clinch a berth in the conference championship game. Though the Sun Devils have endured a rash of injuries that probably kept them from being one of the best teams in the conference, that hasn’t made their spectacular downfall any more excusable. After a loss to an archrival that hired a big-name coach in Rich Rodriguez on Monday, Erickson’s seat became piping hot.
“That was the most difficult loss since I’ve been here, without a question,” Erickson said. “When you put a lot of energy into this program like they have, particularly those seniors that have been there for a long time. They’re frustrated like they should be, like we all should be.”
The Sun Devils have received some great play out of junior Brock Osweiler, a gigantic quarterback who has stood out in a conference chock-full of stellar signal-callers. Once offered by Gonzaga to play basketball, Osweiler stands 6-foot-8 and weighs a stout 240 pounds.
While his play has been a bright spot for the Sun Devils, he recorded an eye-popping 65 attempts against Arizona, a number that indicates that Arizona State could not effectively establish the run against the Wildcats.
Adamant about looking ahead to next week, Osweiler admitted that he feels the Cal defense is one of the top units in the conference.
“They’re extremely athletic, especially their defensive line. Those guys really impress me up front,” Osweiler said. “We really have our work cut out for us offensively this week. We need to have a great week of preparation so we’re ready for the looks that they’re going to throw at us Friday night.”
Osweiler also admitted there was some bitterness after enduring a 50-17 beatdown in Berkeley last season.
“As a competitor, you never want to go out and lose in the fashion that we did last year at Cal,” he said. “It was embarrassing, to be real. We do have a lot of motivation in turning that loss around this football season and making things right with Cal.”