It’s finally the end of November, and the lights and the concession stands will be brought out for the last time at Memorial Stadium in 2015.
On Saturday night, the Cal football team will get the opportunity to play in its second home night game of the year and what will most likely be junior quarterback Jared Goff’s last home game.
And despite all of that, this game will have very little meaning behind it. The Bears (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12) and their opponent, Arizona State (6-5, 4-4), are both already bowl eligible. So instead of playing for a postseason opportunity, the two competitors will be playing for the “better” bowl game. The team that walks out of the matchup with a 7-5 record will get the opportunity to play in a higher-profile game than the loser, who will even out the season at 6-6.
“(It’s) a big game for us, last home game — we’ve got a lot of seniors who have been through a lot, really kind of been critical to us getting this program headed in the right direction,” said Cal head coach Sonny Dykes. “Definitely want to send them out on Saturday with a victory.”
Historically, Cal has been dominant in the series, winning eight of the last 10 games. The teams, however, have not faced off since 2012, making this their first battle during the Dykes era.
On paper, it appears that Goff & Co. should find success on offense, especially when passing the ball. The Bears have the second-ranked passing offense in the Pac-12, averaging 353 yards per game, while the Sun Devils’ pass defense is second to last in the conference and 122nd in the Football Bowl Subdivision out of 127 teams, allowing 301.6 yards per game.
One aspect of the Arizona State defense that could cause Cal some trouble is its ability to create pressure. The Bears’ offensive line has struggled throughout the season, which the Sun Devils, a unit that has the most sacks in the Pac-12 and is tied for first in the FBS with 44, will look to take advantage of. Cal’s offensive line has allowed 26 this season, which leaves it near the middle of the conference.
Another strength of the Sun Devils’ defense is its ability to stop the run, allowing only 123.2 yards per game. This could be an area of concern for the Bears, who have been relying on being able to run the ball the past two weeks, behind sophomores Tre Watson and Vic Enwere, with senior Daniel Lasco continuing to deal with injuries that have plagued him all season long.
Against the same Pac-12 opponents, the two teams have fared very similarly. Both teams defeated Washington and lost to Utah, USC and Oregon. That, however, is where the similarities end. The Bears defeated Washington State, to whom the Sun Devils recently lost, 38-24, while Arizona State pulled off a win against UCLA, to whom the Bears lost in October, 40-24.
These teams are very similar. Both Arizona State and Cal have underperformed this season. Part of the Bears’ struggles have been the getting the offense to click, making Goff’s ability to get the ball downfield against the Sun Devils’ strong defensive front key this weekend. Not only will the offenses’ performance be critical, but the ability of Cal’s defense to have any sort of success against redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici without safeties Damariay Drew and Griffin Piatt could be the biggest test the secondary has faced all year.
This battle of mediocre Pac-12 teams may come down to who can find the most success in the areas in which they struggle.
The goal is simple.
“I’m just trying to win the game,” Goff said. “Right now, I’m just trying to beat Arizona State, go to 7-5 and go to a bowl game and win that.”
Alaina Getzenberg covers football. Contact her at [email protected]