How will Cal’s beat up defensive front fare against the big-time talents on Arizona State’s offense, including quarterback Jayden Daniels and running back Eno Benjamin?
Shailin Singh: The hope is that Cal will get at least one out of the following players — Cameron Goode and Tevin Paul — back, but if not, Luc Bequette and Evan Weaver almost single-handedly stuffed Ole Miss’ run game, and I think the same would likely be true against Arizona State. While I expect the Bears’ secondary to have a bounce back performance, it will be important to get pressure on Daniels, because the team’s pass rush against the Rebels last week was insufficient without Goode and Paul.
Spencer Golanka: With three-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week Evan Weaver in the mix, it really doesn’t matter who fills the remaining spots on the defensive line. He is that good. However, if Cal’s Cameron Goode, Tevin Paul and Ben Hawk Schrider are forced to the sidelines for another week, I think Daniels and Benjamin can capitalize on the lack of experience of the Bears’ replacements. Much like Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral, who was his team’s leading rusher and passer against Cal, ASU’s Daniels is a serious dual-threat that has the confidence and the ability to turn a game on its head.
Emily Ohman: Did you … watch the Ole Miss game? Four of Cal’s linebackers were out of commission, and their absences were felt on the field. Cal’s secondary put up arguably its worst performance this season against the Rebels, allowing Ole Miss 177 rush yards compared to the Bears’ paltry 60. Ashtyn Davis and Camryn Bynum had to chase down Rebels faster than George Washington’s army during the Whiskey Rebellion, and were it not for poor clock management and Evan Weaver’s ability to teleport across the field and make every single tackle, Cal might not have been celebrating its fourth straight win last Saturday. Although Weaver still had a career-high 22 tackles, and while he makes single-handedly running the entirety of the Bears’ defense look easy, the man needs a break, and Daniels and Benjamin will be there to cherry-pick off of Cal’s deficiencies.
Josh Yuen: Without the services of Cameron Goode and Tevin Paul, the front-seven will be just fine. If that duo is active, or even just one, Daniels is in for a long night. The Bears have shown cracks in the defensive structure at times when stopping the run (C.J. Verdell/Travis Dye at Oregon, Joshua Kelley at UCLA) and I expect Eno Benjamin to break out of his “slump” at some point. With that said, I don’t expect Daniels to have a field day with his legs, but I anticipate him and Brandon Aiyuk to have a big night through the air.
Do you think Cal quarterback Chase Garbers can return to California Memorial Stadium with the same accuracy and decision-making that made him so successful last week at Ole Miss?
SS: Do I expect another four-touchdown performance? No, but I do believe that the Ole Miss game showed the chemistry that has been brewing with Garbers and his receivers over the first few games. It will be imperative for offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin to spread the ball around early again and give Garbers quick, short passes to get him in a groove.
SG: Maybe. Arizona State’s defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales took full responsibility for his defense’s poor performance in a losing effort against Colorado last weekend. Although his sentiment is valid, ASU’s defense was exposed more than they had been all season. The Sun Devils’ secondary blew multiple coverage assignments and the pass rush was nonexistent. Garbers has thrived as of late, but the bearer of his success will be Cal’s offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin, as his play-calling ability will be put to the test once again.
EO: He better. Garbers’ incredible game carried Cal to victory on a silver platter, and I don’t think we can count on any of the injured linebackers to be playing come Friday to give the offense room for error. Garbers will have to be as close to air-tight as he can be to put as many points as possible on the board for the Bears and make up for the cracks in the defense. Arizona State has a crafty and cunning offense that will certainly pose a threat to the Bears, but the Sun Devils’ own defense has revealed shortcomings that Garbers should hopefully be able to exploit.
JY: Given a small sample size, Garbers has played significantly better on the road than at home. The Sun Devils struggled last weekend against the Buffaloes defensively but also held their previous three opponents (including Michigan State on the road) to exactly seven points each. In terms of Garbers’ decision-making, that won’t change too much — it’s been on the uptick since the end of last season. In terms of accuracy, I expect ASU to have a bounce back effort in the secondary, so I wouldn’t anticipate 300-plus yards through the air again.
With the offensive line units on both teams nursing injuries, how do you think this contest will play out in the running game?
SS: While Cal’s pass protection was quite stout last weekend, the run blocking saw one of its worst performances of the young season. That may partially be attributed to the physicality of the Rebels’ defensive front, but the Bears were unable to get going on the ground. I do believe it will improve as the patchwork offensive line continues to gel, and if fully healthy, I expect Christopher Brown Jr. to have a bounce back game. Even so, I do not expect the offense to rely on the run as much as it did in the first three games. For Arizona State, Benjamin has been a bit inconsistent, and if Cal’s defense can limit him from making explosive chunk runs, then I do not see him being a true difference maker on Friday.
SG: If the Pac-12 is as crazy as it was last weekend, anything is possible. One thing is for sure: Cal will not win this game without substantial support on the ground from Brown Jr. and Marcel Dancy. I presume Garbers won’t be throwing for a career-high in passing yards and touchdowns this week. Therefore, in order to break down a proven ASU defensive front that gave up only 21 points before the loss to Colorado, Brown and Dancy are going to have to return to their early season form. And I believe they will do so.
EO: The running game is crucial for Cal in the matchup against ASU and will give the Bears their best shot at victory. Even in the Sun Devils’ upset win against then-No. 13 Michigan State, ASU allowed the Spartans 113 rushing yards to their own 76; in their most recent game, the Sun Devils let the Buffs score 14 unanswered points in under three minutes in the first quarter. Scoring on ASU is feasible but the Bears need to demonstrate the same caliber of offensive agility as they did against Ole Miss in order to pull off a win.
JY: Cal’s going to have to get Brown and Dancy going again. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr told rookie Josh Jacobs during week one that it often doesn’t matter how many yards he runs for. Rather, it’s more important to consider the flow of the game and the way in which he runs the rock. Whether it’s extending a late drive or forcing the Sun Devils to prioritize defending the run in goal line scenarios, the run game has to be a factor for the Cal offense. On the flip side, Benjamin is the workhorse of Herm Edwards’ scheme and is due for a big game soon. As mentioned already, here’s to hoping Goode and Paul are ready to compete on Friday night.
Shailin Singh, Spencer Golanka, Emily Ohman and Josh Yuen are the 2019 football beat writers.