Friday, November 10, 2006

AP: Golden Bears hope to avoid upset at Arizona

TUCSON, Ariz. - With its showdown against seventh-rated Southern California looming in one week, it would be tempting for No. 8 California to look past Arizona here Saturday.  It would also be foolish. The long-downtrodden Wildcats (4-5, 2-4 in the Pac-10) have won two of their last three games and are coming off an upset of then-No. 25 Washington State in Pullman. "We always talk about each week and the challenges we have each and every week," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "It's no different this week." The Wildcats' win at Washington State was coach Mike Stoops' third over a ranked team in his three seasons at Arizona. "We are not intimidated by anybody," Stoops said. Last November, the Wildcats stunned then-No. 7 UCLA 52-14 in Tucson, handing the Bruins their first loss. Tedford has seen the film of that game and doesn't want to watch a re-run on Saturday. "Those are reminders of what can happen if you're not ready to play," he said. The Golden Bears (8-1, 6-0) have been ready every week since their opener, a 35-18 loss at Tennessee. California has won eight straight games, two shy of the school record.

Cal needs two wins and a USC loss to wrap up its first Rose Bowl berth since the 1958 season. And if it sweeps its remaining games - against Arizona, USC and Stanford - Cal might contend for a slot in the BCS national title game, although it would need help to rise from No. 8 in the BCS standings. Tedford doesn't want his players thinking that far ahead. He seems more concerned that they may overlook a team they've buried by 28-0 and 38-0 scores the last two seasons. Arizona Stadium, which seemed a graveyard a few years ago, will be sold out for Homecoming. "It will be a hostile environment, no question," Tedford said. "They always play hard. Coach Stoops has them always playing hard, physical football. There's no question that we're going to get their best effort." The question is whether that will be good enough against a Cal team that features the Pac-10's most efficient passer, its top rusher and its leading pass interceptor. Quarterback Nate Longshore, a sophomore from Canyon Country, Calif., has completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,143 yards. He has thrown 20 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Junior tailback Marshawn Lynch of Oakland leads the conference with 109.8 rushing yards per game. He's averaging 6.5 yards per carry.

Cornerback Daymeion Hughes, a senior from Los Angeles, has intercepted a pass in three straight games and leads the nation with eight. "They are probably the most balanced team we have played - offense, defense and special teams," said Stoops, whose Wildcats have lost to Louisiana State and USC. "They have so many weapons. They can strike at almost any position of the field offensively."

It will be a big test for Arizona's defense, which is allowing 309.3 yards per game this season, 99 fewer than a year ago. Arizona's upset hopes may ride on the health of quarterback Willie Tuitama, who played well at Washington State after missing the previous two games with a concussion. Tuitama has six interceptions and only four touchdown passes in seven games. "I think that (Washington State) game gave him confidence, and that is what he needs heading into these last three games," Stoops said. After Cal, the Wildcats visit Oregon and then finish the regular season against arch rival Arizona State. Two wins would make Arizona bowl-eligible for the first time since 1998. "Our season has not gone as planned," Arizona linebacker Ronnie Palmer said. "Our goal is to win out. We all want to go to a bowl game and do it for the seniors and make a name for ourselves."


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