Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sports Network: Pac-10 Leading California Heads to the Desert

Sitting atop the Pac-10 standings, the eighth-ranked California Golden Bears make the trip to the desert this week to battle the Arizona Wildcats from Tucson. Jeff Tedford's Bears are the only unbeaten in conference play and are looking to set up a showdown with USC to determine the league champion. California dropped its season-opener at Tennessee, but has not lost since, running its current win streak to eight games with last weekend's 38-24 win over UCLA. The Wildcats are much further down the conference ladder at 4-5 overall and just 2-4 in league action. However, last week, Mike Stoops' squad posted its biggest win of the year, knocking off then nationally-ranked Washington State in Pullman, 27-17. California has taken over the lead in the all-time series thanks to its current three-game win streak against Arizona. The Bears hold a 12-11-2 edge in the series and won last year's matchup, 28-0.


The Golden Bears are one of the top offenses in the nation and proved it last week against UCLA. On the season, California is averaging 36.3 points per game, on 439.1 yards of total offense. The ground game is responsible for 170.9 ypg, while the passing game nets 268.2 ypg. QB Nate Longshore has had a tremendous season and is coming off a game in which he threw for 266 yards and three scores. This year, Longshore has completed 64.5 percent of his passes, for 2,143 yards and 20 TDs. The versatile Marshawn Lynch scored on the ground and through the air against the Bruins last week and has had a stellar campaign as well. Lynch is closing in on 1,000 yards rushing, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. He has amassed 988 yards thus far and has scored nine TDs on the ground. He has also caught 23 balls (fourth on the team) with four more scores. All- American candidate DeSean Jackson is clearly the go-to-guy in the vertical game, leading the team in receptions (39), receiving yards (680) and TDs (eight). Jackson also notched his third punt return for a score last week against UCLA and is the top return man in the college ranks.


The California defense is not on par with the offense, but the unit hasn't cost the team any games yet either. The Bears are allowing just 19.7 ppg on the season, despite allowing nearly 400 yards of offense per outing (391.4). Although the team is allowing opponents to march up and down the field, that doesn't mean that the unit is void of playmakers. On the contrary, there have been several standout performances thus far, highlighted by the play of senior cornerback Daymeion Hughes. The 6-2, 190-pounder ranks second on the team in tackles (51), but is second to no one on the national level in terms of interceptions, leading the country with eight picks. Linebacker Desmond Bishop has been extremely productive as well, pacing the Bears in tackles (83) and TFLs (11.5), while adding two sacks, three INTs, two fumble recoveries and a pair of forced fumbles. Bishop is third in the Pac-10 in tackles, averaging 9.2 stops per game.


There is simply no way that Arizona is going to be able to match California's offense score for score this weekend. The Wildcats are netting a rather low 13.7 ppg on just 249 yards of total offense. Needless to say, the team has struggled to move the football in any way, shape or form. Sophomore QB Willie Tuitama hasn't exactly lit the world on fire, completing 55.1 percent of his passes, for just 977 yards, with four TDs and six interceptions. However, Syndric Steptoe (43 receptions, for 458 yards and one TD) and Mike Thomas (36 receptions, for 402 yards and one TD) have been reliable on the outside. Junior tailbacks Chris Jennings (409 yards and three TDs) and Chris Henry (295 yards and three TDs) have found the going tough on the ground, but have been the best options available in the rushing game.


Defensively, is where Arizona has had the most success and last week's win over Washington State was certainly an example of that, holding the Cougars to a mere seven points in the game. On the year, UA is allowing 19.7 ppg, on 309.3 yards of total offense. The rush defense has allowed just 105.8 yards per game, while the pass defense is yielding 203.6 yards per outing. Linebackers Spencer Larsen and Ronnie Palmer lead the way for this unit. Larsen is tops on the tackle list with 65 total stops, with 6.0 TFLs, two sacks and a pair of fumble recoveries. Palmer is second in terms of tackles (54) with a pair of forced fumbles. The pass rush could certainly be better with only 15 QB takedowns in nine games. Junior end Louis Holmes is currently leading the charge in that area with a team-high four sacks.


The Wildcats will need to carry over momentum from last week's win in order to keep this game close. Although the Wildcat defense has played its best against the better offenses it has faced, this Bears' unit is clicking on cylinders most teams don't even have.


Sports Network Predicted Outcome: California 33, Arizona 14

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