Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sports Network: Red-hot Bears host Huskies in Berkeley

(Sports Network) - The 11th-ranked California Golden Bears hope to continue their torrid pace through their conference schedule, as they welcome the Washington Huskies to Berkeley this weekend for a Pac-10 showdown. Jeff Tedford's Golden Bears dropped their season-opener at Tennessee (35-18), but have since won six straight games, all in impressive fashion, including last week's 21-3 win at Washington State. With the victory over the Cougars, Cal now sits atop the Pac-10 standings at 4-0, tied with USC. Ty Willingham's Huskies opened their 2006 campaign with wins in four of their first five games. However, the team has fallen in back-to-back conference affairs, including last week's 27-17 defeat at home against Oregon State. These are the only two teams that have taken part in every season since the Pac-10's inception in 1916. The Huskies hold a 46-36-4 advantage in the all-time series, but it is California which has won four straight in the series, including a 56-17 rout in last year's matchup.

Coming into this contest, Washington's offense could be described as average at best. The team is putting up 23.3 ppg in 2006, on 351.7 yards of total offense. To make matters worse, at least for this game, is the fact that Washington lost starting QB Isaiah Stanback for the year, following a foot injury suffered last time out. Junior Carl Bonnell will take over under center this week and beyond, but has played sparingly this year, completing just 7-of-14 passes on the year. He does have a pair of quality receivers on the outside in the form of senior Sonny Shackleford and junior Anthony Russo. Shackleford leads the team in receptions (33), receiving yards (473) and TDs (five). Russo ranks second in receptions (21) and receiving yards (336). The ground game is netting 155.1 yards per game and Bonnell may be wise to hand the ball off to tailbacks Kenny James (4.4 ypc) and Louis Rankin (5.5 ypc) until he feels comfortable in the pocket.

It will be a tough task for Washington's defense this week, as they will have the unenviable task of trying to slow down a juggernaut. The Huskies are allowing 24.0 ppg this year and have been particularly vulnerable to the pass (249.9 ypg), not a good sign heading into this contest. Despite the mediocre numbers, this is a unit that has plenty of talent. Senior safety C.J. Wallace leads the team in tackles (63) with six TFLs. However, it is senior linebacker Scott White who has really stood out on this side of the ball. The 6-1, 235- pounder ranks second in tackles (54), while leading the team in TFLs (10), sacks (three) and INTs (four). Forcing turnovers hasn't come easy in 2006, as the team has amassed just 10 takeaways in the first seven games. Taking advantage of any California miscues will be a must to keep things close.

There aren't many teams in the country performing as well offensively as the Golden Bears. The team possesses plenty of star power at the skilled positions with the ability to score at will sometimes. California is averaging a whopping 36.9 ppg, moving the chains both on the ground (168.7 ypg) and through the air (265.3 ypg). Sophomore signal-caller Note Longshore is the primary reason for the offensive success. The youngster has completed 63.3 percent of his passes, for 1,586 yards and 17 TDs. Fellow sophomore DeSean Jackson is his primary target downfield and one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the nation. Jackson leads the team in receptions (33), receiving yards (582) and TDs (eight) and has added a pair of punt returns for scores as well. The ground game is left in the capable hands of junior Marshawn Lynch. The 5-11, 217- pounder is averaging nearly seven yards per carry (6.8) and has amassed 757 yards this season with six TDs.

While it has been the offense that has fueled Cal's success in 2006, the defense came up huge in last week's win at Washington State, allowing a season- low three points. The Golden Bears have been vulnerable to the pass themselves this season (241.1 ypg), but that has a lot to do with having big leads and opponents needing to play catch up. Still, the team is yielding just 18.4 ppg, representing one of the better scoring defenses in the conference. Senior middle linebacker Desmond Bishop has been outstanding this season, making plays all over the field. Bishop leads the team in tackles (56) and TFLs (nine), with two sacks, one interception, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Senior cover corner Daymeion Hughes is one of the best CBs in the nation and has proved it this year with a conference-leading six interceptions. Sophomore LB Zack Follett (31 tackles, 6.0 TFLs, 3.5 sacks) has been impressive as well in the middle of the field, while senior end Nu'u Tafisi (4.0 TFLs, 3.5 sacks) is the team's top pass rusher up front.

The Golden Bears are steam-rolling the competition in-conference and a Washington team on the road without its starting QB is just the next victim on the docket.   

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: California 34, Washington 13

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