Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sports Network: Arizona (1-2) at (6) California (3-0)

GAME NOTES: The sixth-ranked California Golden Bears open up Pac-10 play this weekend, as they welcome the Arizona Wildcats to Berkeley. Jeff Tedford's team completed its non-conference schedule last week with a 42-12 rout of Louisiana Tech. The victory has Cal at 3-0 to start a season for the fourth time under Tedford. The team's current ranking is its highest since 2004. Mike Stoops' Wildcats have their work cut out for them in this contest, as they drag a disappointing 1-2 record into the weekend. Arizona dropped a 20-7 decision to BYU in the season-opener, followed by a 45-24 win over Northern Arizona. The team tasted defeat again last week, dropping a tough 29-27 setback to New Mexico. Arizona played spoiler last year, halting California's run at the Rose Bowl with a 24-20 upset of the Golden Bears on November 11th. The victory for Arizona has this series all deadlocked at 12-12-2. The Bears have won nine straight at home and have come out on top in 20 of their last 22 home games.

Sloppy play cost the Wildcats a win over New Mexico last week, as they committed nine costly penalties and turned the ball over two times. It spoiled a terrific game for QB Willie Tuitama, who passed for 446 yards and three TDs. WRs Mike Thomas (seven receptions, for 137 yards and two TDs) and Terrell Turner (seven catches, for 109 yards and one TD) benefited most from Tuitama's lethal passing. The Wildcats have been solid offensively this year, albeit with a one-dimensional gameplan thus far. The team is averaging 26.3 ppg, on 409.7 yards of total offense. The ground game is generating just 88.3 ypg, but the passing attack has picked up the slack to the tune of 321.3 ypg. Tuitama has completed nearly 60 percent of his passes this year, for 945 yards, with nine TDs and just two interceptions. Thomas (19 receptions, for 241 yards and three TDs) and Turner (17 receptions, for 190 yards and two TDs) have been a dynamic duo downfield.

The play on the defensive side of the ball has mirrored that of the offense. Arizona is yielding a generous 24.3 ppg thus far. The team has effectively shut down the run (84.7 ypg on 2.6 ypc), but that may be a result of the fact that opponents have had much more success throwing the ball (267.3 ypg allowed). The Wildcats have not shown the ability to make big plays on a regular basis either, with just three forced turnovers. Senior outside linebacker Spencer Larsen has been all over the field for Arizona in the early stages of the season and currently paces the team in tackles with 26 total stops. Junior middle linebacker Ronnie Palmer is a close second with 21 tackles and both players have recovered a fumble thus far. Senior cornerback Antoine Cason (19 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble) must be accounted for on the field, as he is as dangerous return man, be it punts or on an interception return.

The Golden Bears have a number of offensive weapons at their disposal and it was tailback Justin Forsett's turn last week, as he torched the Louisiana Tech defense for 152 yards rushing a career-best three TDs. It certainly made QB Nate Longshore's job easy under center, as he was an efficient 22-of-33 passing, for 230 yards and two TDs. It was yet another offensive clinic from Tedford's team, which is averaging a robust 40.3 ppg this season. The ground game is netting a remarkable 230.7 yards per game, while the passing attack adds 205.7 ypg. Replacing All-American Marshawn Lynch in the backfield wasn't supposed to be easy, but Forsett has made it look that way, averaging nearly six yards per carry and 122.3 yards per game. Longshore boasts a 136.7 efficiency rating and is completing just under 67 percent of his passes, with four TDs and one INT. Lavelle Hawkins (19 receptions, for 220 yards and one TD) and DeSean Jackson (14 receptions, for 112 yards) are as lethal a pair of receivers as there is out there.

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