By James Romo for DieHardDevil.com
The KEYS to a Sun Devil victory today are very clear. In order for ASU to beat Cal and start a new winning streak on the road in the State of California, the Sun Devils must accomplish the following objectives:
SUN DEVIL OFFENSE
Beat the “Cover 2” Defense
Stretching the two deep Cal safeties will open up underneath routes. 4 and 5 receiver sets will: 1) Create mismatches with linebackers forced to cover speedy receivers 2) Open up the post-corner routes forcing safeties to cover the deep sidelines, and 3) Open up the short flat areas for running backs out of the backfield, and intermediate middle routes for the ASU slot receivers and tight ends. Using play action against the “Cover 2” will also freeze linebackers at the line of scrimmage playing the run, and create huge soft spots between safeties and linebackers where ASU receivers have made big plays. Cal cornerbacks will be forced to “pick their poison” by deciding to cover the deep sideline or closing in on the short flat routes. Either way, there will an open receiver on the outside. The outside receivers will have to do a great job of selling the post route in order to run the Bear safeties out of play, keeping them in the middle of the field and opening up the sideline and underneath routes. Many throws against the “Cover 2” shell require a strong-armed quarterback, which is not something Taylor Kelly has ever been labeled. However, he showed an ability to throw to the deep ball in the Tontozona scrimmage, and I suspect Coach Norvell will dial up at least a few of these throws to keep the Cal secondary honest.
Jump on Cal Early
We saw first hand last week what an early lead can do to the opposition. If ASU can reproduce early scoring drives this week, it will force Cal into abandoning their game plan, essentially getting away from the strength of their offense…the running game (more on this later). In order for the Sun Devils to go up early, they are going to have to be more multi-dimensional than they have been by establishing the run game. As stated above, a productive running game will freeze the linebackers in the Cal 3-4 front creating soft spots for the tight end and slot receivers to make big plays. Count on Cal defensive coaches to have game-planned this week against Coyle, Foster, and Miles in the short passing game. ASU can unlock that space by forcing Cal linebackers to stay home to stop the run. Keeping those defenders honest, whether ASU is able to run for big yardage or not, is going to be the key against the Cal defensive front 7. Cal IS giving up 189 rushing yards per game ranking dead last in the conference, so the two offensive keys will work hand-in-hand in allowing ASU to dictate the game plan to the Bears. It could be a field day for multiple ASU skill position players if they can keep Cal off balance.
SUN DEVIL DEFENSE
Stop the Run
The strength of the Cal offense lies within a quarterback who can run and has a trio of running backs who have all displayed big play ability. Cal is rushing for 175.8 yards per game (4th in Pac), and if there has been any weakness in the ASU defense, it’s been against the run (6th in the Pac) giving up 134.2 yards per game. The Devils did a great job of turning runs inside last week, not allowing any big gains to the outside on broken contain. Brendan Bigelow had touchdown runs of 59 and 81 yards against Ohio State and Isi Sofele is a big play maker with his elusiveness in the open field. Again, tackling on first contact and maintaining outside contain will eliminate Cal running backs getting into the second level of the defense will create 2nd and 3rd and long situations forcing QB Zach Maynard to beat ASU with his arm.
Expose the Cal Offensive Line
Basically, the ASU front 7 just needs to do what they’ve been doing all season. They need to get into the backfield early and often and disrupt the Cal offense. The Bears O-line is hurt and has given up 17 sacks this season. ASU is tied for second in the conference with 14 sacks through four games. ASU is also tied for first in the Pac in interceptions with 8 through four games, and is leading the conference in interception return yardage. Ultimately, the numbers don’t lie and this game could get ugly in favor of the Sun Devils if they can force Cal into playing catch-up with their passing game. Just to drive the point home a little farther, ASU leads the conference only giving up 139.8 passing yards per game. The ASU secondary has been stellar shutting down big play receivers all season. Zach Maynard has a big play weapon in wide receiver Keenan Allen, but the Sun Devil D-line can help neutralize that weapon if Maynard is forced to throw under duress. The two keys on Defense also go hand-in-hand by forcing Cal to play into the strengths of the ASU defense. Stay disciplined, keep outside containment, win the battle in the trenches, get after Maynard.
SUN DEVIL SPECIAL TEAMS
ASU could sure use a lift from their punt/kick returners this week. Playing on the road is tough, and getting big plays in the return game go a long way in quieting the home crowd. Getting good field position after a defensive stop will give the ASU offense a short field for scoring drives and momentum in hostile environments. The ASU O-line had a tough time with crowd noise in Missouri having to use the silent count. If they can keep the Cal crowd out if it, the offense will run that much more smoothly. All 5 of the keys to the game work in relation to one another creating a domino effect. Each one is important individually, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and will produce a Sun Devil victory today.
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