In order to give readers a better idea about what kind of team Arizona is facing in the California Golden Bears, GOAZCATS.com caught up with Chris Nguon of BearTerritory.net, who answered a series of questions about the UA's seventh opponent.
1. Tell us about your quarterbacks.
Since the moment Cal head coach Jeff Tedford reinserted fifth-year senior Nate Longshore back into the starting lineup last week before kickoff against Arizona State, the two-time Pac-10 coach of the year made it a point to state that the Bears "would need both quarterbacks" before the season is over. Well, Tedford was certainly on to something.
The 6-foot-5, 233-pound Longshore has battled through numerous injuries throughout his career and you can add another one to the list as of late last week. Longshore - who threw for over 3,000 yards two years ago - slipped a disc in his back lifting weights and it remains to be seen whether the big gun-slinger will be under center when Cal battles Arizona in the desert Saturday night.
Even if Longshore is healthy, Tedford insists that there is still an open competition for the quarterback position between Longshore and redshirt sophomore Kevin Riley. Riley started the first four games of the season, before being replaced by Longshore against the Sun Devils because Tedford wanted the Cal offense to get off to a better start to begin games and felt a quarterback change would do the trick. Tedford was right, as the Bears jumped out to a 17-0 first half lead over ASU.
Whoever is under center though, Tedford and the players on the team have publicly stated that they feel very comfortable with both athletes. Riley's stats have been solid this season, as he boasts an 8-1 touchdown to turnover ratio. Longshore on the other hand is a veteran who understands Tedford's complicated offensive scheme like the back of his hand.
The biggest difference on the field between the two signal-callers is that Riley is a little more mobile and can make plays with his feet if needed while Longshore tends to stay in the pocket longer and is a little bit more accurate throwing balls down the field.
2. What are the strengths and weaknesses to this year's Bears football team?
The first thing Arizona fans will notice about Cal this season is how much they rely on the running game. With an inexperienced receiving core still trying to find their grove, the Bears pound the ball on the ground in hopes of controlling tempo and using their experienced offensive line to wear down opposing defenses. Whether it's Jahvid Best or Shane Vereen, Cal trots out two talented ball-carriers who have both proven they can carry the bulk of the offensive touches if needed.
The Bears have not been known as a strong defensive team but they have been a lot better on that side of the ball this season. With the switch to the 3-4 scheme, several defenders have thrived in the new system. Outside of an overall awful effort against Maryland the third week of the season, Cal has been consistently stopping the run and slowly getting better every week in the secondary. The strength of the defense is an experienced and speedy linebacking core led by a trio of seniors in Zack Follett, Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder and the three athletes have certainly played like seniors so far this year.
What needs to get better however is the aforementioned passing game. Cal lost three talented receivers to graduation/early NFL entry so breaking in a completely new core of pass-catchers have been a little rocky. One of the things fans will notice about the Bears' core of wideouts is their size, as each guy runs at least 6-foot-1, 190 pounds. Brooklyn native and former Florida commit Nyan Boateng has really been coming on of late.
3. Who is the best player on the Bears that we haven't heard of yet?
Arizona high school football fans probably remember the name Cameron Jordan, who starred at Chandler High in 2007 before taking his skills up to Northern California. Since the moment he arrived on the Berkeley campus, Jordan has been considered by many around the program to be the most gifted pass rusher on the roster from a physical standpoint. Now, the 6-foot-4 290-pound defensive end is really starting to play like it.
Against an albeit average Arizona State offensive line last week, Jordan recorded career-highs in tackles (8), tackles for loss (3) and sacks (2). At almost 300 pounds, Jordan is very, very strong at the point of attack yet possesses the speed and quickness to get around slower offensive tackles. Jordan recently stated in an interview that he's been clocked running a 4.8 40-yard dash which gives fans an idea of the massive potential the Arizona native brings to the table.
4. What does California have to do to beat Arizona this week?
This is going to sound about as cliché as a statement can possibly be, but Cal will have to run the ball well and slow down the Arizona offense Saturday night. The running game has set up the few big pass plays this season so it is crucial for the Bears to get their running game going early. If the Cal offensive line, who is led by a senior All-American center in Alex Mack, can assert itself against the Arizona front seven then at the very least they'll find themselves in a close battle down to the wire.
Defensively, both the Bears defensive line and secondary have played much better this season so the ability to get pressure of the quick striking Willie Tuitama with just four up front is something to watch. Cal cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson leads the country in pass breakups (8) and his counterpart Darian Hagan has been stellar playing the ball in the air as well.
Make no mistake about it though, the Bears remember all too well what happened in 2006 so they understand it won't be easy winning in the desert Saturday night. Over the past three seasons, Cal hasn't exactly done that well on the road in the Pac-10.
5. Where do you see Cal in the Pac-10 at the conclusion of the year?
You never want to predict an entire season's fate on one game but Saturday's contest against Arizona should really outline the rest of the year for the Bears. Come out of the desert with a "W" and Cal is truly set up for at least a Holiday Bowl bid at the end of the year. Lose to the Wildcats and the Bears find themselves in a dogfight to stay at the top of the conference.
Cal comes into Saturday's tilt all alone atop the Pac-10 so it will be looking pretty if Sunday's record shows 5-1 and not 4-2. After Arizona, the Bears play two swing games against UCLA and Oregon (both at home) before the big one in South Central against USC. Get through Arizona and Cal will be favored against the Bruins and the Ducks, which will set up the '06 season all over again, when the Bears traveled to Los Angeles and played for the Pac-10 title.
6. What is your injury situation?
As mentioned before, Longshore's status won't be known until later in the week due to a slipped disc while Jahvid Best is still questionable with a dislocated elbow.
7. What do you expect out of Jahvid Best this week?
If he plays on Saturday, Wildcats fans should expect Best to be what is he, which is the most explosive offensive player in the Pac-10. While USC and Arizona fans might not want to hear it, Best has more "big play" ability in his repertoire than any other athlete on the West Coast. The sophomore running back has been thoroughly rehabbing his dislocated elbow for two weeks now and he says he will play Saturday. While that remains to be seen, there is nothing wrong with Best's legs so if he does play, he'll be his usual explosive self.