Sports Network | September 22, 2010
Tucson, AZ (Sports Network) - Two teams coming off vastly different results clash in the desert this weekend, as the California Golden Bears and 14th- ranked Arizona Wildcats open Pac-10 play in Tucson.
Both teams are considered contenders for the Pac-10 title, although Cal did nothing to support that claim with its effort last week. The team was thoroughly outplayed on the road, dropping a 52-31 decision at Nevada on Friday.
California had won 30 consecutive games in which it scored 30 or more points prior to the defeat. It also marked the first loss of the campaign for the Bears, who opened the season by beating UC Davis and Colorado by a combined score of 104-10.
On the flip side, the Wildcats pulled off a big upset with a 34-27 triumph over then ninth-ranked Iowa last weekend.
"I'm speechless right now trying to figure out what just happened out there. This win was great in a lot of different ways. We got to see the character of the players develop before our eyes. I'm really proud that everyone managed to compete, and when they were challenged, they challenged right back," said head coach Mike Stoops.
It was an especially remarkable feat considering Arizona hadn't defeated a Top-10 non-league opponent at home in 21 years, last knocking off No.6 Oklahoma 6-3 in 1989. The Wildcats moved up 10 spots in the poll with the win, and served notice to the rest of the Pac-10 that they are legitimate contenders.
As for the all-time series, California holds a slim 14-13-2 edge over Arizona following a 24-16 victory in Berkeley last season.
The Bears amassed 502 yards off total offense last week, but hurt themselves with turnovers. QB Kevin Riley, who has a knack for making untimely mistakes, tossed his first three INTs of the season, all of which changed the momentum at one point. One of his picks was returned 65 yards for a TD midway through the third quarter when Cal was trailing by just three points. It was obviously a crucial mistake from Riley, who had thrown for seven TDs and no INTs through the first two games.
Tailback Shane Vereen continued to churn out the yards, as he toted 19 times for 198 yards and three TDs in the loss to Nevada. The elusive back, who had TD runs of 59 and 50 yards, has rushed for 324 yards and scored a total of eight TDs already. WR Marvin Jones is another emerging star and he had a career night with 12 catches for 161 yards last week. His 21 catches are more than double any other player on the roster and he also tops the squad with 328 receiving yards for the campaign.
California entered last weeks' game allowing the fewest yards in the nation, but it could not compensate for Nevada's option attack. The Bears were shredded for 497 total yards and that includes 316 and four TDs on the ground.
"If they ran a conventional offense and that happened to us, then I'd be concerned," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "Not that I'm OK with it, because we have to coach better and we have to put people in position in all phases of the game to be successful. We didn't do that."
The Bears had just one takeaway and no sacks and that didn't help the matter either. Cal came up with six turnovers and eight sacks in its first two games, dominant efforts by the defense. The Bears, though, did play without LB Mike Mohamed, the Pac-10's top tackler a year ago, as he was sidelined with a sprained toe. LB D.J. Holt, however, did a nice job in his absence and finished with 16 tackles, the most by a Cal player in three years.
After Arizona squandered a 20-point halftime advantage to Iowa, QB Nick Foles led the Wildcats on a nine-play, 72-yard drive for the game-winning score on four-yard pass to William Wright with just under four minutes to go. It was quite a drive for Foles, who had just thrown a pick that was returned to tie the score at 27-27.
"Nick (Foles) made the throws he needed to in the final stretch, and our front four did a great job at blocking, giving him the time he needed to get the ball off," said Stoops.
Foles finished the night 28-of-39 for 303 yards and two TDs, as he became the first player in 29 games to pass for 300 yards against Iowa.
Travis Cobb also gave the Wildcats a boost with a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD, but the Wildcats never got their ground attack going. Led by Nic Grigsby, who has 187 yards and five scores on the season, the Wildcats have a trio of runners that can be effective, but they managed just 63 yards on 30 carries last weekend versus a tough Iowa defense.
Arizona's defense brought the pressure last weekend and Iowa had no real answer. The Wildcats came up with six sacks, including three straight on Iowa's final possession to seal the deal.
"Our ends did a great job tonight, and with a little more work on the middle, those ends will get better and better," said Stoops, whose club now has 11 sacks on the campaign.
Justin Washington had two of those sacks, giving him a team-high four for the season. The Wildcats forced just a single turnover, but it was a big one, as Trevin Wade took an INT back 85 yards for a score. It was another strong effort from a defense that is allowing just 220.3 ypg on the season.