Looking back on 2006: The ASU game

(Note to readers: Today we continue in our look back at the games in the 2006 season with Arizona State.  Here are links to our past look backs: Tennessee, Minnesota and Portland State) 

The storyline:
In a game where it is anyone’s guess just how the two teams will match up, Cal having been blown out by Tennessee but rebounding strongly and ASU having demolished 3 weak teams and remaining unproven, Cal was able to work it’s offensive mojo again.  The Bears were able to score at will in the first half and took a unassailable 42-14 halftime lead.  They were able to continue to slow the ASU team in the second half for a 49-21 smackdown.

The reality:
In reality this game was less about the offensive power of Cal than it was about the defensive turnovers and special teams play.  21 of the 49 points, including the only Cal points in the 2nd half, came directly from defense and special teams play.  In addition, two of the offensive TD’s were setup by turnovers giving the Bears a short field to work with.  Although in both cases the offense was able to strike quickly, it was the defense who setup the scores.  In reality, Cal was only able to drive the length of the field twice.

The forgotten:
Forgotten in this game was the difficulty Cal had stopping the running game of ASU.  ASU rushed for 228 yards, 185 of that from their bruising tailback Ryan Torian.  ASU was able to march down the field on their first possesion and score a touchdown mostly because of their running game.  Because Cal was able to score so frequently in the 1st half, it kept the power running game of ASU out of the equation as ASU tried to play catch up.  The game may have been very different if ASU had kept the score close.  The other forgotten factor in this game was the slow start for Cal.  ASU was able to march down the field for a TD on their first possession and Cal responded with a 3-and-out.  After that, both the Cal defense and offense were able to get back in gear and the blowout ensued.

The 2006 learnings:
This was the 4rd consecutive game with a slow start for the offense and the concern had in some ways grown into a panic.  What will this do to the team next time they face a tough opponent?  Other learnings from this game was that DeSean Jackson was going to be a heck of a punt returner.  His return for a TD was a thing of beauty, finding a surprisingly small seam and using his speed and agillity to quickly navigate it en route to blowing by the last couple defenders.  Also, this was the coming out party for Damien Hughes amazing senior season.  His 2 interceptions, including one for a TD on a spectacular runback that including incidently stepping on the ASU quarterback on his way to the endzone, as well as numerous knock downs and overall strong play, re-enforced that Hughes side of the field was going to be well defended.

The 2007 learnings:
ASU was a soft team for the last few years with Koetter as head coach.  If he was still coach, I think we could say with confidence that the 2006 game would be a good indicator of success in the desert in 2007.  But with Erickson leading the charge in 2007, I don’t think we can make that conclusion.  On the contrary, I expect them to be strong in 2007.  Most worrisome about ASU is whether they can repeat their strong running performance against Cal.  With Torain back as well as most of their offensive line combined with the need for replacements on Cal’s defense, it’s definitely something to be worried about.  If ASU can avoid turnovers and mistakes, while keeping their effective run game, this will be a tough game for Cal in 2007.  The upside of course is that Cal was able to have their way with ASU offensively when it mattered in 2006 and there’s nothing to suggest 2007 will be any different.  Perhaps the key to the game will be similar to 2006: Can Cal build enough of a lead early to take ASU’s running game out of the mix?

The Conclusion:
This was a game that I expected to be a blowout and so I was not and am still not that impressed with the Cal victory.  Many saw it as the moment it was clear Cal was going to be a formidable opponent to USC.  For me, that game was still a couple weeks away particularly as ASU faultered through Oregon and the rest of their lackluster season.

2 Responses to “Looking back on 2006: The ASU game”

  1. HydroTech Says:

    I forgot what a monster game Torain had that day. He had an All-American game of 8.0 ypc. Was his success more of a result of Cal not containing him or him just breaking and juking tackles?

  2. Ken Crawford Says:

    It was mostly containment issues. There were a few plays where he turned a 2-4 yard gain into a 6-10 yard gain by powering through tackles but for the most part the offensive line was making big holes for him to run through. I was quite surprised by how much running room he had actually. It was far worse than Tennessee and probably the worst game in the entire 2006 season for the defensive line… although maybe I should wait until I’ve reviewed all the games before making that statement.

    Going deeper, Bishop seemed to be out of position quite a bit in this game and wasn’t his usual self. Usually he could be counted on to maul anyone trying to run between the tackles. He seemed to be in the wrong gaps more than usual in the ASU game.