3:30 PM ET, September 23, 2006
Memorial Stadium, BERKELEY, CA
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -- Although Marshawn Lynch tore up most of the Pac-10 during his first two seasons in the league, the California tailback still hasn't done much to Arizona State.
The Golden Bears hope Lynch makes a devastating impression on the unbeaten Sun Devils on Saturday in the No. 21 Golden Bears' league opener. Lynch was a freshman backup when Arizona State got shut out at Memorial Stadium two years ago, and the schools didn't play each other last season when Lynch emerged as a star.
"This is for bragging rights, so the intensity in practice picks up a little more," said Lynch, who averaged 7.2 yards per carry in the Bears' first three games this season. "I don't know what it is, (but) it's just different when Pac-10 time comes around."
Cal (2-1) is under pressure to prove its No. 9 preseason ranking was justified, and Lynch -- who made a spectacular 71-yard TD run last week against Portland State -- has been at the forefront of a strong week of practice. The 22nd-ranked Sun Devils will be the Bears' biggest home test so far, and the loser will be in an early hole in the conference race.
Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter believes the Bears have the league's most impressive collection of skill players, with quarterback Nate Longshore directing Lynch, fellow tailback Justin Forsett and three outstanding receivers: DeSean Jackson, Robert Jordan and Lavelle Hawkins.
But until the Bears direct that talent into a victory over a topflight opponent such as the Sun Devils (3-0), Jackson thinks nobody will care.
"The first (Pac-10) game, that's the one we're worried about the most," said Jackson, who already has caught five touchdown passes this season. "You play games, you learn after every game, and you get smarter. ... I think we're ready for this one."
Koetter's team faces its own reality check in Berkeley. The Sun Devils' early season statistics were impressive -- a Division I-leading 18 sacks and a 108-38 scoring advantage, for instance -- but quarterback Rudy Carpenter and a new-look defense haven't been truly tested.
"It's been real solid, but let's not kid ourselves," said Koetter, whose Sun Devils are winless in 10 trips to the four California Pac-10 schools in his tenure. "Northern Arizona and Nevada and Colorado are nowhere near what we're going to see from Cal. They've got a lot of offense, and they're going to give everyone they play fits."
Both teams also were ranked before their last meeting. Cal blanked Arizona State and quarterback Andrew Walter 27-0 on the way to the Holiday Bowl two years ago, and the Bears have won three straight in the rivalry.
A near-sellout crowd is expected in Berkeley for the matchup of two teams coached by former Oregon offensive coordinators. Koetter sees many similarities in the schools' offenses, and Cal's much-hyped use of the spread offense this season hasn't been terribly dramatic, with the formations showing up in only about 20 percent of coach Jeff Tedford's plays.
"You grew up watching these teams play each other, so it's more of a rivalry situation," Longshore said. "That's what makes Pac-10 more interesting to everybody."
Longshore and Carpenter both grew up just north of Los Angeles, and played together in the CaliFlorida high-school all-star game. Both also won competitions for their starting jobs this season, with Longshore beating out Joe Ayoob and Carpenter bumping Bay Area native Sam Keller, who quickly transferred to Nebraska.
Carpenter leads the Pac-10 in passing with 280.7 yards per game, but has thrown four interceptions that worry some fans. Cal's defense also hopes to cause problems for him: The Bears knocked Portland State's top two quarterbacks out of the first quarter of their game last week with crushing hits.
"Coach is giving me a lot of chances to throw the ball down the field and make plays," Carpenter said. "But also, I think people are used to what I did last year, and I wasn't making as many mistakes last year."
"Everybody is questioning Rudy right now, and Rudy is playing fine," Koetter said.
Top 25 Overview
Since taking over the Arizona State program in 2001, Dirk Koetter is 0-10 in Pac-10 games played in the state of California (USC, UCLA, Cal and Stanford). Too late for the Sun Devils to make this a neutral-site game?
The Sun Devils will keep the game close thanks to their offensive balance. However, Cal's run defense is strong enough to put Rudy Carpenter in more third-and-long situations than Dirk Koetter would like to see.
|Avg Points Allowed||21.8||22.3|