California Golden Bears (2-1 SU, 2-1 ATS) vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (3-0 SU, 2-1 ATS)
College Football Week 4
Date/Time: Saturday, September 24, 2016 at 10PM EST
Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona
TV: ESPN 2
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: CAL +4/ASU -4
Over/Under Total: 82
The California Golden Bears come down south to Tempe to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils in Pac-12 action. ASU had a real battle on their hands last Friday, as they took their record to 3-0. Playing from behind for nearly the whole game, they notched a comeback win with a late-fourth quarter touchdown to beat UTSA on the road, 32-28. Things get a little tougher this week against the high-octane Golden Bears, who scored a huge win over ranked Texas on Saturday with a 50-43 win.
The Sun Devils have already been tested this season. In week two, they out-legged Texas Tech in an offensive hailstorm of over 1200 total yards. Somehow, the road trip to UTSA was more difficult in week three. UTSA is one of those teams that can sneak up on you, as they put a lot of stock in the few times they get to tangle with teams from the power-five conferences. At home, they can be scrappy and they were on Friday. Going into the final quarter, the ASU offense had 15 points. This is the same group that put up 68 the previous week to Texas Tech. It was a grind.
Those who laid the big number with Arizona State on Friday against UTSA would disagree, but it was a good win for Arizona State once you look past the fact that they were forecasted to cruise to a win. For quarterback Manny Wilkins, Jr. and a lot of players on the Todd Graham-led Sun Devils, they will benefit from comeback wins like these. Week one was routine, before they had to get really creative to win the shootout with Texas Tech. By outscoring UTSA 17-0 in the 4th quarter in their building when behind, we saw another wrinkle—that they can collect themselves when the going gets tough.
After an offensive overflow the previous week, the Arizona State offense struggled against San Antonio in week three. Two fumbles and a pick didn’t help. After a week where ASU players had video game stats, they all came down to earth. Wilkins was just 15-for-31 passing, but he came through when necessary and games like that provide growth. After running for 7 touchdowns the week before, Kalen Ballage was held to one score on 64 yards rushing. Damario Richard ran for 92 yards. The pair are still a formidable 1-2 punch in the backfield. As is usually the case in sports following a huge spurt, there is a cooling-off period. But they got down to business in the final quarter for the big road win.
The ASU defense will be taking on a prolific offensive team in the Cal Bears. Arizona State has already shown they can withstand the high-flying antics of an opponent. In their week two matchup against the Red Raiders, TT quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for 540 yards and five touchdowns and the Sun Devils still won by 13 points. They’re not invulnerable by any means. But in two games, we saw an element that can make not-so-great defenses a little better—the ability to be clutch and tighten up when needed.
Against Texas Tech, ASU may have given up 55 points, but they always left enough room for the offense to do its thing. And against UTSA, the defense again allowed the offense to make a run. After allowing 28 points in 2.5 quarters, it looked grim for the “D.” Both sides of the ball were off-key. Maybe it was something about facing their first-ever Conference USA opponent or being in the cavernous Alamodome. Whatever the case, they righted the ship and the Sun Devils defense held them scoreless for the final quarter-and-a-half after the rough start. Against teams like Cal where you know the opponent is going to do damage, having a defense that just makes some timely third-down stops, while registering a key turnover here and there can make a world of difference.
Cal opened the season with a win over Hawaii, before losing to San Diego St. It was a good Aztecs team they lost to, but the loss made people not take them seriously against what appeared to be a resurgent Texas team. But Cal, despite having a pretty laughable defense, still has a great offense with Davis Webb now behind center. In three games, Webb has 1359 yards and 13 touchdowns. That’s a lot of production. Against Texas, he had a season-low 396 yards and 4 touchdowns. Webb has been prolific since taking over, making it so the offense has been able to maintain its fever-pitch from last season. Webb even ran in a score on Saturday.
Webb has been making a dynamite connection with receiver Chad Hansen. On Saturday, Hansen caught 12 balls for 196 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s had three games like that this season and already has 40 catches with 546 yards and 5 TDs! Jordan Veasy and Melquise Stovall also caught TD passes. Running back Vic Enwere ran for 110 yards and two scores, but it was his play toward the end of the game that made headlines. Enwere ran for what appeared to be a 55-yard TD, but he dropped the ball on the one-yard line running in due to a premature celebration. Texas could have taken over at the one with a chance to win the game. The refs ruled that no immediate recovery meant that Cal could keep the ball, which they did by running the clock out from there for the big win.
Cal’s defense is certainly going to be a roadblock to success this season, but it doesn’t mean they can’t win some games and have a good season. With defenses like Cal’s where their offense can out-leg most teams, it helps to have a defense that can come up with good play here and there, be a little clutch, and maybe get a turnover from time to time. Before the half, Texas had put up 33 points, with Cal allowing only ten second-half points. They gave the offense a chance to win the game.
This has the looks of a high-quality shootout. ASU has shown the ability to hang in there in a high-offense affair. The way they played against Texas Tech should bode well in this game and being at home should help too. And against the Cal defense, they should be able to put up a lot of points. Especially with Cal’s leakiness against the run, the Sun Devils’ 1-2 punch of Damario Richard and Kalen Ballage should do damage. Still, Arizona State will struggle to contain Webb and Company. I see Cal getting it done on Saturday night.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Cal Golden Bears plus 4 points.
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