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Cal football opponent first looks: Arizona State
Justin Wilcox will be seeing some familar faces on the Sun Devil sidelines when Cal takes on ASU.
Cal’s first home game in the Pac-12 comes to a new-look Arizona State squad after a challenging road trip to Washington. Sound familiar Bears?
Kenny Dillingham hopes to follow in the footsteps of Jonathan Smith at Oregon State—take his alma mater to the next level. After satisfactory offenses as an OC at Memphis, Auburn, Florida State and Oregon, Dillingham hopes to take what he’s learned and apply it to a Sun Devils team in rebuilding mode.
His real bona fides come on the recruiting trail, where he brings the energy.
“We are the fifth-biggest metropolitan area in the country, with one major university in a city that is a top-five growing city in the country in a place where people come to retire,” Dillingham said, in almost rapid fire. “We are the second largest university in the country that can create connections for you down the road.
“Why not come here?” he continued. “You can live here the rest of your life, make connections for the rest of your life, live in a place you want to live, have an unbelievable college experience and have the second largest network in the country.”
Expect Dillingham to do his best to wall off the state of Arizona in recruiting and the portal.
Beau Baldwin: Welcome back to Berkeley Beau!
Baldwin did not have a great three year campaign at Cal Poly as head coach, going a horrid 4-21. And, obviously we are all familiar with the struggle Baldwin had at Cal, where the Bears held one of the worst-ranked offenses in Power 5 football his last two seasons there.
However, unlike at Cal, Baldwin is unlikely to hold the reins of the offense. Dillingham was the primary offensive mind at his previous stops, and you’d expect the philosophy to fit his vision. Baldwin should be familiar with Peter Sirmon and vice-versa, so we will see how that chess match goes.
Charlie Ragle: After an unsuccessful season being the head coach at Idaho State, Ragle returned back to his home state as special teams coachwhere he made his bones in recruiting. Ragle was crucial to Cal’s recruiting efforts in Arizona, so expect him to try and wall off the state from future incursions.
ASU also gained a few transfers from Cal, including offensive lineman Ben Coleman, long snapper Slater Zellers, and kicker Dario Longhetto. Coleman is likely out due to injuries, but Longhetto and Zellers should feel comfortable in familiar environs.
Quarterback battle ongoing
Arizona State's quarterback position is still wide open, with even more familar faces for the Bears.
Remember Drew Pyne? The Notre Dame transfer went 8-2 as a freshman starter last season, including beating Cal, but the Irish went portal hunting for Sam Hartman. However, returning starter Trenton Bourguet is determined to defend his position. And hey, look, it’s Jaden Rashada, who had a great spring in Tempe.
Protecting the quarterback will be crucial to their success, and the team has turned to Division I transfers to bolster their ranks. Leif Fautanu, a standout center, and Aaron Frost, a talented tackle, are expected to step up and fill starting roles in an O-line group that appears to be somewhat thin. But losing LaDarius Henderson to Michigan and Coleman to injury is tough. This will be one of the weaker offensive lines in 2023 Cal should face
Replacing Xazavian Valladay, the Pac-12's second-leading ball carrier last season, is undoubtedly a tough task. However, ASU has made some strategic moves to bolster its ground game. The addition of Sacramento State transfer Cameron Skattebo, who ranked eighth in rushing in the FCS last year, brings experience and a knack for finding the end zone. Sophomore Tevin White will also play a pivotal role in ASU's rushing attack.
ASU boasts one of the most exciting wide receiver-tight end duos in the Pac-12. Elijhah Badger and Jalin Conyers, who combined for a remarkable 108 receptions last season, are set to wreak havoc on opposing defenses once again. Xavier Guillory, a standout transfer from Idaho State, adds another dimension to this explosive unit. Giovanni Sanders, coming off a solid season with 40 catches, will team up with Colorado State transfer Melquan Stovall to give ASU a deadly slot receiver tandem.
Defense is a question mark
Cal cannot be happy about facing Brian Ward, who took apart the Bears offense in its last two meeting. Ward completely outschemed Bill Musgrave the last two seasons holding Cal to 17 points vs. Nevada in 2021 and 9 points last year at Washington State. Hopefully with a new offense in place, these problems will be less of an issue.
Last season, ASU struggled to consistently disrupt offenses, but the addition of Oklahoma transfer Clayton Smith and other newcomers aims to change that. BJ Green, who led the team with only 2.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss, is expected to make a significant impact this year.
When looking at strengths, the secondary was one of the brighter spots for the Sun Devils last season, particularly the veteran cornerback duo of Ro Torrence and Ed Woods. The safety position boasts considerable depth with the addition of transfers Shamari Simmons and Xavion Alford, along with experienced upperclassmen like Chris Edmonds.
However, the front seven figures to be thin on talent. The defensive line lacks size and has young depth behind veterans Anthoine Cooper and Michigan State transfer Dashaun Mallory. However, the linebacker corps, despite the departure of key players like Merlin Robertson and Kyle Soelle, should gradually find its footing. The inside presence of Travion Brown, accompanied by several up-and-coming options, provides hope for the unit's development.
Could this be the second straight season Jaydn Ott has a strong performance against an Arizona school?
Cal has had their success with Arizona State in recent years, at one point winning 8 of 9 games during the heyday of the Tedford era. The Bears are 1-3 in their last four meetings with the Sun Devils though, wither their last meeting being a literal trajectory-changing 24-17 defeat for Justin Wilcox in 2019 that injured Chase Garbers and dashed any run at a Pac-12 title.
It’s easy to see why some prognosticators judge this as Cal’s most important game of the season. A defeat makes bowl eligibility very difficult. Cal would almost certainly have to score a huge upset against one of the six nine-win Pac-12 teams on their schedule to make that a reality. If the Bears want to stay on the right footing, they will need to get this one right.