The Cal offense has shown in their previous games that they can bust open a big play for a touchdown, and ASU has worked this week to limit those plays.
When Cal took on No. 14 Ohio State, sophomore running back Brenden Bigelow had two touchdown runs that were over 50 yards.
One score was for 81 yards to silence the OSU crowd, the other was a 59-yard run to tie the game.
The Golden Bears ended up losing the game, but running backs big play potential caught the ASU coaches’ attention.
The solution to the problem is very simple for coach Todd Graham.
“It’s a major concern,” Graham said. “You got to tackle. A lot of running backs, they get hit, they go down, the good running backs make you tackle them. They got guys that are very dynamic, very explosive.”
Last season, when Cal came into Tempe, senior running back C.J. Anderson was able to break off a 74-yard reception for a touchdown to help the Golden Bears win.
Anderson said the effect of the big play goes beyond padding the scoreboard.
“Big plays from all of us bring momentum,” Anderson said. “We have a lot of athletes on offense that anybody can touch the ball they have a chance to go. Especially our running back corps we can have an opportunity for our backs to make big plays.”
The ASU defense has spent the week focusing on stopping Cal’s explosive skill players. Its goal has been to stop large gains.
Junior safety Alden Darby agreed with Graham saying that the key is to make tackles.
As the safety, Darby is the last line of defense for the Sun Devils. But he does not think it will be down to him. He has faith in the front seven of ASU to make a secure tackle before it gets to him.
Darby only had three tackles in ASU’s game against Utah. He attributes that to the front seven.
Besides Anderson and Bigelow, Cal also features another strong running back, senior Isi Sofele.
A three-headed running attack looks familiar.
Darby said going up against ASU’s running backs senior Cameron Marshall, junior Marion Grice and freshman DJ Foster every day has prepared the defense well for Cal.
“You got Cameron who is the boulder, the muscle,” Darby said. Then you got Marion Grice, he’s a smooth runner. Then you got DJ Foster who is like a scat back type of dude. So going up against those three different styles all camp long and all practice long has prepared us.”
WR Ozier hopes to keep consistent
During fall camp, redshirt junior receiver Kevin Ozier moved up the depth chart for one reason. He caught the ball.
Ozier showed that he can be a consistent receiver before the season and has continued to do so on game days.
He is third on the team in catches this season with 10 for 146 yards.
Ozier says the success comes from the work that the receivers put in practice and playing loose during the game.
“You have to play relaxed,” Ozier said. “If I’m all tense and stuff and worried about getting hit, (I’ll) double catch the ball, drop the ball. I just need to relax, keep my composure and look it in.”
The receiving group as a corps struggled to make catches in its first road test against Missouri.
Ozier said the key to a bounce-back away performance is the same formula. The group has to do extra work and relax in a hostile environment.
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