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ASU hoping to scare up Halloween win

The first seven games of the ASU football season have already provided plenty of peaks and valleys.

Last weekend’s 33-14 loss at Stanford falls into the latter category, so the Sun Devils (4-3, 2-2 Pac-10) will be looking for the upswing to come when they clash with Cal in a Homecoming Halloween matinée showdown on Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium.

“We’ve got an opportunity to go out, play at home and re-prove ourselves,” ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. “We can’t play like we did last week, or else the same thing will happen to us. There are a lot of good things in front of us, [but] we’ve just got to win. That’s the bottom line.”

Any good feelings that were lingering following a thrilling ASU win over Washington in the final seconds on Oct. 17 were quickly erased when the Sun Devil offense once again went dormant against Stanford, and the defense allowed the Cardinal to pound the ball with authority for four quarters.

That puts ASU in the uncomfortable position of needing to win two of its final five games in order to notch the six victories necessary to become bowl eligible, with four of those contests coming against opponents currently ranked in the Bowl Championship Series Top 25.

The Golden Bears will provide the next opportunity to inch closer to that magic number to earn a postseason berth.

And like the Sun Devils, Cal has also had a roller coaster season thus far.

The Golden Bears (5-2, 2-2 Pac-10) started the season 3-0 and were ranked as high as No. 6 in the nation, only to come crashing down the next two games when they were outscored 72-6 against Oregon and USC to start the Pac-10 season 0-2.

But Cal has since rebounded with a pair of lopsided wins against UCLA and Washington State, which has propelled them back into the BCS rankings and into the upper half of the Pac-10.

“To me, California is as good a team as there is in our league, regardless of what has happened so far,” Erickson said.

The ASU defense was flat-out exposed against a grind-it-out Stanford offense, and Cal will provide another staunch test on Saturday.

The Golden Bears rank first in the Pac-10 in scoring offense (35.1 points per game), and like Stanford, it’s an offense that relies heavily on the running game. But unlike the power style of Stanford senior Toby Gerhart, Cal features a pair of lightning-quick backs in junior Jahvid Best and sophomore Shane Vereen.

Best is certainly an applicable name for the junior from Vallejo, Calif., as he is a Heisman candidate and averages more than 110 yards on the ground per game.

“Best might be the best in the country,” Erickson said. “The difference between him and Gerhart, for example, is that he can take it to the house about any time. Once he gets in the secondary, if you don’t tackle him right, he can make the big play.”

Facing Cal’s high-octane offense will give a Sun Devil team that still ranks first in the conference in total defense (280 yards per game) a chance to prove that last weekend’s meltdown was just a bump in the road, rather than a sign of things to come against the teams in the upper echelon of the Pac-10.

“We’ve just got to contain the big play,” senior linebacker Mike Nixon said. “Last week, they tried to pound us to death, and this week they’re going to try to get outside. It’s really going to take a team effort to contain them and tackle well.”

The ASU offense will also attempt to regain its rhythm against a Cal team that runs the 3-4 but ranks in the bottom third of the Pac-10 in pass defense (271 yards per game) and total defense (384.1 yards per game).

“They’re fast [and] they’re physical,” senior quarterback Danny Sullivan said of the Cal defense. “They have experience in their secondary, too.

All those guys that have been around know what’s going on.”

But the first battle the Sun Devils will face won’t be on the field — it will be against the injury bug.

Sullivan left the Stanford game with a knee injury but has practiced this week. But freshman quarterback Brock Osweiler could still see game action after spending increased time with the first unit during this week’s practices.

ASU will also feature a new center this week, as sophomore Garth Gerhart will start in place of senior Thomas Altieri, who injured his knee against Stanford.

The receiving corps could also be shuffled, as Erickson said that senior Kyle Williams is expected to return to the lineup but junior Kerry Taylor is very questionable to play.

Junior cornerback Omar Bolden will miss his fourth straight game with a knee injury, Erickson said.

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