The official preview of the game will come later in the week, but I wanted to highlight some key matchups for the game. So lets take a look...
Antoine Cason - DB (Arizona) vs DeSean Jackson - WR (Cal)
Cason is a Thorpe (award for top DB in the nation) semifinalist along with Cal's own Daymeion Hughes. He was also named the conference's defensive player of the week. He is a big part of the Wildcat's staunch defense. While, he might not be matched up all game against Jackson, it should be expected that the two will test each other.
Jackson, a Biletnikoff semifinalist, has been relatively quiet in the passing game the past three games. Under a 100 yards receiving per game and no touchdowns. But he is lightening quick, as seen in his punt returns, and has solid hands. Also, he seems to thrive on challenges and this is the best corner he will face outside of practice, all year.
If Jackson is able to consistently beat Cason, the Wildcats will have to rotate safety help over to his side of the field. This will allow Longshore more opportunity to find Hawkins and Jordan in single coverage. If Cason is able to contain Jackson (or whoever is on his side of the field) consistently, the Bears will have a harder time in the passing game.
Willie Tuitama - QB (Arizona) vs Worrell Williams - LB (Cal)
Tuitama has been out with injuries (2 concussions) for multiple games this year. But he led Arizona to a victory over Washington St. last week. He is a mobile QB, that can beat you with both his arm and legs. Last year, he singlehandedly destroyed an undefeated UCLA team. He is a dynamic player when he is on and can make it difficult for defenses to scheme against.
I chose Williams as the key matchup against Tuitama because he is faster and more athletic than Bishop. It is likely that Williams or another young linebacker will be faced with the task of containing Tuitama when he runs. Like his NFL LB cousin DJ Williams, Worrell is very athletic and has the speed to close of the most mobile of QB's.
If Williams is able to contain Tuitama and keep him from scrambling for long gains and first downs, the Bear's defense should be able to hold the Wildcats to a low score.
Chris Henry - RB (Arizona) vs Desmond Bishop - LB (Cal)
Henry had his coming out party last week in the win against Washington St. His numbers were good, 35 carries for 94 yards and 2 TDs. But more importantly, he was able to control the clock for Arizona and keep the WSU offense off the field. Don't expect Henry to break off any big runs but he is a grinder that can gain the tough yards.
Bishop had a solid game against UCLA. But he did forget to wrap up on occasion which led to yards after contact for UCLA's running backs. There were two distinct instances against UCLA where Bishop lined up the Bruin's RB and tagged him. Only problem was that the running back maintain his balance and gained more yards.
Bishop is usually a solid tackler and has a nose for the ball. Expect him to have a huge game with Arizona trying to run the ball. Henry should be motivated to prove he is more than a flash in the pan and will be running hard to prove himself against the Bears.
Spencer Larson - LB (Arizona) vs Marshawn Lynch - RB (Cal)
Larson is an underrated linebacker. He is first team all conference material but does not get much pub because of the Wildcat's record. A solid tackler and good in pursuit, he will have ample opportunity to match up with Lynch in both the running and passing game.
Lynch is a Heisman candidate and the most skilled player on the Cal offense. It takes more than one player to take him out of a game. The only thing that has slowed him down this year is two sprained ankles. He admitted this week that it is still difficult for him to make some moves in the open field. (I thought he made some good moves on the screen pass against UCLA.)
Larson will not be able to stop Lynch but he can try to slow him down. It is important for Larson to keep Lynch from reaching the second level of the defense where Lynch's size and speed are too much for safeties and DBs. Also, he needs to be aware of Lynch on passing plays, making sure to cover him in the flat and on screens. Lynch, on the other hand, is really on a roll and should have a great game against Arizona.
Arizona Punting Team vs DeSean Jackson (Cal)
I don't really have any stats on Arizona's punting team, but if they want to stay in the game, they should either kick the ball directly out of bounds or go for it on every fourth down. Jackson is THE most dynamic punt return man in college football. He has the moves and speed to take any punt to the house.
Note to Arizona defenders: Watch out for Thomas DeCoud when you are pursuing Jackson. (See UCLA game.)
So these are the key matchups for the game. I think Cal has the advantage in most, if not all, of these matchups but will save that insight for the game preview.