Cal, Arizona State could be an offensive explosion

The symmetry appears perfect, the anthropic principle firmly in place. California's visit Saturday to Arizona State aligns offensive versus defensive singularities into a potential commingling that could ignite a second Big Bang.

Which is to say that the Bears and Sun Devils figure to score a whole bunch of points, at least if statistics three games into the season are to be believed.

Exhibit 1: California ranks second in the nation in passing offense, with Sonny Dykes' brand of the Air Raid averaging 453 yards per game. Arizona State's pass defense ranks, well, last in the nation (128th), yielding 379 yards per game.

Exhibit 2: Arizona State ranks 16th in the nation in rushing offense with 260.7 yards per game. California's run defense ranks 126th in the nation, surrendering 296.7 yards per game.

It's basically a battle of irresistible forces on offense meeting squishy objects on defense, though this is not how either coach would set things up.

"We've got a young secondary," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. "We're also 3-0. I don't care how many yards [we give up]. Are they going to have passing yards on us? Of course they will. They have passing yards every week."

Graham has a good point that applies to both teams. For all their flaws, both are off to good starts and feature solid wins over Big 12 foes.

Arizona State gave up passing yards galore to Texas Tech and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but its 68-55 victory counts no less in the standings than if it had won 20-7. And Texas ran all over the Cal defense, but few Old Blues are complaining about a 50-43 win over the Longhorns, which provided: 1. A victory over the nation's No. 11 team; 2. A 2-0 home-and-home sweep of a program that stole the 2005 Rose Bowl from Cal.

Still, now that the Pac-12 schedule is beginning and both teams have flashed potential, issues need to be confronted. Both offenses are humming along averaging 48 (Arizona State) and 47 (Cal) points per game, while the defenses are struggling, ranking 11th (Arizona State) and 12th (Cal) in scoring in the conference.

Cal owns the only loss between then, and that was due in large part to, yes, shoddy run defense, which gave up 281 yards to San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey, including 33- and 57-yard touchdown jaunts.

Dykes said the run defense problems were completely different against the Aztecs and Longhorns. Against San Diego State, the issues were mental. Against Texas, they were more physical.

"Our run fits against San Diego State were not good," he said. "Our run fits against Texas were good. It was just a matter of getting a 260-pound running back on the ground."

Dykes is taking note of the 750 or so combined pounds of Texas RBs D'Onta Foreman and Chris Warren plus QB Tyrone Swoopes.

While Arizona State running backs Demario Richard (219 pounds) and Kalen Ballage (227) as well as QB Manny Wilkins (197) are not diminutive, they are not built like inside linebackers. Dykes, however, noted the Sun Devils' complete set of skill players is better than anything they've yet faced.

As for the Sun Devils -- who actually aren't terribly young in the secondary, seeing that 10 of 12 players listed on the three-deep are returning starters or third-year players -- they've been moving things around in the back half, looking for the right personnel combinations. Veteran hybrid player Laiu Moeakiola is seeing action at both safety and "spur" linebacker, with J'Marcus Rhodes stepping in at safety.

Graham pointed out it's not just about pass defense with Cal.

"The Air Raids will be Nos. 1 or 2 in the country in passing offense every year, but see how many championships they win," Graham said. "You've got to be able to run the football, and that's how Cal is different."

While Cal is not a great running team, it does average a middling 127 yards per game, so the threat is there. Likewise, Arizona State's passing offense isn't bad either, averaging 265 yards per game.

Of course, these numbers matter not a whit compared to the desire to open 1-0 in Pac-12 play.

Said Graham, "We're probably not going to be looking too good in passing yards this week, but as long as we're 4-0, that's all I care about."