Arizona-Cal preview: Five things to watch, prediction - Tucson News Now

Arizona-Cal preview: Five things to watch, prediction

"They were phenomenal," Arizona Coach Rich Rodriguez said of Kenny Lawler's touchdown catches against the Cats last year. (Source: Tucson News Now) "They were phenomenal," Arizona Coach Rich Rodriguez said of Kenny Lawler's touchdown catches against the Cats last year. (Source: Tucson News Now)
Anthony Gimino Anthony Gimino

By Anthony Gimino / Special for Tucson News Now

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - 1. Cal's wide receiving corps - The Bears might not go as deep as Arizona's group, but they are plenty good, and it's hard to forget Kenny Lawler's three-touchdown effort (and sensational, twisting one-handed touchdown grab) against the Cats last season.

"You talk about catches I never seen before," Arizona Coach Rich Rodriguez said. "They were phenomenal."

Lawler has three touchdowns among his eight catches this season. Junior Chris Harper has 118 career catches. Junior Bryce Treggs also has more than 100 career receptions. Trevor Davis is a talented transfer from Hawaii. Darius Powe, at 6-foot-3, is another tough matchup.

The Cats haven't always been great in coverage, also owing to a spotty pass rush, and this will be - by far - their biggest test of the season so far.

2. Arizona safety Tra'Mayne Bondurant - Speaking of pass coverage, Bondurant could help with that, as well as with making a big play or two on a defense that is looking to create more turnovers. Rodriguez indicated this week that Bondurant is getting closer to being out of the doghouse after beginning fall camp with discipline issues. The Cats could often go to a six-DB look against Cal's "Bear Raid" offense, so Bondurant's return to good graces could come right in time.

3. Cal's quarterbacks - Jared Goff is the big-armed starter, throwing for 3,508 yards as a true freshman last season. Head Coach Sonny Dykes wasn't content with that, adding a running wrinkle to his offense this season with Luke Rubenzer, a freshman from Scottsdale. Rubenzer has 17 rushes for 82 yards.

"Goff can run. He's a good athlete. But when Rubenzer is in there, it's true quarterback runs, quarterback powers," Rodriguez said after Tuesday's practice. "And they threw the ball a lot with him in the last game, just so you know the threat is there."

Rodriguez said he won't change his defensive personnel based on which Cal quarterback is in the game.

4. Arizona slot receivers DaVonte' Neal/Tyrell Johnson - With sophomore Samajie Grant listed as questionable this week because of a concussion (and questionable on UA's injury report usually means "out"), the Cats get to show off their depth.

Neal, expected to be one of the team's top playmakers, could be ready for a breakout after missing the second game and barely playing last week because of an ankle injury. Johnson, a freshman and the team's fastest player, caught a 35-yard touchdown pass last week. Combined with Nate Phillips and others, UA can absorb the loss of Grant, the team's best route-runner.

5. Arizona's nose guard position - Starter Jeff Worthy, who sat out last week because of a concussion, was not on the injury report this week. Arizona's needs his size inside. Redshirt freshman walk-on Parker Zellers, at a high-energy 247 pounds, started at nose guard last week.

"He's a tough guy," Rodriguez said. "He got bounced around a little bit because he's small, but I'm glad he was there because he competed and gave us a chance."

Another guy who helps give Arizona a chance at nose guard: Sophomore Sani Fuimaono. He returned to the team this summer from a two-year church mission, then suffered a preseason foot injury. He was back at practice this week and is likely to make his 2014 debut Saturday night.

PREDICTION

Cal was discombobulated in Sonny Dykes' first season as head coach, finishing 1-11, but the former Arizona offensive coordinator is too smart to not get things turned around. The Bears' passing attack is dangerous on any day, and the defense is much healthier than it was all of last season, so the usual caveat applies - the Wildcats can't play poorly and expect to win.

Dangerous game? They all are in the Pac-12. But Arizona's rebuilding effort is further along than Cal's, and a loss to start conference play would be a major disappointment. Shootout expected. Arizona 41, Cal 31.

Anthony Gimino has covered University of Arizona athletics for more than two decades, including as the football beat writer for the Arizona Daily Star and the columnist for the Tucson Citizen.

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