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Sanchez notes tough Cal defense

November 05, 2008|Gary Klein | Klein is a Times staff writer.

USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, the Pacific 10 Conference's passing efficiency leader, will get one of his toughest tests of the season Saturday when the Trojans play against a California defense that is tied for the national lead in interceptions.

Cal has picked off 17 passes, returning three for touchdowns. The Golden Bears also have recovered five fumbles and lead the Pac-10 in turnover margin at plus-8.

Sanchez noted Tuesday that Cal often drops eight players into coverage, allowing it to close passing windows and tip balls that result in turnovers.

Safeties Sean Cattouse and Syd'Quan Thompson each have three interceptions.

"You really can't force anything down the field against these guys," said Sanchez, who has passed for 22 touchdowns with seven interceptions. "You've got to play smart."

Cal switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme this season. The Golden Bears are first in red-zone defense and second behind USC in third-down conversion defense.

Outside linebacker Zack Follett was selected Pac-10 defensive player of the week after recording 11 tackles, including three for losses, in the Golden Bears' 26-16 victory over Oregon last week.

Linebacker Mike Mohamed had a team-high 14 tackles against Oregon.

"There's a lot of responsibility on Mark to make good decisions and not give them the ball like they've been taking it from everybody else," Coach Pete Carroll said.

"We've got to do a good job of making good choices and putting him in good positions so that we don't let those guys get all jacked up on their side of the ball."

A mystery

Cal Coach Jeff Tedford is in no hurry to decide whether Kevin Riley or Nate Longshore will start at quarterback against the Trojans.

"We'll evaluate them through the week," Tedford said. "We had a lack of consistency early in the season with Kevin and we went back to Nate to get a faster start.

"We see how they practice and make a decision like that."

Riley, who suffered a concussion against Oregon, has passed for 10 touchdowns with three interceptions. Longshore has passed for eight touchdowns with four interceptions.

Though their statistics are similar, their styles are not.

Riley's "more comfortable breaking out of the pocket when things break down," Carroll said. "That always gives you an added element that can give you problems."

Safety valve

Sophomore Marshall Jones, who played safety for 1 1/2 seasons, has also been working at cornerback.

Carroll likened the 6-foot, 185-pound Jones to senior Josh Pinkard, who has started at safety and cornerback.

"He's physical," Carroll said of Jones. "He and [Pinkard] are similar at the same stage."

Quick kicks

Safety Kevin Ellison (knee) continued rehabilitation after surgery, but is expected to miss Saturday's game. . . . Tight end Blake Ayles (knee bruise) did not practice but is expected to play against Cal. . . . Junior safety Taylor Mays was named a finalist for the Thorpe Award, presented annually to the nation's top defensive back.


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