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November 2, 2013
Arizona is not ready to think about the Pac-12 Conference standings and figure out the potential bowl picture.
But true freshman receiver Nate Phillips knows one thing: wins allow the Wildcats (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12) to control their own destiny in the South division.
UA will play its final regular-season contest outside of the state of Arizona when it meets California (1-7, 0-5 Pac-12) Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.
A win would give the 'Cats a three-game winning streak and make the program bowl eligible for the second time in as many seasons under head coach Rich Rodriguez.
"Not yet. Right now we're focused on Cal," Phillips said when asked whether the team allows itself to think about the postseason.
Arizona, No. 17-ranked UCLA and USC each have two conference losses and sit behind first-place Arizona State. A win would put UA back in a tie for second place and establish momentum heading into a tough final four weeks of the season - the first three of which are at home, before the finale at rival ASU.
Phillips is among the reasons the Wildcats have found success in the passing game in recent weeks. The 5-7 target has recorded 10 of his 17 catches over the last three weeks and leads the team this season with three touchdowns - one in each game - and 15.8 yards per catch.
"The passing game has evolved so [opposing teams] can't load the box anymore," Phillips said of his development. "We have shown that we can throw."
Senior quarterback B.J. Denker, the reigning Pac-12 offensive player of the week, is coming off a 265-yard passing effort - including a 44-yard touchdown to Phillips - against Colorado. But it was his career-high 192 rushing yards that overwhelmed the Buffaloes, who zeroed in on stopping running back Ka'Deem Carey, the nation's leading rusher.
Carey still topped 100 rushing yards for a 10th consecutive game, tying a school record, and scored four touchdowns.
This season, Cal has struggled against both the pass and the rush. The Bears have surrendered a league-worst 350.9 passing yards and a second-to-worst 189.1 rushing yards per game.
"Anytime that your quarterback is involved in the run game, it always creates a numerical advantage for the offense," said Cal head coach Sonny Dykes, a former UA offensive coordinator from 2007-09.
"It's hard to defend. And they throw the ball well enough where, if you stack the box, they're going to be able to throw the ball. Denker last week really ran the football well. Colorado, I think, tried to take Carey away and dare the quarterback to keep the ball on some of the read plays and kept it effectively.
"You kind of have to pick your poison a little bit."
The Wildcats, meanwhile, will go up against a Cal offense that is mostly one-sided. True freshman quarterback Jared Goff ranks third in the conference and ninth in the nation with 321.5 passing yards per game, completing 60 percent of his passes to go with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season.
Goff has solidified his starting job after being yanked twice by Dykes earlier in the year.
But despite owning the Pac-12's sixth-best offense, the Bears average a league-low 22.9 points per contest. There has been little balance in the attack, as the team's go-to running back, Brendan Bigelow, averages a mere 35 yards per game on 75 total rushes - or 81 less than Carey.
"They've run it OK, at times," Rodriguez said, "but it's almost like they haven't had to."