The Bears also will need a more efficient passing game against USC than they showed against the Bruins, although USC's suspect pass defense may help.
Cal has regained some offensive momentum with its ground game, and there are some attainable postseason goals within reach to keep the team motivated. Whether USC can retain its edge is another question. After losing the past two weeks on the last play of each game, the Trojans' will is an issue. They are not eligible for a bowl game, and any chance for a conference title seems to be gone, too. Plus, they have to be wounded psychologically after the two tough defeats.
USC has been a problem for Cal, which has not beaten the Trojans since 2003. The Trojans laid a 30-3 pounding on Cal last season in Berkeley.
Cal's defense is clearly better this season than it was then, though. The pistol offense Nevada had used so effectively in the Bears' only poor defensive showing this season did little with UCLA running it against Cal. The Bruins did not have the running threat at quarterback that Nevada did, which helped, but the Bears completely shut down a UCLA running game that was ranked 10th nationally before Saturday's game. The Bruins amassed just 26 rushing yards, and Johnathan Franklin, who had 216 yards in the Oct. 2 game against Washington State, had just 54 against Cal.
What USC has that UCLA did not, however, is a passing threat. Kevin Prince was just 13-for-31 against the Bears. Cal had something to do with Prince's problems, but the Bears were aided by Prince's shortcomings.
Cal is 3-2 after halting its two-game losing streak, but it remains difficult to assess how good the team is.
The defense seems improved, but tougher tests lie ahead. Although the Bears have produced an impressive running game led by Shane Vereen, their passing game was lousy against UCLA and has not been effective the past three games. Quarterback Kevin Riley will have to be more productive for Cal to finish in the upper half of the conference standings.
NOTES & QUOTES
GAME BALL GOES TO: TB Shane Vereen -- He had 103 of his 151 rushing yards in the first half against UCLA, when the Bears took control. He had an impressive 4-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, when he shook off two tackles for a score that made the score 14-0. He also had a 31-yard reception that led to Cal's final touchdown of the first half. Vereen's efforts made the Bears' offense effective despite a shaky game from QB Kevin Riley.
KEEP AN EYE ON: OLB Mychal Kendricks -- He had a sack and 2.5 tackles for losses against UCLA, and had the best hit of the day when he put big UCLA TB Derrick Coleman on his back for a 1-yard loss. Kendricks leads the team in sacks (4.5) and tackles for loss (8.0) heading into the game against USC. Kendricks was an inside linebacker last season, but he has adapted well to the outside spot this season under new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He needs to improve. He needs to make some better decision. He needs to complete balls." -- Cal coach Jeff Tedford, on QB Kevin Riley, who was 9-for-16 for 83 yards and was sacked four times against UCLA.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The Cal run defense. UCLA came into the Oct. 9 game 10th in the nation in rushing after gaining 437 yards on the ground against Washington State, but the Bears limited the Bruins to just 26 yards on the ground. UCLA's Johnathan Franklin, who came into the game averaging 125 rushing yards, had just 54 yards on the ground. It was an impressive showing against the same pistol offense that had given the Bears so much trouble against Nevada. The Bruins do not run the pistol nearly as well as Nevada, but shutting down the run as well as Cal did is still a noteworthy achievement. Arizona did not run the ball very effectively against Cal on Oct. 2 either.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Cal's passing game. Cal QB Kevin Riley was mediocre against UCLA, the third consecutive game in which he was not consistently productive. The Bears had just 83 passing yards against the Bruins, and if you take away the 23 yards in sacks, the passing game produced just 60 yards. The passing game was particularly ineffective in the second half against UCLA, and, in the Pac-10, a team without a passing threat cannot succeed.