No. 23 California has had an extra week to prepare for UCLA.
The Bruins are playing the second of two straight Thursday games, falling 56-35 to Stanford this past week.
Easy win for the Bears? Not so fast.
The Cardinal has an offense anchored by a very big, very strong and very experienced offensive line and multiple tight ends that can be deployed in a variety of alignments … oh yeah, and a running game that’s very much not sputtered, thanks to a program single-game record 243 rushing yards from Christian McCaffrey. Stanford, by the way, is ranked No. 18 in the nation in rushing offense.
Cal has neither the tight ends that Stanford has, nor that kind of rushing game (at least, the Bears haven’t shown that up to this point). Yes, the Bears ran for 280 yards against Texas a month ago, but that was against a rushing defense that was in the bottom 30 in the nation.
Jack, of course, injured his knee and he’s out for the season, after game-saving pick against BYU, joining Vanderdoes and cornerback Fabian Moreau to make three UCLA starting defenders out for the season.
Having two big components of the Bruins’ pass rush out, and a key member of the defensive backfield down for the count, means that Jared Goff Goff – surely looking to atone for five picks against then-No. 5 Utah – is going to be in a prime position to make amends, even if some have written him off.
Consider This Part 1: Goff started throwing picks on bad decisions after Kenny Lawler tipped a pass into the hands of Marcus Williams. He only threw one interception after halftime. He was rattled early, but then settled down, and finished with 340 yards and two touchdowns.
Consider This Part 2: Neither Goff nor the Cal offense had anything close to a good game – in fact, Sonny Dykes lamented after the game that the Bears had yet to play a single, complete, 60-minute football game, where the offense, defense and special teams all played well – and the Bears still lost to a top-10 program by just six points, despite turning the ball over six times. The difference was Goff, and he knows it. Think that doesn’t burn him? Think that isn’t driving him? In the two days of practice we got to see last week, he missed just two passes in one-on-ones. This is a re-dedicated wide receiver corps, and a rededicated quarterback, who still, despite that game, is No. 3 in the Pac-12 in passer efficiency.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1597917-bttv-cal-vs-utah-v... On the flip side, Cal is going to get a lot of chances to get at freshman Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen. Between the end of the first quarter and through the start of the fourth quarter against Arizona State, the Bruins threw on 25 of 34 plays. Once again, against the Cardinal, the Bruins threw on 10 of 14 plays headed into the half, and in another stretch, threw the ball on 12 of 18 plays.
Up until the past two games, UCLA had been primarily a run-first team. In fact, on the season, the Bruins have a 225 to 221 rush-to-pass ratio, and that’s where we get into something the Bears have been constitutionally incapable of doing throughout the season: starting fast.
Taking out the first game against Grambling State, Cal is being outscored 38-24 in the first quarter.
Against the Cardinal, UCLA went down 14-3 halfway through the first stanza. The Sun Devils went up 9-0 on the Bruins in the first quarter two weeks ago.
Teams that are down early tend to throw to get themselves back into a ballgame. Dykes’s teams the past two seasons have done exactly that, as evinced by Goff’s program-record 531 passing attempts during Cal’s 1-11 season in 2013. In fact, that year, Cal threw the ball 622 times, and ran it 424 times. Last season, the Bears passed 535 times, and rushed 440, going 5-7. This season, at 5-1, Cal has rushed the ball 225 times, and passed the ball 244 times.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1600268-cameron-saffle-som... UCLA is going to throw the ball once it gets down, especially with a big arm like Rosen’s, but the Bruins have to be down in order for the Bears – who rank tied for the most in the conference with 19 sacks (three more than last year’s total through 12 games, led by 5.0 from Kyle Kragen, who has more sacks through six games than Cal's sacks leaders each of the past two seasons) – to get their chances to tee off on Rosen. That won’t be very easy, though, as the Bruins had allowed just five sacks on the season – second-fewest in the Pac-12, with only Utah ahead of them – before facing the Cardinal, who put Rosen on his back three times.
Left tackle Conor McDermott missed the second half with a knee injury, and while he walked unassisted after the game, he was limping noticeably. Guard Alex Redmond left the game with a hand injury. Receiver Tyler Scott – who’d caught just one ball for seven yards this season – tore his ACL and is done for the season, but Rosen still has plenty of options on the outside, led by one-time Cal commit Jordan Payton (31 catches, 486 yards) and tight end Thomas Duarte (23 catches, 348 yards). That said, the Bruins have four receivers with at least 11 catches, while the Bears have six with 15 or more, led by Lawler’s 34 grabs for 465 yards, and Stephen Anderson Anderson’s 23 catches for 297.
If Cal can deploy Anderson in the way that the Cardinal used their athletic tight ends, that would be a good place to start as far as attacking the Bruins defense.
They key for the Bears, much as it was against Washington State, is to force coverage sacks. Different from the strategy against the Cougars, though, Cal is going to need to play with four down linemen to guard against running back Paul Perkins, who’s on pace for his second straight 1,000-yard season, with 681 rushing yards on 114 attempts.
While Perkins is averaging over 6.0 yards per carry, on third down, he’s been used sparingly, with just 12 rushes on the season for 31 yards.
UCLA 70th is the Football Bowl Subdivision in third-down conversion percentage, while the Bears are 61st in third-down defense – just a shade over average.
Cal, for all its issues converting third-and-short, are 32nd in the nation in converting third downs (in large part thanks to Goff’s 7.33 yards per attempt, and 60.0 completion percentage, which, ironically, is his worst completion percentage on a given down), while the Bruins are 64th in defending third down.
Despite averaging 12.5 yards per play in the early goings against Stanford, four Bruins penalties and going 0-for-3 on third downs had UCLA down, 21-10, against the Cardinal.
Cal is 22nd in the nation in fewest penalties, while the Bruins are tied for 108th – that means that only 16 teams in all of the Football Bowl Subdivision have more penalties than UCLA – with 47 fouls. Discipline – on third downs (on both sides of the ball) and at the line of scrimmage are going to play a big part in this game, and at least so far, the Bears have been the more mature, disciplined team.
That discipline, though, has to start with Goff. It’s looked like he’s taken ownership of his failings against Utah, but he has to be better down the stretch.
His passer efficiency in the first quarter this season is 152. The second, 178. The third, 207. But, in the fourth quarter, his passer efficiency rating drops to 85. His completion percentage through the first three quarters this year is 70.2%. In the fourth? 52.3%. Not only does Cal need to be able to start fast against the Bruins, but Goff needs to finish strong, as well.