There are two big questions for the Bears who enter the game as 17-point favorite. Can they overcome the offensive malaise they suffered in victories over Washington and Washington State? And can they abide by coach Tedford's "one game at a time" mantra, and not look forward to the showdown with USC in two weeks?
Cal (7-1; 5-0 Pac-10), BYE
UCLA (4-4, 2-3 Pac-10), lost to WSU 37-15
|Washington||W 31-24 (at home)||L 19-29 (away)|
|Oregon||W 45-24 (at home)||L 20-30 (away)|
|Washington State||W 21- 3 (away)||L 15-37 (away)|
When Cal has the ball:
After relying on the defense for two games, Tedford would undoubtedly like to see a return of the offensive firepower his Bears displayed against Oregon, Oregon State, and Arizona State. The week of healing for tailback Marshawn Lynch and the offensive line, along with a mental rest for quarterback Nate Longshore who has had to absorb a lot of material and become accustomed to the spotlight that goes with being a quarterback on a top 10-team, can only help. Practices have been sharp and there is no evidence of any off-week lethargy.
The offense Cal displays against the Bruins will probably be representative of the offense the Bears will employ the rest of the season. The bye gave Jeff Tedford and offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar a chance to catch their breath and see where they stand.
They began the year with an untested quarterback, inexperienced receivers, and some offensive linemen filling big shoes. Now they know their team's strengths and weaknesses, and will be better equipped to develop game plans to exploit other team's defensive short-comings.
The UCLA game plan might be a preview of the USC scheme for another reason. The Bruins' biggest strength is the same as the Trojans' - defensive speed. UCLA is not as fast defensively as USC, but they are very quick, particularly up front.
Cal's most effective strategy will be to distribute the ball, to try to keep the Bruin defense always on the wrong foot.
Look for the Bears to try to exploit man-to-man coverage on the outside whenever that happens, and for tight end Craig Stevens to be more involved in trying to pull the Bruin linebackers away from the line of scrimmage.
Tedford had this to say about the UCLA defense:
"They're pretty physical up front. They're very fast on defense. Their linebackers come downhill very well and they move quite a bit. The two inside guys, Harwell and Kevin Brown are physical guys. Their defensive ends are fast. They have two different kinds of guys at defensive end with Davis being very quick off the edge and they move him a lot, and Hickman is physical and fast. They have good players and they get after you pretty well."
When UCLA has the ball:
The Bruins have no "go to" receiver. They have an adequate running game and an inexperienced quarterback. Depth is lacking at both quarterback and tailback due to injuries - quarterback Ben Olsen will miss his fourth straight game with a knee injury and backup tailback Kahlil Bell is also out.
As a result, the Bruins have no outstanding weapon that Cal's defensive coordinator Bob Gregory has to game-plan for - so he gets to do what he enjoys most - attack, attack, attack.
Middle linebacker Desmond Bishop has been playing with a fury the last few games and this may be the week that Gregory sends the Bears after the quarterback in waves.
Daymeion Hughes is more than an adequate match for anything the Bruin receivers can provide, so look for the Bear safeties and linebackers to try and rattle, confuse, and abuse, Bruin quarterback Patrick Cowan.Special Teams:
The Bears have been near perfect in special teams play this season, and this should be a weapon again on Saturday. Tedford and his staff have been particularly pleased with the punting of Andrew Larson.
"Our punter has done a nice job with hang time. He gets great air on the ball and allows our team to get down field. We have athleticism on the special teams and they're doing a nice job of getting down and covering. With kickoff coverage, we're putting the ball where we need to put it. Guys are taking a lot of pride in what they're doing on special teams in going down and really giving great efforts on the cover teams."
Cal will win if:
They prevent the Bruins from running the ball. If UCLA can't run they have to pass, and they do not have the weapons to compete with the Bears in the track meet that would result.
UCLA will win if:
They can run the ball steadily and productively, turning yardage into scores and shortening the game. They Bruins have had trouble getting points on the board, and dominating between the 20s - if they manage that - won't do the job against the Bears.
If they can also keep Longshore, Lynch and company off the field, they have a lucky-puncher's chance.
UCLA is traditionally a formidable opponent, but the scheduling gods smiled on the Bears this year as they come off a bye week and get a Bruin team on the downslide.Cal 38, UCLA 17
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