-- UCLA travels to face the California Bears Saturday in Berkeley, with the game kicking off at 12:30 and being televised nationally by FSN (Prime Ticket in Los Angeles). Barry Thompkins and Petros Papadakis will be in the booth and Rebecca Haarlow on the sideline.
-- UCLA is 3-2, winning its last three games in a row.
-- Cal is 2-2, having started out the season with wins over UC Davis (52-3) and Colorado (52-7), before losing its last two games to Nevada (31-52) and Arizona (9-10).
-- Cal edged into the Top 25 after its first two wins of the season, at #25, but then fell out of the rankings.
-- Last week, Cal had a bye.
-- UCLA leads the all-time series, 49-30-1, but the Bruins have dropped the last two contests. Last season UCLA lost 45-26 in the Rose Bowl, and in Berkeley in 2008, 41-20. Cal has won the last five meetings in Berkeley.
-- Cal is averaging 38 points per game in the last five games against UCLA.
-- In last season's game, UCLA gave up 289 yards rushing and allowed 494 yards of total offense. The Bears had a 35-20 advantage at halftime. UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince recorded the first 300-yard passing game of his career (311) and Johnathan Franklin ran for 101 yards. Kai Forbath also connected on all four of his field goal attempts.
-- Prior to its bye week, Cal dropped a heartbreaker against Arizona, when the Wildcats drove the field with a couple of minutes left and Arizona quarterback Nick Foles threw a touchdown pass with 1:11 left to play for #14 Arizona to pull out the win. Cal's field goal kicker, Giorgio Tavecchio, missed two field goals in the game, one being a 40-yarder with just 2:37 to play that could have sealed the win for the Bears. Tavecchio did make three field goals to account for Cal's only scoring.
-- The week before Cal was trounced by Nevada, who happens to be the originators of the Pistol offense, which UCLA now runs.
-- Cal suffered both of its losses on the road, and had its big, convincing wins at home in Berkeley.
-- Cal is coached by Jeff Tedford, in his ninth year at Berkeley, and he's led the Bears through one of the most successful eras in their college football history. Tedford is Cal's leader in victories as a coach in the modern era with a record of 69-37. He's also the all-time leader in games coached at Cal. He's led the team to a current streak of seven consecutive bowl appearances, which is a school record, and eight straight winning seasons, also a school mark. Tedford, who is considered an offensive-minded coach and a quarterback guru, though, has been on a slightly downward slide in the last several seasons. After he came to Cal in 2002, he had them at 10-2 in 2004, second in the Pac-10 and finishing the season ranked 9th. In 2005 he finished 25th in the polls and in 2006, he finished 10-3, 14th in the country, and won Cal's first share of the conference title since 1975 (with a little help from UCLA, of course; when the Bruins beat USC, 13-9, it enabled Cal to share the conference championship). Since then, Cal has gone 7-6 (2007), 9-4 (2008) and 8-5 (2009) and haven't finished the season ranked in the AP top 25.
-- In the Tedford era, the Bears are 5-3 against UCLA, and they haven't lost to UCLA in Memorial Stadium since 1998.
-- Cal has a mixed results coming off bye weeks with Tedford as coach, posting a 8-6 record.
-- Cal is 53-5 under Tedford when putting 30 points or more on the scoreboard in a game.
-- The Bears currently are on a streak of 39 home games with at least 50,000 fans at Memorial Stadium, a streak which goes back seven seasons.
-- California Memorial Stadium is in the area of Berkeley called Strawberry Canyon, seats 71,799, and has a turf field.
-- A good bit of trivia: The Hayward Fault passes directly under the playing field, from goal post to goal post. A 1998 seismic study at the Berkeley campus gave the stadium a "poor" rating, which means the stadium represents an "appreciable life hazard" in an earthquake.
-- Cal is currently in the beginning of a $321-million renovation project that will give Memorial a facelift, a retrofit and add more facilities. The Bears will play in AT&T Park in San Francisco for the 2011 season while renovations are being done.
-- UCLA kicker Kai Forbath, who is the Lou Groza Award winner from last season, is on track to break both the UCLA and NCAA records for career field goals. He currently has 80, which trails John Lee (1982-85), who has 85, for the UCLA record. The NCAA record is 87.
-- UCLA is on a three-game winning streak, but hasn' won four games in a row since 2005.
-- Cal is currently favored by 7½ points over UCLA.
-- Saturday's weather forecast calls for clear skies and a high of 75 degrees.
CAL'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
It's difficult to get an accurate bead on the Cal offense. If you take the stats at face value, they're averaging 36 points per game (3rd in Pac-10), 190 yards rushing (5th in the Pac-10), 219 yards passing (8th in the Pac-10) and overall 409 yards per game (7th in the Pac-10).
But even though those stats aren't great, they still are a bit skewed since their first game of the season was against UC Davis. If you throw out that game, and figure Cal's offensive stats from its three other games (Colorado, Nevada and Arizona), they're averaging 30.6 points per game (which would be 6th in the Pac-10), 176 yards rushing (still would be 5th in the conference), 196 yards per game passing (9th in the conference) and a total of 373 yards per game (9th in the conference).
In watching Cal play this season, it's still clear that they have a potent offense, but it's not on the same level of Cal teams in the last half-decade. In the last two seasons, the Bears have been lacking that same type of explosive passing game they had previously, and it looks to be the case again this season.
The lack of potency stems mostly from the inconsistency of senior quarterback Kevin Riley (6-2, 224). Riley over his career has been a bit of a disappointment for the Bear faithful, after he was being hyped as the second-coming of Aaron Rodgers, but he hasn't lived up to it. Generally, he's gotten a bit of a bad rap, since, for the last two seasons, Cal hasn't had enough effective receivers for him. But no matter, the Cal passing game just isn't the high-flying, aeronautic circus it used to be.
Cal's offense is based on the short passing game, and it requires a very precise, efficient quarterback, and Riley has been hit-or-miss at that over his Cal career.
He has, though, been a hit when facing UCLA.
|Receiver Marvin Jones.|
Riley hasn't gotten a great deal of help among Cal's receivers this season. Of course, junior Marvin Jones (6-2, 200) is doing quite a bit himself, leading the Pac-10 in receptions per game (6.25). He's a very dangerous weapon, a combination of big and fast.
But after that, Cal is struggling to find someone else who can be a threat catching the ball. They thought they had one in true freshman Keenan Allen (6-3, 195) when he had 120 yards receiving in each of his first two college games. But he's been pretty much missing in Cal's last two. Senior Jeremy Ross (5-11, 213) has shown he can be dangerous. They've only gone to their tight ends five times so far this season, with junior Anthony Miller (6-3, 261) being the first option there.
But mostly it's the Marvin Jones Show.
Cal does have a very solid offensive line, having returned three good starters from last season, and so far this season they've have the same five starters in every game, which has made for some very good continuity. Junior left tackle Mitchell Schwartz (6-5, 310) is probably the best among the five. You might remember the left tackle, senior Donovan Edwards (6-3, 280), who had committed to UCLA before switching to Cal.
The Cal offensive line has allowed just four sacks so far this season.
Perhaps one of the best and most under-rated players in the conference is Cal's junior tailback, Shane Vereen (5-10, 204). He worked in the shadow of Jahvid Best for two years and seemingly can't still emerge from it, but in many ways Vereen could be better than Best. He's third in the Pac-10 in rushing yards (106 yards per game), and isn't necessarily putting up flashy numbers, but he is an exceptional tailback, with very good explosion, durability and the ability to make tacklers miss. Best might have been straight-ahead faster, but it's not as if Vereen is slow, and Vereen is better physically in breaking tackles. He was the one true answer that Cal had against Nevada.
The #2 tailback is sophomore Isi Sofele (5-7, 186), who embodies the term scat-back, and has shown flashes of being very dangerous so far this season.
Just when you thought UCLA's defense was starting to put it together, with a very good performance against Texas, it then hit a considerable speed bump last week against Washington State. The Cougars gained 311 yards through the air, and pretty much cut up UCLA's passing defense, something that had been thought of previously as the defense's strength.
UCLA's two cornerbacks, Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester, didn't necessarily have as bad a game as most people came away thinking last week against Washington State, but they didn't collectively have a good game either. You have to remember that Hester is pretty much a new starter, having missed the vast majority of last season with the broken leg. And Price is just a true sophomore who went through a trial-by-fire last season as a true-freshman starter. Price has definitely shown some development, particularly in run support, which was his primary deficiency, while he's been pretty solid in coverage. Cal will probably try to get Jones isolated on Hester, who has shown a penchant for PIs so far this season, but UCLA would probably prefer Price get the call most of the time.
A big question is which Akeem Ayers will play on Saturday – the one that looked to be one of the best defensive players in the country against Houston and Texas, or the banged-up one who didn't have the same explosiveness against Washington State. You saw pretty much what UCLA's defense is like without Ayers in top form last week, and it's not pretty. He is the lynch pin to the defense; if he's getting pressure on the quarterback, or flying to the ball, it takes so much pressure off the rest of the D. UCLA will have to try to do some things to get him freed up from double-teams this week.
Advantage: Cal. The Bears' offense is getting criticized, but it's still a good one, with good balance between the passing and rushing attacks. UCLA would love to see the less-consistent Riley instead of the very-good Riley they've faced the last two years. While it might be coincidental, it could also have some basis in the fact that Riley and the Cal offense match up well in their scheme against the UCLA defense.
Cal's offense is more of a pro-style than the wide-open spreads its seen lately, which might be a mixed blessing. The Bruins' nickel D, which they go to against spreads, has generally been pretty effective. The last time we saw UCLA go with the straight 4-3-4 for most of the game was against (gulp) Stanford. You can probably expect the Bruins to stick with a good mix of the base defense and the nickel, which enables them to move around Ayers more.
Cal's offense likes to dink-and-dunk you down the field, and then "take a shot," which means to then go deep every once in a while. While they hope one of their short passes or runs will bust one for a big touchdown, they're happy with moving down the field 10 yards at a time and possessing the ball. In other words, it's key that UCLA get consistent pressure on Riley; if not, he more than likely will be the very-good Riley UCLA has seen before.
Pretty much, though, the way Riley goes so goes the Cal offense. Against UC Davis and Colorado he threw for a total of 455 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions, and completed 66% of his passes. Against Nevada and Arizona, 399 yards, 1 touchdown and 4 interceptions while completing 57% of his throws. Arizona kept the Bears to three field goals even though they allowed Cal to run for 146 yards because they limited Riley to 116 yards passing.
Vereen is going to get his yardage, but Cal wants a balanced offensive attack. UCLA getting Riley out of his game, which means putting pressure on him, will be the key to limiting the Bears.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. CAL'S DEFENSE
Going by these two teams last season, there's no way you would have said that the best match-up in this season's game would be UCLA's running game against Cal's rushing defense. But that's the way it is.
UCLA's rushing game is ranked 10th in the country, while Cal's rushing defense is 38th.
Cal's defense, overall, had a lot of holes to fill from a year ago. And the first one was at defensive coordinator, when it brought in NFL DC Clancy Pendergast.
Up front, Cal lost first-round NFL draft pick Tyson Alualu at one of its defensive end spots in the 3-4-4, but the unit hasn't missed a beat and is easily the best on the defense. Senior Cameron Jordan (6-4, 283) is considered one of the best in the conference; he terrorized Arizona's Nike Foles last week.
|Linebacker Mike Mohamed.|
The linebacking unit has evolved into a fairly strong one. Senior inside linebacker Mike Mohamed (6-3, 245) might be the best middle linebacker-type in the Pac-10, but he's been banged up a bit the last two weeks. Next to him at the other inside spot is junior D.J. Holt (6-1, 250), who has easily been the best from game to game for the Bears, leading the team with 34 tackles. When Mohamed was out during the last two weeks, Holt really took up the slack. Junior Mychal Kendricks (6-0, 241) has done pretty well so far this season; while lacking NFL-type size or speed, he's pretty athletic. He has 3.5 sacks in just 4 games. Cal will use him in kind of the same way UCLA uses Ayers, many times having him put his hand down as a fourth linemen. The other starter on the outside is senior Keith Browner (6-6, 250), who has struggled some. In fact, when Cal goes to its dime package, which is pretty often, Browner is the linebacker who comes out. They'll also use senior Jarrad Price (5-11, 213) as an effective pass rusher.
In the back, the Cal secondary has rebounded pretty well from a mess of a season in 2009. Senior cornerback Darian Hagan (6-0, 178) has had an up-and-down career at Cal, and he's now on an upward bent. He's providing Cal its best coverage. On the other side is sophomore Marc Anthony (6-0, 196), and he's the guy opposing offenses have tried to pick on more so far this season, mostly to go away from Hagan.
Cal's two starting safeties – senior Chris Conte (6-3, 212) and sophomore Josh Hill (5-11, 195) -- have made some big plays but been inconsistent.
Bryant Nnabuife (6-1, 192) is the primary nickel back and he's also made some big plays, but then had some big misses.
UCLA's offense showed another side (literally) to its offense last week. Instead of predominantly running over the left side of the offensive line, it went mostly over the right side, and right guard Eddie Williams and right tackle Mike Harris did an equally as good job as their left-side counterparts in providing running room.
So, it definitely gave future opposing defenses the message that they wouldn't just be able to load up on one side to stop UCLA's running game.
A key to UCLA's rushing attack has been the blocking of tight end Cory Harkey and the two F-backs, Morrell Presley and Anthony Barr.
Tailbacks Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman, too, have had a great deal to do with it. Franklin's performance, which has him ranked #10 in the NCAA in yardage, has been somewhat in the realm of expectation, but Coleman's season, so far, has been somewhat unexpected. Coleman, who didn't gain many yards after contact in his first two seasons, has now become the hard-running, tough-to-bring-down tailback. His emergence gives UCLA a one-two punch that is relentless against opposing rushing defenses.
Cal's defense is going to do everything it can to stop UCLA's running game and force quarterback Kevin Prince to beat them. Even before the banged up knee, Prince hadn't done a great deal throwing the ball this season to instill a great deal of confidence that he can accomplish that. It's a big game for him, but it's not as if there are big expectations for him to carry the UCLA offense. He needs to just, pretty much, provide UCLA a solid complement in its passing game to UCLA's running game, to keep Cal's defense honest and from not cheating up into the box. It's kind of like the passing game that second-stringer Richard Brehaut provided in UCLA's opening drive against Washington State. In fact, Brehaut's solid performance in that game probably gives the UCLA coaches a bit more confidence in his ability, if Prince falters.
What Prince does do, however, is execute the Pistol's zone read better, which results in more running yardage for the quarterback. The problem is, though: Just how effective will Prince be running with the injured knee? And wouldn't you think the Cal defense will be seeing a big bullseye on that knee whenever Prince tucks and runs?
No matter what, you can probably expect Cal's rushing defense to be the most formidable that UCLA has faced yet this season. So that means UCLA needs its passing game – and not just its quarterback but its receivers – to step up. Nelson Rosario looks like he's out for the game with an ankle sprain, but that gives guys like Jerry Johnson, Ricky Marvray and Randall Carroll a chance. We're still waiting for Carroll, with that world-class sprinter speed, to get behind an opposing secondary.
Advantage: Even. It really comes down to this: Will UCLA be able to run the ball? We think it will, to a degree. It certainly won't be on the same level as its performance against Washington State, or even against Texas, but the UCLA running game looks too good for Cal to be able to completely limit it.
But will that be enough for UCLA to put up some points? That's the biggest question of this game: Who will win the match-up between UCLA's running game and Cal's rushing defense?
So far this season, Cal's defense has looked good – except against Nevada. And coincidentally, that's the same Pistol offense UCLA runs. So much has been discussed on whether Cal having already played against it – and having gotten burned against it – helps Cal in their preparation. It probably does, a bit. Also, so much has been made about the difference between UCLA and Nevada in the Pistol is Wolfpack quarterback Colin Kaepernick. But you have to point out that, even without Kaepernick's 148 yards rushing, Nevada ran for an additional 173 yards against Cal. Kaepernick definitely runs the Pistol overall better than UCLA and either Prince or Brehaut, but it's still a scheme that will probably again be tough for Cal's 3-4-4 to defend.
Cal kicker Giorgio Tavecchio was a perfect 6 for 6 so far on the season, until last week against Arizona when he missed two critical field goals, one in the last couple of minutes that would have pretty much iced the win. Cal punter Bryan Anger is among the best in the Pac-10, averaging 45.1 yards per punt.
Jeremy Ross is a good punt returner for the Bears, having broken off one for 37 yards so far this season. Ross is returning kick-offs, and has struggled some, barely able to get the ball to the 20-yard line.
In coverage, Cal doesn't put many kick-offs into the endzone, but they've been pretty solid in their kick-off return coverage.
UCLA's special teams, overall, are very good, and it's still just a matter of time before Josh Smith busts a kick-off return.
There are many things leaning in Cal'S favor.
Cal, first, has had an extra week to prepare, coming off a bye week. While some cite stats as evidence that having the extra bye week to prepare doesn't necessarily help, every coach will certainly tell you it does. Beyond just more time to prepare, a key player for Cal like Mohamed, who was nicked up, has an extra week to get healthy.
The game is in Berkeley, which has clearly been an advantage for the Bears over UCLA. The Bruins haven't beaten the Bears in Berkeley in their last five attempts, going all the way back to the 1998 season, when UCLA was 10-2 and Cal was 5-6. That even includes a loss in 2000 when UCLA was ranked 13th in the country and Cal went 3-8 on the season. UCLA has never beaten Jeff Tedford in Berkeley. In fact, UCLA has beaten Cal only three in Berkeley in the last 22 years. Once in 1996, when Cal went 6-6, and the other time in 1988, when UCLA went 10-2 and had one of the best teams in the country, and Cal was 5-5-1.
Kevin Riley, for whatever reason, if it's mere coincidence or going against UCLA's defensive scheme, has pretty much had career days against the Bruins.
There are many other factors, too. Cal doesn't turn over the ball much, and UCLA does. One of the reasons the Washington State game was fairly close last week was because the Wildcats played pretty error-free and the Bruins didn't get any cheap points.
The Bears also are very well-disciplined and don't commit many penalties, while UCLA tends to.
While UCLA now leads the Pac-10 in sacks with 14, it's a bit misleading if you think that reflects a consistent UCLA pass rush. UCLA's lack of a consistent rush last week was a big factor in WSU playing with the Bruins. Cal, on the other hand, protects its quarterback well, and in the Cal offense, Riley releases the ball quickly.
You could say that UCLA, after winning three in a row, is on an upward trend and Cal, having lost two in a row, is on a downward one. But last week's win over Washington State wasn't exactly a big confidence booster for the Bruins, and you could easily make a case that Cal out-played Arizona for most of its game in Tucson two weeks ago.
UCLA is developing into a team – and a good program – but it's not quite there yet to beat Cal in Berkeley. If it does, it could be a true break-through game for the Bruins, which makes this game perhaps the most pivotal of the season.