-- The California Bears come to Los Angeles to take on UCLA at the Rose Bowl Saturday. The game will be televised by FSN Prime Ticket at 4:00, with Bill Macdonald and J.J. Stokes calling the action.
-- The Bears are 4-3 overall and 1-3 in the Pac-12 North. Cal started off the season 3-0, then went 0-3 before beating Utah last week in Berkeley, 34-10. The three losses were at Washington, at Oregon and against USC.
-- Those three losses came against teams with a combined record of 17-4.
-- Cal's win over Colorado, since it was scheduled before Colorado joined the conference, isn't considered a conference win.
-- UCLA is 3-4 overall and 2-2 in the Pac-12, coming off one of the most embarrassing losses in recent Bruin history, losing to Arizona, 48-12, last week.
-- UCLA leads the all-time series with Cal, 49-31-2, which goes back to 1933. UCLA has a 10-4 edge in games played in the Rose Bowl, having also won four of the last five. Cal, however has won the last three in a row, including a 35-7 victory in Berkeley.
-- Those three straight wins over UCLA is the longest streak since 1990-1994, when Cal won five straight against UCLA, which is also the longest winning streak for the Bears in the series.
-- UCLA hasn't beaten the Bears since 2007, when it won at the Rose Bowl, 30-21.
-- Cal has won only two in a row at the Rose Bowl (1991 and '93) since UCLA started playing its home games at the venue in 1983.
-- In Cal's last three wins over UCLA, it's beaten the Bruins by an average of 22.6 points.
-- Jeff Tedford is in his 10th season as Cal's head coach, with an overall record of 75-46. When he got to Cal, he turned around a program that was coming off a 1-10 season and had hit rock bottom. He put together 8 straight winning seasons, with the best being in 2004 and 2006, finishing with records of 10-2 and 10-3 in those seasons. In 2006, Cal tied for the Pac-10 title for the first time since 1975. Cal averaged 8 wins per season in the first nine seasons under Tedford. The program also is ranked tied for third among conference teams in victories during that period. Tedford became Cal's all-time winningest coach in Cal history this season, and he's also the all-time leader in games coach.
-- Tedford, though, after leading Cal to eight winning seasons and bowl games, went 5-7 in 2010, and there have been rumblings that he's on the hot seat.
-- Tedford is currently the State of California's highest paid employee. In 2010, he made $2.3 million. The second-highest paid state employee for that year was UCLA's basketball coach, Ben Howland, who earned a little over $2 million.
-- Of course, UCLA's head coach Rick Neuheisel is on a sizzling seat at the moment.
-- After it's bench-clearing brawl last week against Arizona, five and 1/2 Bruins are suspended for the Cal game: starting DT Cassius Marsh, starting WR Shaquelle Evans, WR Taylor Embree, WR Randall Carroll, and WR Ricky Marvray. Albert Cid is suspended for the first half.
-- Cal has played all of its home games at AT&T Park in San Francisco while its home field, Memorial Stadium, undergoes a renovation.
-- Saturday the weather is expected to be mild in Pasadena, with a high of 77 degrees.
CALIFORNIA'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
Since Cal went on that three-game losing streak many aspects of the Bears' team are getting maligned and under-appreciated. Cal's offense has received some criticism, but it's ranked 40th in the country, and its passing offense is 19th. If UCLA had that kind of offense, UCLA fans would be doing back-flips.
Cal quarterback Zach Maynard (JR, 6-2, 190) is the main object of many fans' derision, and it seems excessive.
|Quarterback Zach Maynard.|
Cal is averaging 293 yards passing per game (again, which gets them ranked 19th in the nation) because Maynard has one of the best targets in the conference, his half-brother Keenan Allen (SO, 6-3, 195), who leads the nation in receiving yards per game (129). In a conference loaded with receivers he is easily one of the handful best and will probably make some post-season All-American lists. He is so dangerous that opposing DBs have to play off him, but he's perhaps best at gaining yards after the catch. Maynard and Allen definitely have that family bond going on because it seems like Maynard throws to Allen on just about 90% of their pass plays. And the thing is, opposing defenses know this and still can't shut down Allen.
What makes Allen so effective, too, is that on the other opposite side of the field is the Cal receiver who coming into the season everyone thought would be their star go-to guy, Marvin Jones (SR, 6-3, 202). While Allen is #1 in receiving yards and 2nd in receptions per game (8.6) in the Pac-12, Jones is 5th (85) and 6th (5.7). The two of them have combined for 100 receptions on the season and 1,505 receiving yards. That's more than UCLA's entire team (97 receptions and 1478 yards). That makes them the #1 receiving duo in the nation. Jones is a lot like Allen – big, fast and elusive.
They'll also look to a third receiver, Michael Calvin (SR, 6-3, 215), another in the same mold, and tight end Anthony Miller (SR, 6-4, 260) a few times per game just to keep secondaries honest.
Cal's running game is a bit under-rated, since it doesn't have that big-named tailback this season like it has in recent years. Isi Sofele (JR, 5-8, 190) isn't Shane Vereen or Jahvid Best, but he's averaging 89.6 yards per game, which is better than UCLA's Johnathan Franklin (74.3). He doesn't have break-away speed, but for being a little guy he's particularly tough around the line of scrimmage, with opposing tacklers seemingly having a hard time getting a good look at him, which doesn't bode well for UCLA's mediocre tacklers. Last season, Sofele had the best game of his career up to that point against the Bruins. Sofele has sat out practice this week due to injury, however. Sofele gets about 80% of the carries, with C.J. Anderson (JR, 5-11, 215), a bit bigger tailback, backing him up. Of course, Maynard is the second-biggest rushing threat on the team, and he's very dangerous on the zone read when he gets around the edge.
Cal's offensive line has generally been good this season, even though it went through some tough stretches in the three-game losing streak. But against the likes of Utah and Colorado, which is on par with UCLA's defense, the Cal OL has done well, keeping Maynard relatively safe and providing enough running room to produce a balanced attack. Left tackle Mitchell Schwartz (SR, 6-6, 318) is a three-year starter and considered one of the best at his position in the Pac-12. What has made Cal's OL relatively solid is a lack of injury, with every starter having started all seven games so far this season.
UCLA's defense is, well, a mess, and it looked like it last week against Arizona. At this point, there isn't anything it does well, or even not badly.
It's particularly not good at rush defense, allowing an average of 192 yards per game on the ground, which is 11th in the conference and 95th in the nation. It will even be at a deficit against Cal when it has to deal with the suspension of starting defensive tackle Cassius Marsh. The DL generally has been the biggest disappointment of UCLA's season, which is saying quite a bit, not being able to stop the run or put any pressure on the quarterback.
That will tend to put a great deal of pressure on your passing defense, which isn't good for UCLA since it's really struggled recently in that area with so many injured. It was uncanny that UCLA actually put a clearly not 100% Sheldon Price on the field last week against Arizona, and it appears they're going to do it again this week. Starting safety Tony Dye and starting nickel back Alex Mascarenas are out. Guys like safety Tevin McDonald and cornerback Andrew Abbott have definitely stepped up, and you could make the case that Abbott might be playing the best on the defense at this time. McDonald, while showing talent, is still learning by trial and error, and there will probably be some considerable error when he's facing Allen and Jones and Co.
UCLA's linebackers have also been generally a disappointment so far this season, and on one hand it's understandable, and on the other it's a bit inexplicable. We hate to keep harping on it, but every time undersized and injured Sean Westgate is on the field the unit has struggled, which is easy to understand why. But middle linebacker Patrick Larimore, who we all were expecting to be a star this year, hasn't been inconsistent, and that's been a mystery.
Last year against UCLA, Cal rushed for 304 yards. Right now, UCLA's rushing defense is no better than it was last season, and Cal's running game is starting to get more on track. It might not rack up 300 yards but you can probably expect it to gain well over its average of 136 yards per game. It seems like a good bet when you consider that Arizona, one of the worst rushing teams in the nation, gained 254 rushing yards against UCLA last week.
And there's no reason to believe that Cal's very effective passing attack won't be very effective against the Bruins. The thought of Allen and Jones running rampant through UCLA's secondary is a scary one. But UCLA will probably employ the bend-and-don't-break philosophy to try to keep Cal's receivers from getting behind them, which, for UCLA's opponents, means there will be plenty of room available underneath. And plenty of room for Maynard to run.
In the second half against Arizona, if anyone was even watching it, UCLA actually threw caution to the wind tactically and blitzed and pressed more. But that came from desperation and the philosophy will almost certainly return to bend-and-not-break against Cal. The defense, too, this week in practice has been working on some new wrinkles in terms of looks and personnel. But we've learned our lesson and that all has to go in the we'll-believe-it-when-we-see-it file.
It's just not a good match-up for UCLA's defense, given the state of its depleted secondary going against such a strong throwing team, like we saw last week against Arizona. And then, Cal's running game is so much better than Arizona's.
But then again, what match-up is a good one these days for UCLA's defense?
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. CALIFORNIA'S DEFENSE
Cal has the #2-ranked defense in the conference, and #26-ranked D in the nation. It's allowing just 115 yards per game on the ground, which gets them ranked 27th in the country.
|Linebacker Mychal Kendricks.|
A huge reason the defense is good is the play of two veteran inside linebackers, Mychal Kendricks (SR, 6-0, 240) and D.J. Holt (SR, 6-1 242). Kendricks and Holt are both among the top 10 tackles in the conference, with 55 and 51 tackles, and it seems the two of them account for just about half of all Cal's tackles. Kendricks, the older brother of UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks, could very well win Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year this season, and he and Holt very rarely make mental mistakes and are impeccable about being in position. The two of them plug up the middle of the field. Kendricks, though, does have a nicked-up shoulder. In the Bears' 3-4 alignment, one of the outside linebackers is more of a true linebacker and the other is closer to a defensive end. Redshirt freshman David Wilkerson (FR, 6-2, 240) got a good deal of hype but has been hampered by a number of injuries, while still leading the team in sacks (3.5). Now healthy, last week against Utah he had his best outing, including a huge hit on Utah's quarterback. The defensive-end type is another freshman, Chris McCain (FR, 6-6, 233), who is learning through playing, having started the last three games, and has been hurt a bit himself, but he also has some considerable upside. In Cal's alignment, these two are lined up differently about every play, with their hand down, standing up, blitzing off the edge, or dropping back into coverage.
Up front, Cal had to replace two starters from a year ago, including a first-round pick in defensive end Cameron Jordan. Senior and returning starting defensive end Ernest Owusu (SR, 6-5, 270) has answered the call, having a very good senior season so far, and long-time back-up Trevor Guyton (SR, 6-3, 280) has also been very good at the other end spot. The two can be explosive off the ball. Aaron Tipoti (JR, 6-2, 295) won the starting nose guard position and has really been coming on, having perhaps his best game last week against Utah when he forced a fumble and was pretty much a disruptive force in the middle. Interestingly, Cal's defensive coordinator, Clancy Pendergast, has made some cool adjustments, like having the nose guard line up right on the ball but the rest of the line lines up a couple of yards back to give them a downhill start on the snap.
In the secondary, Cal has been getting some very good play, and they'll get even better this week with the return of starting cornerback Marc Anthony (JR, 6-0, 200). While he's been out because of a shoulder separation, true freshman Stefan McClure (FR, 5-11, 188) did exceptionally well, shutting down USC's star receiver Robert Woods. Because McClure has been so good there is talk they could rotate Anthony, McClure and Steve Williams (SO, 5-10, 185), who is also very solid. Veteran safety Sean Cattouse (SR, 6-3, 218) is reliable and has a nose for the ball (two picks) and nickel back Josh Hill (JR, 5-10, 202) has had a few standout moments.
UCLA's offense will be operating at a deficit Saturday, without a number of key players that are suspended because of the brawl in Tucson. With four receivers suspended, it's forced UCLA to perhaps push some players back from injuries (which didn't work out well last week for Sheldon Price). Receiver Jerry Johnson, who has looked good this week in practice, was sitting out the year, intending to have another surgery to get the metal plate and nine screws taken out of his ankle before returning for spring practice. He'll now play against Cal. Anthony Barr has been out with a knee injury for several weeks, and has been held back in practice this week, even though he looks fine. Walk-on receiver Jerry Rice will see quite a bit of playing time. Then, it's fairly significant, too, that starting strongside guard Chris Ward is out with an injury, and the guy he's been alternating with all season, Albert Cid, is suspended for the first half of the game, and third-stringer Wade Yandall will play the first half.
Even without the suspensions, UCLA's offense isn't exactly hitting on all cylinders. As the season has progress, opposing defenses have gotten better defending UCLA's running game, and it's passing game is like it's always been – always just a bit out-of-sync.
What was overlooked some in the bad loss against Arizona was that quarterback Kevin Prince played fairly well. He was 17 of 35 for 286 yards, and had one touchdown pass and no picks. When he was forced to throw, like against Arizona, he responded.
Who will he have to throw to, though, is a question. There's Nelson Rosario, the notorious receiver who had one of his all-time worst moments against Arizona when he had a reception and was advancing the ball up the field and merely had it ripped out of his hands by an Arizona defender. Rosario has gotten clips on Sports Center a few times during his career because of dramatic, one-handed catches; last week, that clip made many highlight reels, too.
You'd have to suspect that, out of desperation, UCLA will be looking for tight end Joseph Fauria. Fauria has had some big games, and then games seemingly where UCLA has forgotten about him. They'll be forced to remember him Saturday since so many receivers are out.
It's the 10th-ranked offense in the conference against the #2-ranked defense. That would be reason enough to predict a one-sided battle. But also take into consideration UCLA's offensive numbers might be a bit inflated having not played against too many great defenses so far this season, while Cal's defensive numbers might be skewed higher since they've faced some formidable offenses.
Cal's defense, if you want to overly-simply it, holds down the middle of the field and then sends pressure on the edges. With guys like Kendricks and Holt making just about every tackle that comes their way, and young talent on the edge, it's been very successful.
Cal's defense is a well-designed one, with blitzes coming from different spots, defensive ends standing up, and a lot of different looks. It's really been quite an accomplishment for Cal's defensive coaches this season, being able to get this kind of results after losing half your starters and starting three freshmen (if you include McClure).
UCLA will absolutely go back to trying to dominate possession through running the ball. If UCLA has a chance at all in this game it will have to establish a running game early, and it has perhaps its most formidable challenge of the season so far trying to do it against Cal's rushing defense. Cal, of course, will sneak more bodies into the box and make Prince beat them through the air. IF, though, UCLA finds itself playing catch-up again it just doesn't have the quick-strike capability to do it, especially with so many of its playmakers suspended.
It's the battle of the excellent punters. UCLA's Jeff Locke and Cal's Bryan Anger are two of the best in the country, averaging 45.1 and 44.5 yards per punt.
Cal's placekicker, Giorgio Tavecchio, was a question mark coming into the season but he has proven himself, being 11 of 13, including making one from 54 yards. The two he missed were blocked.
UCLA has its best story of the season in Tyler Gonzalez, the former UCLA soccer team manager who is now the starting field goal kicker. He's been getting better and better in practice, consistently making 50-yarders.
Brendan Bigelow, the freshman tailback, did return one kick-off for a touchdown, but Cal's kick-off and punt returns have been unremarkable. For UCLA, with Taylor Embree suspended, UCLA is now forced to go with more of a threat returning punts, Jordon James.
Any way you look at it on paper, Cal comes out on top. Any way you look at it in terms of intangibles, with Cal looking like they got back on track last week against Utah, and UCLA potentially spiraling with its coach on the hot seat and coming off an embarrassing loss to Arizona, Cal comes out on top.
Cal was embarrassed against USC two weeks ago, mostly because it turned over the ball 5 times against the Trojans, with Maynard throwing three interceptions. But, regrettably for UCLA fans, that was an aberration for the Bears, since they generally take care of the ball, being +4 on the season in turnover margin. Other than those five turnovers in the USC game, Cal has only turned it over 4 other times all season. UCLA, on the other hand, is last in the conference in turnover margin, at -3. So, the Bruins don't have that going for them.
UCLA's philosophy to success is to try to run the ball, eat up the clock, dominate the time of possession and keep its defense off the field. It really hasn't worked that well this season, with UCLA 11th in the conference in time of possession (28:01). And it shouldn't work at all against Cal, since the Bears are second in the conference (32:10). Cal's offense dinks and dunks its way down the field. So, UCLA doesn't have that going for it either.
And again, it's difficult to quantify just how the state of the program will affect UCLA's performance. Conventional wisdom would lead you to believe that, after last week and with Neuheisel pretty much a lame duck, the Bruins just don't have that much to inspire them at this point.
There are so many elements to this game that would indicate a blowout. We'll say that Cal beats UCLA this year exactly by the average winning margin (23) from its last three consecutive wins the last three seasons.