• UCLA goes on the road for a second straight week, traveling to Berkeley to take on the Golden Bears Saturday, at 7:00 p.m. The game will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks with Ted Robinson and Glenn Parker in the booth, and former UCLA linebacker Ryan Nece on the sidelines.
• The Bruins are 4-1, and ranked #25 in the AP Poll.
• The Bears are 1-4, having lost its last three games to Arizona State (27-17), USC (27-9) and Ohio State (35-28). Cal won its second game of the season against FCS Southern Utah (50-31), but lost its season opener to Nevada (31-24).
• It's Cal's fourth week in a row facing a team that received top-25 notes. Ohio State and USC were top 15, Arizona State received top-25 votes, and UCLA is ranked 25th by AP.
• This week marks the first time since 2002 that the conference has six teams ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll. It's also only happened four times since 1989 (when the poll expanded from 20 to 25 teams). The six teams are: Oregon (#2), USC (#12), Oregon State (#14), Stanford (#18), Washington (#23) and UCLA (#25).
• It's Cal's worst start since the 2001 season, when it went 1-10, which resulted in the firing of its beleaguered coach, Tom Holmoe.
• Cal looked like it was on the right track in its performance against then-#12 Ohio State on the road a couple of weeks ago, out-playing the Buckeyes only to lose in the last few minutes on a 72-yard touchdown pass and an interception. It then played USC relatively tough on the road, which was not indicative of the score, to then lose last week in Berkeley to surprising Arizona State.
• The all-time series dates back to 1933, when the two schools played to a 0-0 tie. UCLA leads the series overall, 50-31-1, punctuated by an 18-year UCLA winning streak between 1972 and 1989. Cal then won the next five meetings and, since 1989, overall, is 13-5 against the Bruins.
• UCLA has not beaten the Bears in Berkeley since 1998. It's the longest Pac-10 road losing streak for UCLA other than to USC (last win at the Coliseum in 1997).
• That win in 1998 enabled UCLA, ranked #2 in the country at the time, to start the season 6-0, and it was the Bruins' 16th-straight win. The 1998 squad ended the season 10-2, finishing first in the Pac-10 and ranked 8th in the nation.
• Before last week's loss to Arizona State, Cal had beaten the Sun Devils four straight times and had not lost to ASU at home since 1997.
• Cal is coached by Jeff Tedford, in his 11th season in Berkeley, the second-longest tenure of any conference coach (Oregon State's Mike Riley is in his 12th season). Tedford is 80-52 at Cal, which makes him Cal's all-time winningest coach. Since he's been the head coach at Cal, the program is tied for third among conference teams in victories in that period. He's 6-4 against UCLA, and 5-0 at home. When Tedford took over the Cal program it was in dismal shape, having not had a winning season in 8 years. In its three previous seasons before Tedford took over, Cal went 0-11, 3-8 and 1-10. In 1997, in his first season, Tedford posted a 7-5 record, and started Cal's most successful era in its football history since the early 1950s. He led the Bears to seven straight bowl games, finishing the 2004 season 10-2 and ranked 9th in the country, and 10-3 in 2006 and ranked 14th. Since the 2007 season, however, Cal has started to decline, posting records of 7-6, 9-4, 8-5, 5-7, 7-6 and now, to start the 2012 season, 1-4. The 1-4 start is Tedford's worst at Cal. The Cal faithful, now that they have had a taste of success, have higher expectations and, after the 1-4 start, there are rumblings about Tedford being on the hot seat. The Cal admin tried to assuage hot-seat talk before the season, and Tedford was actually given a contract extension to 2015 -- without a buyout. He currently makes a base salary of $2.3 million, which is the fourth highest in the league, but his buyout would approach $6.9 million. Taxpayers, though, should be at ease, since no state money is used to pay his salary or would be used for the buyout. The San Francisco Chronicle asserted that Cal's wealthy alumni are so frustrated with the football program that they would willingly cover the buyout to fire Tedford. The thought is if Tedford finishes under .500 he'll be gone. And, at this point, the prospects don't look good, having to face #25 UCLA, #18 Stanford, #23 Washington, #2 Oregon, #14 Oregon State -- while also playing Washington State and Utah on the road.
• No Cal team has recovered from a 1-4 start to play in a bowl game in Cal history. It will have to win five of its last seven games to be bowl eligible.
• Cal essentially doesn't have a bye week during the 12-game regular-season schedule, because its bye comes the week after the regular season finale.
• If UCLA wins Saturday, it would be the first time UCLA won three road games in a season since 2005. The Bruins, before 2005, routinely did at least that, winning 3 road games in 2004, 5 road games in 2002 and 3 in 2001.
• UCLA tops the Pac-12 and is fourth in the nation in turnover margin, being +14.
• UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin is in second place on UCLA's all-time career rushing list, at 3,366 career yards. He's just 365 yards behind the current career leader, Gaston Green, who has 3,731. Franklin averages 139 yards per game (which ranks him fourth in the nation), and if he continued to average that for the 12-game season he would break the single-season rushing record set by Karim Abdul-Jabbar in 1995 of 1,571.
• The weather calls for a very pleasant high of 68 degrees in Berkeley Saturday, with a game-time temperature in the low-60s to high-50s.
CALIFORNIA'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
The Bear's offense is a deceptive one. They are badly out of sync at times, with plenty of failed drives due to poor execution, bad pass protection, mistakes and penalties.
But they do have some explosive weapons, and every once in a while, when they put it together and don't shoot themselves in the foot, they'll burn you.
Their primary problem this season, as with so many offenses, has been the production from the quarterback and the offensive line. And many times one contributes to the other.
Cal's offensive line, to put it mildly, is struggling. The Bears thought they had three returning starters coming into the season, but they haven't had those three on the field much together. And even when they were, they didn't look 100%. Senior veteran center Dominic Galas has been sidelined due to a pectoral muscle he tore lifting weights. He slowly has been working his way back into practice but the word is that he isn't there yet. Veteran right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin (6-4, 300) has been trying to return from a knee injury, and played against Arizona State last week but looked noticeably sluggish. ASU pass rushers exploited him on the edge for a couple of sacks and a penalty. The other returning starter, senior Brian Schwenke (6-2, 312), has had to move from guard to center, and had a pretty poor day against Arizona State last week, getting beat repeatedly while getting called for a holding penalty on a key play that killed a Cal drive. That's not much to work with, and you combine that with three new starters you can understand the OL's woes. Senior left tackle Tyler Rigsbee (6-5, 295) has been okay, but his younger brother, freshman Jordan Rigsbee (6-4, 306) and sophomore Chris Adcock (6-3, 303) have been pretty much worked at the guard spots. ASU penetrated the interior OL consistently last week.
A struggling OL can then really exacerbate the issues of an inconsistent quarterback like senior Zach Maynard (6-2, 185). Maynard looks physically like a
|Quarterback Zach Maynard.|
When were were talking about the explosiveness we were mostly talking about Cal's receivers. Junior Keenan Allen (6-3, 210) might not be putting up the eye-popping numbers so far this year (33 catches, 388 yards, 2 TDs), but he's widely considered one of the handful best NFL prospects at this position in the country, and he has said this is his final year in college. He's been kept a bit under wraps by opposing defenses dedicating multiple bodies to him, but it still hasn't kept him down. What has kept him down more is little time for his quarterback to throw and then errant passes. He is extremely dangerous and can blow open -- or change -- a game very quickly. His half-brother, Maynard, will go to him on, say, five successive throws, typically.
One of the big concerns coming into the season for Cal was the need for other receivers to step up to take the pressure off Allen. While no one has necessarily stepped into stardom, two true freshmen, both of whom are very familiar to UCLA recruiting fans, have made an immediate impact for the Bears, Bryce Treggs (5-11, 175) and Chris Harper (6-0, 170). Both were very highly-regarded prospects, and they've come in and immediately contributed. Harper is second on the team with 17 receptions (to put it in perspective, UCLA's Shaquelle Evans has 17 catches on the season), and has been a very good complement to Allen. Harper has shown good hands and a very good propensity for turning up field and getting YAC. Treggs, with 12 receptions, has been more of a deep-ball threat, and he can slice through creases with speed. The tight ends, matching sophomores Jacob Wark (6-4, 265) and Richard Rodgers (6-4, 265), haven't been involved much in the offense, collecting just 8 receptions between the two of them.
You would also definitely have to put Cal's running backs in the potentially explosive category. Senior Isi Sofele (5-8, 183) ran for 1,300 yards in 2011, and he's a threat every time he touches the ball. Last week against ASU he was Cal's most dangerous offensive player, running for 105 yards, averaging 7 yards per carry, and doing it against the best rushing defense in the Pac-12. He's a small, scat-back type, who can burst through holes in an instant.
There's also senior C.J. Anderson (5-11, 214) who is a bigger, slasher type, but also has the speed to break one. He had 78 yards against ASU. What's been a bit strange is what seems like under-use of sophomore Brendan Bigelow (5-10, 188), the speedster who broke two huge runs around the edge against Ohio State, but hasn't been seen much since. It's almost a Manuel White situation, where Tedford forgets about him.
UCLA's defense showed some growth last week against Colorado, but it could be Fool's Gold since it was against the Buffaloes. It was very stout against the run, with UCLA's front seven pursuing and swarming. Defensive end Datone Jones started off the season with 8 tackles for loss in the first three games, but now is drawing double teams. While his stats aren't as
Whether its Zumwalt or Holmes, or a combination, and then throw in UCLA's best defensive player so far this season, Anthony Barr, Cal should have its hands full keeping those guys out of the backfield. Cal is last in sacks allowed, a whopping 25 on the season, which is the worst in the country, and 22 in the last three games, while UCLA is second in the conference in sacking the quarterback, with 18 sacks, second behind ASU, Cal's opponent last week. The week before they faced USC, which is third in the league in sacks. So, Cal's beleaguered OL, which has been a sieve in pass protection, will face the three defenses leading the conference in sacks on three successive Saturdays.
UCLA also cheated up its safety last week against Colorado to help in run support, and it paid off in Tevin McDonald and Andrew Abbott having good games. Abbott, who is perhaps UCLA's best DB in run support, was far more involved. Of course, UCLA's secondary will have a bigger challenge on its hands against Cal's receivers compared to Colorado's. UCLA's cornerbacks, Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price, have had spotty senior seasons so far, and could be susceptible against Cal to the type of burning they received against OSU's receivers.
Of course, it requires time for the quarterback to throw the ball, however.
Last week Cal's offense really struggled against ASU's defense, which was a result of ASU having one of the best defenses in the Pac-12 and Cal continually shooting itself in the foot with mistakes, penalties and that poor pass protection. UCLA's defense hasn't shown to be nearly as good as ASU's, and Cal's offense didn't commit nearly as many penalties in any other game this season. After last week, I would suspect that Cal's offense will bounce back a bit, a second game in a row at home, and having a couple of weeks of getting its quarterback constantly under attack giving it time to make adjustments. There might not be anything much it can do to keep UCLA's pass rush out of its backfield, but you'd have to think they'll attempt something, like actually moving Maynard's launch point a bit (which they didn't do almost at all last week against ASU, surprisingly), and that could limit UCLA's effectiveness in getting to him. But then again, Tedford is notorious for sticking to his same approach, regardless of recent trends, and that was readily apparent against ASU.
The biggest determining factor here, though, is that Cal's rushing game is pretty good, averaging 172 yards per game, and has a trio of dangerous running backs. UCLA's rushing defense, on the other hand, hasn't been stellar, and you could be lulled into thinking it's improved because of good performances against Colorado and Oregon State. But perhaps we shouldn't be fooled, since Colorado and OSU are two bad rushing teams and, if we're talking Fool's Gold, this could be the biggest nugget.
I'd be surprised if Cal didn't get a good amount of rushing yards, and didn't have at least a couple of big gainers on the ground and in the air.
UCLA's dilemma: Should UCLA rush just four, and see if that's enough to put pressure on Maynard and get him out of his rhythm like he was last week against ASU, and then keep one more body in the box against Cal's rushing attack? I'm sure we'll see Mora and UCLA Defensive Coordinator Lou Spanos experimenting early in this game to see if it can get a good enough pass rush sending just four.
Second thing to watch for: If UCLA plays mostly in nickel and a zone, to try to keep Cal's dangerous receivers in front of them.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. CALIFORNIA'S DEFENSE
This should be a little bit more weighted in one direction compared to the other match-up.
Cal's defense is struggling: 9th in total defense in the Pac-12 (426 yards per game); 10th in scoring defense (30.2 PPG); 12th in rushing defense (174 YPG); 7th in pass defense (251 YPG) and 11th in pass defense efficiency (139).
UCLA, on the other hand is: 1st in total offense (560 YPG); 3rd in scoring offense (36.8 PPG); 2nd in rushing offense (243 YPG); 4th in passing offense (317 YPG), and 3rd in pass efficiency (148).
The Bears led the Pac-12 in total defense in each of the past two seasons, but they returned only 4 starters from the 2011 unit, and only 1 from the front seven.
So much of the problem has been up front. Last week ASU found some gaping running holes in the middle of the line of scrimmage. Cal's defensive line was supposed to be a strength, but it's been overwhelmed a bit, and hit by injury. Senior defensive end Aaron Tipoti (6-2, 274), the one returning starter, is considered the best on the DL, but has been dinged up with a knee injury. The other DE, junior Deandre Coleman (6-5, 311) is a huge guy, more of a three-technique, but plays DE in Cal's 3-4. Senior nose tackle Kendrick Payne (6-2, 274) has been decently holding up trying to overcome the double teams. Sophomore DE Mustafa Jalil (6-2, 302) also gets in the rotation.
All in all, the defensive line has been decent, but the linebackers have been the problem when it comes to Cal's porousness against the run. Cal lost 2011 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks and his partner, D.J. Holt, and has had to break in four new starters at linebacker. Senior Robert Mullins (6-0, 228), a long-time back-up, is the veteran of the group. The other three are considered talented -- but very young and inexperienced. The defensive end/linebacker hybrid, sophomore Brennan Scarlett (6-4, 255), despite a broken hand, looked good last week against ASU. Sophomore Chris McCain (6-6, 230), the other OLB, looks more like a small forward than a linebacker, all arms and legs, but he is a good athlete who can run. Freshman Jalen Jefferson (6-2, 234) is another guy with some athleticism and upside, but has been prone to gap integrity issues, as have all of the linebackers. Another inexperienced player, sophomore Nick Forbes (6-1, 236) has been getting a good amount of time also.
Cal returned its two starting cornerbacks from last season, senior Marc Anthony (6-0, 200) and junior Steve Williams (5-10, 189), and they were supposed to be a strength of the defense. They've struggled at times, however, getting caught badly out of position on a number of big plays and burned deep. Both Anthony and Williams have been good in
|Safety Josh Hill.|
Trying to keep it all together is senior safety Josh Hill (5-10, 207), the defense's leader and playmaker (currently leading the team in tackles with 38).
UCLA's spread offense could cause some problems for Cal, especially quarterback Brett Hundley and tailback Johnathan Franklin. Hundley is the exact kind of quarterback -- in the spread -- that Cal has really struggled with so far this season, a guy who can accurately hit the short ball consistently, while also being a threat with his legs. Franklin, the leading ground gainer in the Pac-12, will be going up against the conference's worst rushing defense.
A key to UCLA's offensive success is clearly its offensive line, and undoubtedly senior right guard Jeff Baca. UCLA's OL struggled considerably against Oregon State when Baca was out, and rebounded considerably against Colorado when he returned . While Colorado's defense doesn't compare to OSU's, UCLA clearly changed its game plan with Baca in the lineup, running right over the right guard spot continually. He also is the glue to keeping all the youngsters on the offensive line cohesive.
With perhaps its most talented receiver, redshirt freshman Devin Lucien, now lost for the season with a broken collar bone, UCLA's other receivers are going to have to step up. The offense has distributed the ball around, with 8 receivers having 10 or more receptions, but UCLA now needs a couple guys to emerge as consistent playmakers. Shaquelle Evans might be the biggest candidate, having a break-out game against Oregon State.
Every way you look at it, UCLA has an advantage here. It's superior in just about every statistical category and then, from a purely match-up standpoint, Cal doesn't hold up well against UCLA's type of offense.
Cal has done pretty badly against spreads so far this season, allowing an average of 31 points and 427 yards to Nevada, Ohio State and Arizona State. And really, those programs don't run spreads in the same vein as UCLA's spread. Nevada runs a pistol, and Ohio State and ASU more of a spread option. ASU's offense last week was mostly zone reads and very short throws, almost never looking deep at all. UCLA's spread, on the other hand, stretches the field both horizontally and vertically and will go at you more on the ground directly, both through the middle and around the edge.
Cal has struggled with Hundley-type of quarterbacks, too, the dual threats that can both throw and run. Hundley has been hampered by a nagging ankle injury that has slowed him down, but he still has run for some good yardage since the injury. Last week ASU's Taylor Kelly did a great deal of damage when he got out of the pocket and was able to improvise.
Cal's defense has, also, struggled to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, having only 10 sacks on the season. Being such a young defense it has struggled in its assignments, leaving flats wide open at times, which is pretty much perfect for UCLA's swing-pass dominated offense.
Cal's defense, though, does have talent, and is capable of making a big play. But for the length of a game, if it performs anything like it has so far this season, it's going to make enough mistakes that UCLA's offense can exploit.
UCLA placekicker Ka'imi Fairbairn has been under criticism for missing some field goals but, interestingly, he's third in the Pac-12 in the percentage of field goal attempts he's converted, having made five of eight. In other words, while he's missed some, the other kickers in the conference are mostly doing worse. Cal's Vincent D'Amato, actually has made 8 of 13, which is worse than Fairbairn, but he has made more from a longer distance.
Cal's punter, Cole Leininger, has had some big shoes to fill trying to replace Cal's long-time excellent punter, Bryan Anger, but he's doing decently.
Cal's punt and kick-off coverages haven't been horrible, but haven't been good either, with opposing punt returners consistently getting decent yardage.
Cal's punt and kick-off returners, though, are dangeous. Keenan Allen is the punt returner, and he's already returned one for a 69-yard touchdown. The primary kick-off returner, Brandon Bigelow, hasn't broken one, but looks like he is most of the time.
UCLA leads Cal in every major statistical category.
A really significant stat: Cal is 9th in the conference in turnover margin at -1 on the season, while UCLA is first at +5. This means that, with how many other things Cal doesn't have going for it in this match-up, it probably is going to be on the wrong end of the turnover factor in the game.
Cal's offense, though, is dangerous and explosive, when they put it together. Before misfiring the last two weeks against Arizona State and USC, Cal's offense put up 512 yards and 28 points against against Ohio State -- on the road -- which has probably a better defense than UCLA.
So, expect Cal's offense to look inept at times, but then strike lethally. You probably can't take much from UCLA's defensive performance against a bad Colorado offense last week, either. So, Cal is probably going to hang a decent amount of points on the Bruins.
But the best unit in the game is UCLA's offense, and the worst is Cal's defense. UCLA runs the ball extremely well, and Cal doesn't defend the run well. Because of this, UCLA will probably have possession of the ball for the majority of the game, especially since Cal is dead last in time of possession in the conference coming into Saturday. Cal's offense, with all of its blunders, is going to need as many chances as possible to score enough points to win, and it probably won't get enough possessions while UCLA's offense is holding onto the ball.
UCLA's Offensive Coordinator, Noel Mazzone, when he was ASU's OC a year ago, lost to Cal, 47-38. Cal had the conference's best defense and it still gave up 38 points and 477 yards to Mazzone's ASU defense. Now, Cal's defense is a shell of last year's, and Mazzone's offensive scheme is flourishing more at UCLA, averaging 130 more yards per game than his 2011 ASU offense. Cal's 3-4 defense just doesn't hold up well against spreads, particularly Mazzone's spread. Even this year when they've gone to nickel, which they'll probably do quite a bit Saturday, it's hurt the Cal rushing defense.
Just about any way you look at it, UCLA's offense should win this game.
Even though quite a bit is being made about whether Cal's mentally tough enough after starting 1-4, and the distractions around Tedford's job being on the line, don't expect Cal to fold up. Cal has been in all three of its recent losses until the very end. Expect the game to still be up for grabs in the fourth quarter.