• UCLA will host the California Bears at the Rose Bowl this Saturday at 7:36 PST. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN2, with Mike Patrick, Ed Cunningham, and Jeannine Edwards calling the action.
• Cal is 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the Pac-12, losing to Northwestern (44-30) at home, beating Portland State (37-30) at home, and then losing to Ohio State (52-34) at home, Oregon on the road (55-16), and Washington State at home (44-22) last week.
• UCLA is 4-0 and ranked 11th in the Associated Press poll and 13th in the USA Today Coaches poll.
• The Bruins lead the all-time series with the Bears, 50-32-1, and have won five of the last six meetings between the two at the Rose Bowl. Cal last won in Pasadena in 2009, when the Bears beat Rick Neuheisel's best team at UCLA 45-26. Prior to that, the Bears hadn't won at UCLA since 1999. Like the Bears in Pasadena, UCLA has had its own string of futility in Berkeley, not having won at Cal since 1998.
• Last year, UCLA lost badly to Cal at Berkeley, with Brett Hundley putting together one of his worst games, throwing four interceptions. UCLA lost 43-17 in that game, but went on to win the next five games. Based off margin of victory, it was UCLA's biggest loss of the season.
•Sonny Dykes is in his 1st year as the Cal head coach, after moving over from Louisiana Tech in the offseason. As a head coach, Dykes has a 23-19 record overall, and his last two years at Louisiana Tech were his best, with the Bulldogs going to a bowl game in 2011 and then achieving a 9-3 overall record in 2012. Dykes is part of the Hal Mumme/Mike Leach coaching tree, and runs an Air Raid-style offense that has put up huge numbers. Last year with Louisiana Tech, Dykes led the country in both scoring offense (51.50 points per game) and total offense (577.92 yards per game). So far at Cal, Dykes has faced tougher sledding, with Cal currently ranked 77th in the country in points per game (27.8) and 17th in the country in total offense (515.6 yards per game).
• Dykes takes over for Jeff Tedford, who was unable to sustain his early success at California after initially turning the Bears into a nationally relevant program. Last year, the Bears went 3-9, which was enough for the Cal athletic department to jettison Tedford, who held an 82-57 record as the Cal head coach, with just two losing seasons in 11 years.
• True freshman quarterback Jared Goff has had an impressive start to his college career playing in Dykes' pass-heavy system. Already, through five games, he has thrown for 1821 yards, which is astounding given that in one of those games, he only threw for 11 yards before being taken out. In the four games where he played the majority of the snaps, he has averaged just over 450 yards passing.
• Heading into the game, Cal has lost a significant amount of depth throughout the defense, with just three projected starters from the preseason depth chart now starting. It's gotten so bad in the defensive backfield that there's been talk this week of having wide receivers Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper play both ways.
• Cal is an exceptionally young team, with 15 freshmen listed as starters. By contrast, UCLA will likely start at most seven freshmen, including special teams.
• 17 true freshmen have seen the field for UCLA this season, which ties the school record. Including redshirt freshmen, UCLA has played 32 freshmen this season.
• UCLA has opened the season 4-0, which is the first time since 2005 that UCLA has been undefeated at this point in the season. That year, UCLA went 8-0 before losing at Arizona, 52-14.
• This weekend's game is expected to be close to a sellout, which would be UCLA's first of the season after having non-conference home games against New Mexico State and Nevada.
• In third quarters of games this year, UCLA has outscored the opposition 65-0, and over a period from the second quarter of the Nebraska game to the third quarter against New Mexico State, UCLA outscored its opponents 83-0.
• The game will mark the fourth of five games this year where UCLA will kickoff at 7:00 PM PST or later.
• The early betting line for the game is UCLA -25.
• The weather forecast calls for a high of 82 degrees Saturday, with a 0% chance of rain. By game time, temperatures should drop into the mid-60's, and may get as low as the high 50's toward the end of the game.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. CALIFORNIA'S DEFENSE
For the Cal defense it truly is one of those desperate, can't-catch-a-break, horrible situations that beset a team or a unit every once in a while.
Going into the season, Cal's defense wasn't projected to be an exceptionally good one. They had switched to a 4-3, to try to take advantage of some of their talent up front, and they were definitely in a transition period, with average talent under a new head coach.
Now, five games into the season, add to it that the defense has lost eight projected starters due to injury or other issues, and the Bear D is at Defcon 1.
This is desperation time. Cal's Sonny Dykes admitted that he has been trying to get star wide receivers Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs some time at defensive back and that they might play both ways this week. A Cal website facetiously put an ad in Craig's List for anyone who can play defensive back (perhaps not that facetiously).
The biggest blow came last week against Washington State when perhaps Cal's best defensive player, cornerback Stefan McClure, their leader and captain, went down with an injury to his knee, the same one that had knocked him out for over a year due to ACL and MCL tears (He'll undergo surgery this week). Sophomore Joel Willis (5-11, 195) also went down with a head/neck injury, which left the Bears with only three healthy corners. Dykes has said he won't burn the redshirt of some true freshman cornerbacks (mostly because they're recovering from injuries, too), so he's trying to make do with what he has available and healthy. Junior Kameron Jackson (5-9, 175) was making his return to the field against Washington State, but after a few snaps realized his injured ankle wasn't ready. The tentative word out of Berkeley is that Willis and Jackson will play Saturday, but we'd have to put at least Willis as questionable. That leaves the three – juniors Isaac Lapite (5-9, 190) and Adrian Lee (5-11, 200), and redshirt freshman Cedric Dozier (5-11, 175). Only one of the three was in the Cal two-deep heading into fall, and that was Lapite, and he has really struggled filling in recently. The former walk-on was repeatedly targeted by Washington State, with the Cougars isolating their bigger receivers against him, and he was flagged for PI a couple of times. Jackson and Lee are slated to start, but we expect to see many of these names on the field Saturday.
The safety positions aren't much better off. The Bears lost safety starter Avery Sebastian in the season opener, and sometime-starter Alex Logan announced Sunday he was retiring due to medical reasons. They've moved sophomore h-back Maximo Espitia (6-2, 210) to safety for depth. Redshirt freshman Damariay Drew (6-0, 205) has been starting at free safety, but he's been spotty, so this week Cal is opting for true freshman Cameron Walker (5-11, 180). Junior Michael Lowe (5-11, 215) is now the other starter, and he was the focus of some attention last week against WSU. He intercepted a pass and returned it for seemingly
|Defensive lineman Deandre Coleman.|
The linebackers group is thin, too, and Dykes said that some running backs could get a chance to work as linebackers this week. Starting sophomore SAM Linebacker Jalen Jefferson (6-2, 230) suffered what looked like a pretty serious head injury against WSU. He hasn't practiced yet this week, but Dykes said he expects to him to play. Junior Lucas King (6-3, 230) stepped in last week and played decently. Middle linebacker Nick Forbes is the team's active leader in career tackles but hasn't been able to play more than spot minutes this season due to a long-time back injury. Redshirt freshman Hardy Nickerson (6-1, 230), the son of the former NFL player of the same name, has been at middle linebacker, and has had moments but is still getting his feet wet. Junior WILL linebacker and Penn State transfer Khairi Fortt (6-2, 240), the one guy who hasn't been seriously injured, has been the anchor, leading the team in tackles (36).
Up front, Cal has also dealt with some impactful injuries, missing three starters – defensive ends Brennan Scarlett and Chris McCain, and defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil. They really miss all of them; without Scarett and McCain, the Bears are really struggling to get pressure on the quarterback and, without Jalil, who was starting to come into his own, the rushing defense has big holes. Replacing Scarlett is senior Dan Camoreale (6-3, 250), who is just a serviceable veteran, while filling in for McCain at the rush end spot is junior Kyle Kragen (6-3, 255), who has gotten some penetration but not consistently. Junior Viliami Moala (6-2, 315) was the big-time recruit that hasn't lived up to the hype just yet. The standout on the line is fifth-year mammoth senior defensive tackle Deandre Coleman (6-5, 315), who has been trying to make up for it all and doing a pretty good job of it, leading the team with 4.5 tackles for loss. He's big and strong, has a good first step and can get leverage on slower interior linemen.
UCLA's offense has to get back on track a bit after it was derailed in the second half of the Utah game. It was rolling, then it lost its starting left tackle (Torian White), its starting tailback (Jordon James) and quarterback Brett Hundley had an eye issue where he couldn't see clearly. It changed the entire tone and momentum of the game. UCLA's offense couldn't move the ball and went mostly to the ground game, where it wasn't greatly successful. Hundley had perhaps the best half of his career in the first half of Utah, and then looked like he was just trying to get through the second half. We have to think he was affected by his eye, whether it was a loss of a contact or he was shaken up a bit and couldn't see very well.
We fully expect Hundley to be back to full form against Cal, looking fine in practice this week.
Of course, UCLA doesn't provide injury updates, but we'd be surprised if James plays Saturday. We would expect him to take the week off to be ready for the showdown against Stanford. UCLA can afford to do that since Paul Perkins has looked very good so far this season, more of the downhill type of runner than the jitterbug type that James is. We expect Perkins to get the bulk of the carries against Cal, along with some reps from Steven Manfro, and possibly a few for returning tailback Damien Thigpen.
True freshman Caleb Benenoch stepped into the right tackle spot, and Simon Goines moved to the left, after White went down Thursday. Benenoch, for the most part, did pretty well for being thrown into a tough situation on the road. The issue now is that UCLA has a right side of its offensive line made up of two true freshmen, Benenoch and Alex Redmond. Redmond has been exceptional so far as a true freshman starter, but having two newbies on one side of your line could make opposing defenses want to try to overload that side, try to confuse them, etc. It will be interesting to see how Redmond and Benenoch respond.
What was perhaps the most encouraging from UCLA's offensive performance against Utah was the semi-emergence of receiver Jordan Payton. He had a number of receptions where, after the catch, he was just too big and too strong for the Utah defenders to bring down.
This is a no-brainer call. UCLA has the #4 offense in the nation (561 yards per game) and Cal has the #121 total defense (out of 123 teams), allowing 524 yards per game. The Bruins are 5th in scoring offense (48 points per game), and Cal is 121st (45 points). UCLA's rushing offense is 14th in the nation (259 yards/game), while the Bears are 110th (220 yards/game). Cal averages just one sack per game (110th in the nation) and UCLA is allowing just two per game.
Last week against Washington State, the Bear defense allowed the Cougars to gain a total of 570 yards, and WSU's Connor Halliday to throw for 521 yards. Halliday is just a decent quarterback who has some accuracy issues, but he had a huge amount of time to throw, with Cal sacking him just one time. Halliday had all day to look long or short and completed a whopping 41 of 67 passes. And Halliday isn't even a threat to run the ball like Hundley is.
If Cal gets back Jackson and Willis that should improve their chances to slow down UCLA's passing attack, but there are just so many injuries and issues with Cal's defense you just can't see it having that much impact, especially if the two are still not 100%. Like WSU did, expect UCLA to exploit the 5-9 Lapite, and also do what WSU did well (and what is a staple of the UCLA offense): get its running backs and F-backs out into the flat in space.
So, while it doesn't look good for Cal's secondary against UCLA's passing game, there is a completely different dimension here compared to Washington State – and that's UCLA's running game. Cal knew WSU couldn't run the ball well and still couldn't defend the Cougar passing attack, and couldn't even get a pass rush. What happens if Cal tries to dedicate more defenders to stopping UCLA's running game and they leave their beleaguered defensive backs in man coverage? What happens if it decides to go to a nickel for a vast majority of the time, like it did against Washington State, and allow UCLA to run the ball? Perkins has to be loving the opportunity he'll have on Saturday. Oregon, the week before Washington State, ran for 292 yards against the Bears.
We could completely see UCLA opting for a little ball control here, emphasizing its running game while trying to exploit Cal's secondary just enough to keep the defense honest. This way, if UCLA can sustain longer drives with somewhat of a ball-control game, it can keep Cal's potent offense off the field.
CALIFORNIA'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
This is the more evenly-matched and probably more interesting side of the game Saturday. It's the 17th-ranked offense in the country against the 34th-ranked defense. It's the 4th-ranked passing offense facing the nation's 29th-ranked passing defense.
There are some other pretty impressive stats about Cal's offense, in particular its true freshman quarterback Jared Goff (6-4, 205). Goff set an all-time Cal single-game record last week against Washington State when he passed for 504 yards. He leads all freshman quarterbacks in the nation, averaging 364 yards per game, which also puts him in third place overall nationally. What he's done so far this season it's an astounding accomplishment for a true freshman. Yes, Cal passes the ball 1,000 times a game (actually, 55 times) so his stats will be a bit inflated. But there's no denying that Goff is a phenomenal talent. He has a great natural feel for the position and uncanny accuracy for a freshman. And remember, he's not a redshirt freshman, like Brett Hundley was a year ago, but a true freshman. He does have some weaknesses, of course. He has been a bit prone to turnover, as you would expect from a true freshman quarterback throwing the ball 55 times a game. He's thrown 5 interceptions but also has fumbled the ball 5 times (or been responsible for the fumble). He isn't very mobile and isn't great at avoiding pressure, having been sacked 17 times. He does have a good feel for the pocket, especially for a freshman, but he just isn't greatly athletic. He is truly no real threat as a ball carrier.
Goff also has greatly benefitted from a stable of great receivers, perhaps the best in the Pac-12. The two stars are sophomores Chris Harper (6-0, 180) and Bryce Treggs (5-11, 180), who have 38 and 36
|Wide Receiver Bryce Treggs.|
But the receiving group doesn't end there. Junior Richard Rodgers (6-4, 245) is the size of a tight end but plays like a wide receiver, and he's a tough match-up physically. Sophomore Darius Powe (6-3, 210) is kind of in the same mold, another tough, physical guy who can catch a ball in traffic and shed tacklers, and there's freshman Kenny Lawler (6-3, 185), who has been a reliable short-yardage man.
Cal, too, of course, likes to throw to its running backs out of the backfield, and that's about the most work the Cal RBs get on any game day. Cal's running game is anemic at this point, but it's exactly what you would expect from a Mike-Leach style Air-Raid (or Bear-Raid, as Cal is calling it) offense. Remember Brendon Bigelow (5-10, 180)? Last year, when Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson were the primary backs, you tended to be more scared of back-up Bigelow, who would flash NFL-type, game-breaking talent. But in the new pass-first, pass-second and pass-third Cal offense, Bigelow just hasn't had the opportunities. And really, the offense just isn't geared for a running game. Bigelow, so far this season, in five games, has run the ball 74 times for 277 yards, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. And even Sonny Dykes admitted this week that Bigelow's confidence has taken a hit. For a rushing attack that is struggling, it also hasn't been very timely that they next best talent on the roster, true freshman Khalfani Muhammad (5-8, 175), has been injured for the last two weeks due to a concussion. He practiced this week and reportedly is running with the 1s. Muhammad, who is from Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, which is about 10 minutes from UCLA's campus (when there isn't Carmaggedon), is a speedy, quick tailback, who has some moves, but is all about trying to turn the corner and blow through a hole before you can even see him. Sophomore Daniel Lasco (6-1, 200) is the blue-collar type, but he and Bigelow combined for three fumbles last Saturday (In fact, they fumbled twice within the WSU five-yard line, which was devastating), so it looks like Dykes has turned to Muhammad.
The Cal offensive line has struggled. In this offense it's vital that it can pass block, and it has been spotty so far this season. Much of it can be attributed to opposing defenses recognizing Cal has no run game and that it's going to pass about 75% of the time, but some of it can be attributed to injuries. Starting center Chris Adcock was lost to a season-ending knee injury and starting right guard Matt Cochran is out while trying come back from an ankle sprain. Senior Mark Brazinski (6-3, 305) has taken over at center and done a solid job, and those close to the program feel that there hasn't been a drop-off with junior Alejandro Crosthwaite (6-4, 290) at right guard. Sophomore left tackle Freddi Tagaloa (6-8, 330) has been inconsistent protecting Goff's blindside, especially against particularly quick pass rushers. In practice this week, Cal has been running small linebackers and safeties at the right rush end spot against Tagaloa to try to simulate Anthony Barr's speed on the edge. Sophomore Jordan Rigsgee (6-4, 310) is the starting left guard and he and Tagaloa are supposed to be the power side of the line.
Last week against Washington State, Cougar linebacker/defensive end Kache Palacio gave Tagaloa everything he could handle, so now he gets Barr, who perhaps is the best defensive player in the country. The problem with double-teaming Barr, with UCLA's defense, is then it frees up
UCLA's secondary had a test last week against Utah and passed pretty clearly, getting six interceptions, being consistently disruptive in coverage and, except for a few bad angles, was good in run support. The anchor has been safety Randall Goforth so far this season, but last week his counterpart, Anthony Jefferson, had two very nice picks. The two starting corners, Ishmael Adams and Fabian Moreau, also have generally been very good and stepped up to the Utah challenge. Both have become very good cover corners, and showed it last week.
Cal's offense is obviously an explosive one. It's averaging 402 yards per game through the air and has the most completions over 50 yards in the nation (7). The Bear receivers are scary, and Goff has been uncanny as a true freshman to accomplish what he has in his first five games.
When you're, then, talking about whether a defense is effective against Cal it's not necessarily based on whether that defense shut down Cal's passing game, because you really can't shut it down completely. But it's possible to limit it significantly. Oregon has the 30th-ranked passing defense in the nation and it only conceded 176 passing yards to Cal two weeks ago. UCLA is currently ranked as the 29th-best passing defense in the nation. Yes, that Oregon game was a bit water-logged, and Oregon yanked Goff after only 7 passes (opting for redshirt freshman Zach Kline [6-2, 200]), but if there's a comparable match-up to UCLA-Cal, it's Oregon-Cal, in terms of personnel and scheme.
UCLA showed more aggressiveness in putting pressure on the quarterback last week against Utah, and it definitely paid off. The pass rush forced Utah's Travis Wilson into a number of bad throws and was responsible for many of those six interceptions. With Goff's inability to run (unlike Wilson), UCLA will be able to send even more pressure and hope to get to the young Cal quarterback who is prone to turnover, and not allow him to have enough time to find Harper and Treggs downfield consistently. With Cal's poor running game, if you can limit Cal to short passes, and keep Harper, Treggs and crew in front of you, they'll struggle to sustain enough scoring drives.
Cal, even though it can chew up big chunks of yardage, is 11th in the conference in scoring, averaging just 27.8 points per game. So, really, even though it's an offense that can run up big numbers in its passing game, it hasn't translated into many points yet this season. UCLA's defense is notorious for allowing offenses to gain a decent amount of yards but keep them out of the end zone when it has to.
Of course, this will be perhaps the biggest test of the season for UCLA's young secondary. But the best thing UCLA's secondary has going for it is the potential pass rush the UCLA defense can mount, and that guy they have named Barr who can menace a true freshman quarterback.
As the Bears are with their offense, they're a mixed bag on special teams, with some good elements and some poor elements.
Cal's field goal kicker, senior Vincenzo D'Amato (6-1, 305), is among the best in the Pac-12, having made 11 of 12 attempts so far this season, and three of four beyond 40 yards (a long of 46).
Cal's kickoff returnees, too, are a threat. Khalfani Muhammad hasn't broken one, but he's very fast and has come close. Bryce Treggs has been pulling most of the duty while Muhammad has been out for the last two games and he also had a few moments where you thought he could break it. The word is that Muhammad will return to kickoff return duty, but after taking over the starting tailback role and coming off the concussion, they could opt for Treggs. Brendan Bigelow, who has had fumble-itis as the starting tailback, fumbled a kickoff return, too, so he's out.
Punt returns haven't been great, mostly because the returner hasn't had much room. Treggs and Chris Harper have shared the duty, but this week it will go solely to Harper.
Cal's punter, sophomore Cole Leininger (6-1, 200), is solid, averaging 42 yards per punt, even though he's missed a good number of punts within the 20.
Cal has been very good on kickoff coverage, but poor on punt coverage. Oregon returned two punts for touchdowns two weeks ago.
A thing to watch: Cal likes its fake punts. Goff, who has the same number as Leininger, has lined up as a punter and threw a fourth-down pass for a first down.
UCLA's kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn seems to have settled in for his sophomore season, and is coming off one of his best performances last week against Utah. On the road, in bad weather, Fairbairn hit two through the middle of the uprights, one being a season-high 47-yarder. Freshman punter Sean Covington mis-hit a couple and has yet to find consistency.
Where the special teams match-up could get interesting is UCLA's punt return. The Bruins have done a great job in creating room for Shaquelle Evans, who is second in the Pac-12, averaging 19 yards per return, going up against Cal's punt return team that got burned twice against Oregon.
The Bears are reeling. They've faced three ranked teams in five weeks, and are now, with the Bruins, going up against their fourth in six weeks. They are racked with injuries. They have the nation's longest winless streak of any BCS team (9 games, going back to last season), since their only win this year so far was against FCS Portland State.
They are one of the worst teams in the nation in turnover margin (-1.4), while UCLA is coming off a game where it forced six turnovers.
Cal is last in sacks in the conference (5) and last in allowed sacks (17).
The Bears are last in opponents first downs in the Pac-12 (24), while UCLA is averaging the most per game in the conference (29.5).
Cal is bad at stopping opponents' third-down conversions (36.8%), while UCLA is #1 in the Pac-12 at 58.3%.
You would think perhaps Cal might actually have an advantage in penalties, since UCLA is so highly penalized, but no. UCLA is 11th in the conference, averaging 88 yards per game in penalties, but Cal is right there with the Bruins, 10th in the conference, averaging 72 yards (amazingly, Washington is last in the conference, averaging 91 penalized yards).
Cal has allowed every opponent this season to gain over 500 yards. Heck, Portland State put up 553 yards, and 245 yards rushing, and that was before the Cal defense had its full load of injuries.
Throw in the fact that, under Jim Mora, there have probably been two games in which the Bruins under-achieved, last year against Baylor and the game on the road in Berkeley. While players might not admit it, there is a bit of a revenge factor for UCLA, and for the UCLA coaching staff.
We expect UCLA to come out and try to run over the Bears in the first half, and send the dogs after Goff. Goff has only experienced one road game in his college career, at Oregon two weeks ago, and they yanked him after 7 throws, claiming he couldn't grip the ball in the rain. He's now going into his second road game in a sold-out Rose Bowl, and we'd expect him to experience some true freshman jitters. Hopefully, for his sake, he's never seen the tape of Anthony Barr plowing Matt Barkley.
While it might be smart of UCLA to go to a run-oriented attack since it has the chance to dominate the game with its rushing game, and keep Cal's offense off the field, we expect UCLA to come out with its usual offensive balance and, like it always does, use the hurry-up to wear down the opponent's defense. And Cal just doesn't have much of a defense left to wear down.
We expect that Goff and Treggs/Harper will have a few highlights Saturday, but not nearly as many as Hundley and UCLA's offense, or UCLA's defense.