Who Has the Edge?

Dave Woods and Ryan Gorcey break down the unit by unit matchups for Saturday's game and provide their predictions of the final score...

Matchup Preview | Oct. 12, 2013; 7:36PM, Rose Bowl Stadium, Los Angeles, Calif.
California Golden Bears
(1-3, 0-2 Pac-12)
#11 UCLA Bruins
(4-0, 1-0 Pac-12)
Cal DBs
After a Washington State game which saw both Stefan McClure and Kameron Jacksongo down, the Bears have lost their No. 1 corner (McClure), but luckily will still have the services of No. 2 corner Jackson, who has yet to allow a catch on his side of the field this season, and turned in a three-pick game against Hundley last season in Berkeley. The safety spot opposite Michael Lowe, and the other corner spot, though, remain areas of concern. Both spots are very shallow, as far as depth is concerned, though true freshman Cameron Walker has made tremendous strides at safety, and has only gotten better each game. Expect Adrian Lee to start opposite Jackson, but, make no mistake: losing McClure is a huge subtraction from an already taxed secondary and the Bears have already experimented with inserting Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs (the starting WR tandem) in at cornerback in some packages, after the injuries to McClure adn back-up corner Joel Willis. Brett Hundley has picked up more or less where he left off last season, once again putting together an excellent statistical season while showing his impressive athleticism and agility. Hundley is arguably a better runner than a year ago, having put on more muscle through his upper body, which allows him to break tackles easier. He had one of his worst games against New Mexico State two games ago, but rebounded with a very good performance against Utah, given the conditions he faced. He's been helped by a more than solid corps of wide receivers, led by Shaquelle Evans and Devin Fuller. Evans has been the go-to threat most of the year downfield, but Fuller has developed into an excellent dumpoff receiver when the pocket breaks down. Last week, Jordan Payton had a breakout game, and he may factor more and more into the game plan going forward, since he has such good size, speed, and hands. UCLA has used a variety of Y receivers this year, which takes the place of the tight end in UCLA's offense, and they range from 5'8 (Grayson Mazzone) to 6'4 (Nate Iese).
Cal LBs
As has been the case with the rest of the defense, the linebacking unit has been hit hard by injury, with starting SAM linebacker Jalen Jefferson going down last week, Natahn Broussard going down with an ACL during fall camp, and both Michael Barton and Khairi Fortt missing time due to injury. However, both Fortt and Barton will be ready for this weekend, which certainly helps bolster the defense, but without any kind of consistent push from the defensive line -- which has found mobile quarterbacks particularly vexing -- and a very inexperienced secondary, a piecemeal linebacking corps is going to have a hell of a time trying to keep track of Hundley and the other facets of the UCLA running game.

Many pundits questioned how UCLA would replace Johnathan Franklin this season, given Franklin's record-breaking play last year. While there is no single player on UCLA's running back depth chart with the talent and experience of Franklin, the offensive line has improved so much from a year ago that such a player really isn't a necessity to generate a good running attack. This week, UCLA will break in a new starter in Paul Perkins, who'll take over for Jordon James, who sprained his ankle last week against Utah. Perkins is a one-cut runner much like Franklin and likes to work North-South, which might make him a better fit for UCLA's offense than James. Behind him, Steven Manfro and Malcolm Jones will both get work. Damien Thigpen, who was an explosive threat last year, should also get some action for the first time this season after suffering an ACL injury against USC in November of last season.
Cal DL
The Cal defensive line was very effective last year containing the UCLA run game and Hundley, but this season, the Bears have a new scheme (a 4-3), a new defensive coordinator and have lost their two most effective pass rushers in Chris McCain (dismissed from the team) and Brennan Scarlett (still on the shelf with a hand issue). While the Bears will likely bring Kyle Kragen and Puka Lopa off the edge, the real yeoman's work will be done inside byViliami Moala and DeAndre Coleman. If the two inside guys can get some pressure on Hundley and plug up the inside run, it will help a lot on the edge, but that edge is still very young, at times, and when not young, is very weak. The defensive line has only accounted for 3.5 sacks in five games, though Coleman -- an NFL prospect -- has finally shown some life over the past two games.

Left tackle Torian White will sit out the remainder of the regular season, at least, after breaking his ankle and tearing a ligament in his leg against Utah last week. White was arguably UCLA's best tackle, and the injury certainly weakens the unit. Simon Goines, who started out the year at left tackle but switched to right two weeks ago, will move back to left, and true freshman Caleb Benenoch will start at right tackle. Benenoch will start next to true freshman right guard Alex Redmond, who has been an exceptionally impressive player so far this year. Redmond may be UCLA's best freshman offensive lineman since Jonathan Ogden. Amazingly, we made it this far without mentioning Xavier Su'a-Filo, the left guard. Su'a-Filo is a huge factor in the running game, with great mobility that allows him to get out in front of outside runs. UCLA is expecting that many teams going forward will try to overload the right side of the line and force the true freshmen offensive linemen into making quick decisions.
Cal QBs/WRs
Jared Goff has had a tremendous true freshman season back of center, and part of that has been due to the big weapons on the outside -- Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs -- while a large part of his success can also be attributed to the fact that Cal has -- as of yet -- not had much of a running game. The Bears have had to throw the ball, and while the deep pass has seemed a bit of a 50/50 proposition at times, Goff has obliged with stellar numbers, completing 59.4% of his passes with a 133.19 PER. The nine touchdowns are nice, but the five picks are a convern, especially because at times, he's looked like a freshman, trying to force the ball downfield when Cal is down on the scoreboard. The best remedy for that? Don't get down early. But, that task will fall on the offensive line and the running game. UCLA's secondary hadn't really been tested until the Utah game this past week, but it's safe to say that the young defensive backs passed their first test admirably. UCLA recorded six interceptions, with two going to safety Anthony Jefferson alone. UCLA had to replace its entire starting secondary from a year ago, but so far this year, you might actually be able to make the argument that the current secondary is better than last year's senior-laden lineup.Randall Goforth has been the leader of the unit at one safety spot, and young corners Fabian Moreau and Ishmael Adams have been good in coverage so far. This weekend, obviously, will be their biggest challenge to date.
Cal RBs
Khalfani Muhammd has supplanted Brendan Bigelow as the No. 1 tailback, though, in this offense, that's more of an in-name-only title. Still, though, after Bigelow fumbled once in the red zone and once on kickoff return last week, Muhammad is going to see his role really expand, though that won't mean that Bigelow is completely erased. In fact, look for Bigelow to get the ball in some different ways, in order to exploit his shiftiness in space. Don't sleep on Daniel Lasco, who's one tough runner, and perhaps the most physical of the three. Last, but not least, Jeffrey Coprich has proved his worth over the past two weeks, and should get some carries in the game, as he's been very dependable and hasn't put the ball on the ground once. The strength of the defense, and arguably the team, UCLA's linebacker unit may be among the fastest from sideline to sideline in the country. Anthony Barr is the obvious star among the group, with the preseason accolades and excellent year so far, but, for those closely observing the team this year, his play has been overshadowed by the exceptional work of true freshman linebacker Myles Jack. Jack starts at outside linebacker, but also backs up inside while playing a pseudo-safety role in nickel packages. He's a do-everything player, with the ability to bull rush offensive tackles as well as cover slot receivers. Between the two are Jordan Zumwalt and Eric Kendricks, who are potentially All-Pac-12 selections in their own ho-hum little ways. Both players are excellent in pursuit. .
Cal OL
As battered as the Cal defense has been, the Bears have taken two equally-debilitating blows up front on offense, with starting center Chris Adcock and starting right guard Matt Cochran both going down. Last week, redshirt senior and Campbell Trophy semifinalist Mark Brazinski filled in ably for Adcock, but without much continuity up front, the run game has really suffered, and it wasn't even that strong to begin with. So far this season, the line has allowed a Pac-12-worst 17 sacks, which doesn't bode well for young Jared Goff against a pressure-based defense headed by Barr (a conference-best 8.0 TFL on his own, while the Cal defensive line as a whole has only tallied 12.5 all season) and Myles Jack. UCLA's defensive line has probably taken a step back from a year ago with the loss of DAtone Jones to the NFL and the loss of Owamagbe Odighizuwa to a hip injury in the offseason. Luckily for UCLA, it still returns two of three starters from a year ago on the defensive line, and Cassius Marsh, in particular, has been impressive to start the year. He had a big game against Utah, recording the second most tackles on the team. Ellis McCarthy, who has started at left defensive end, will almost certainly sit out the game after suffering a head injury against Utah. In his place, look for true freshman Eddie Vanderdoes to get the nod. Vanderdoes has been very good for a true freshman this year, and we'd expect him to keep improving throughout the season.
Cal Special Teams
UCLA Special Teams
Chris Harper will replace Bryce Treggs at punt returner, and after Bigelow fumbled a kickoff last week, Muhammad will take his rightful place back at the goal line this weekend. Those two -- Harper and Muhammad -- are very dynamic returners, and Muhammad is one step away from breaking a return touchdown every time he touches the football. After a miserable weekend in Eugene two games ago, Cal is still No. 10 in the league in punt coverage, but first in kickoff coverage. Place kicker Vincenzo D'Amato has hit the most field goals of any Pac-12 boot man, coming away with points on 11 of 12 tries. Punter Cole Leininger is the third-best punter in the league, as far as average punt distance, booting his drives an average of 42.2 yards. Frankly, if you take out the two Bralon Addison punt return touchdowns, the special teams may be the strongest unit on this team, period. UCLA's kicking game hasn't been particularly strong this year, with a true freshman punter in Sean Covington and an at-times shaky placekicker in Ka'imi Fairbairn. Where the Bruins have been good this year is in returns. Steven Manfro at kick returner has broken a couple of long ones this year, and Shaquelle Evans as the punt returner has been shockingly good. Neither is a burner, but both have enough shake to hit the second level of coverage units.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: This defense has to show me something before I believe. Granted, Cal is starting almost an entirely second-or-worse-string defense, but that doesn't change the facts on the field. This unit is young, green and subject to mental gaffes, and that -- more than anything -- is what will shape this game. If the defense can't get off the field, it won't matter how many yards the offense puts up -- and it will be a lot of yards, mark my words. That said, I'm excited to see Goff against this linebacking corps and secondary. Throwing out his 15 snaps in a monsoon up in Eugene, and this is the most intriguing defense he's faced. Prediction: UCLA 42, Cal 27. California has one of the more explosive passing attacks that UCLA has faced this year, so it's difficult to project that the largely inexperienced UCLA secondary will keep those talented receivers entirely in check. That being said, since Cal is probably ready to pick up intramural players for its defense, we can expect that UCLA will have a pretty good offensive day. Cal will score, but UCLA will score a lot more. PREDICTION: Bruins 52, Bears 24.

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