UCLA's Offense vs. California's Defense
Remember a couple weeks ago, when we told you that Oregon State had probably the worst rush defense in the Pac-12 and UCLA might actually be able to run on them? While true at the time, that's no longer true -- say hello to your new worst rush defense in the Pac-12 (and worst overall defense!), California!
The Bears are awful defensively, with most of the reason for that coming on the ground. Sit down for a sec, because this might knock you over: Cal allows 6.3 yards per rush attempt. That's the third worst mark in the nation, ahead of just Nevada and Arkansas. It's anchored by a performance last week where the Bears allowed well over 300 yards to a Stanford offense that has admittedly righted the ship a bit but still isn't some elite unit. And, unlike Oregon State, they don't really make up for it with a decent pass defense either, as the Bears allow 7.6 yards per pass attempt which is in the bottom third of all of college football. All told, Cal allows 6.7 yards per play, which basically means, on average, you need one and a half plays to get a first down against the Bears.
The Bears are also one of the least disruptive teams in all of college football. They've recorded a sack percentage of under 4%, which puts them just ahead of Oregon State for last in the league, and they're averaging just 1.5 takeaways per game. What we're trying to say here is that they're not good, and there's not much at all to like about their defense.
One of the issues for Cal is that the Bears are fairly undersized up front, with the heaviest starter at just 285 pounds. Cal runs a pretty standard 4-3, and the player to watch out for in the group is sophomore defensive end Cameron Saffle (6'3, 245). Saffle has 3.5 of Cal's 15 total sacks this year, and has also recorded 8 tackles for loss. The two interior starters, redshirt junior James Looney (6'3, 280) and redshirt junior Tony Mekari (6'1, 285) just haven't been very good, with neither being particularly good run stopper, nor very disruptive. Of the two, Looney is the biggest playmaker, as he does have 2.5 sacks this year, but neither has been consistent. The other end is redshirt senior DeVante Wilson (6'5, 260), who has good size and length and has matched Saffle with 3.5 sacks this year. All told, the defensive line has accounted for 11 of Cal's 15 sacks this year, which is a pretty strong indication that this defense is not aggressive in the slightest in terms of blitzing.
Cal has a pair of decent linebackers in redshirt junior Mike linebacker Ray Davison (6'2, 225) and junior Will linebacker Devante Downs (6'3, 250). They are two of the top three tacklers for Cal this year, and Downs especially has done what he can to improve the run defense with 79 total tackles. Cal runs a ton of nickel, so you really won't see too many other linebackers besides Davison and Downs, but sophomore Jordan Kunaszyk (6'3, 235) will work in a fair amount behind Davison.
Cal's run defense has been so bad that teams haven't really tried to test the secondary much, which means the stats are probably a bit inflated for them. Qualitatively, it's not a particularly good secondary, though it is young in spots. Redshirt senior Khari Vanderbilt (6'1, 195) is a playmaker at safety, with 78 total tackles, an interception, and four pass breakups. He's joined at safety by redshirt freshman Jaylinn Hawkins (6'1, 200), who we actually liked quite at bit as a receiver coming out of high school but is still finding his way at safety. The starting corners will likely be junior Marloshawn Franklin (6'0, 180) and redshirt junior Darius Allensworth (6'0, 190). Allensworth and his backup, true freshman Josh Drayden (5'11, 175), have effectively split time this year, with both players suffering injuries at various points. It's not certain that either is at complete health right now, but they're both active for this game. Franklin has been the reliable one this year, with 7 pass breakups. Senior Cameron Walker (5'10, 185) is the nickel, and he'll be in on easily 80% of all downs, as Cal mostly runs nickel.
UCLA's offense is very bad. We've talked about it a lot. The issues haven't changed. 1) UCLA's quarterback is a fifth-year former walk-on who is doing the best he can, but that hasn't been good enough for the offense to generate enough through the air, thanks to 2) some miserably bad receiver play at times, with many of the rotational players not showing a consistent ability to catch the ball, which might be in part because they feel a lot of pressure to make up for 3) an abysmal running game that has seen musical chairs at running back as the coaching staff has vainly tried to find the right combination to make up for 4) an offensive line that has struggled to run block at all this year and has only been moderately better at pass blocking as part of the 5) new pro-style offensive scheme that has turned out to be a complete disaster.
So, UCLA has a quarterback who can't make all the throws, receivers who can't catch, running backs who look tentative running behind a bad offensive line, and an offensive scheme that seems poorly designed given the personnel at UCLA's disposal.
And it's still better than Cal's defense.
After seeing what UCLA was able to do on the ground against Oregon State, we feel reasonably confident in saying that the Bruins should be able to run the ball on one of the worst rush defenses in the nation. Hey, that's a step up from before the Oregon State game, when we weren't so sure.
The Bears legitimately don't present too many challenges. Their pass defense is a little better than their run defense, but they put so little pressure on the quarterback that Mike Fafaul should be able to find open guys when he needs to. UCLA can also probably count on a consistent rushing attack as well, which should keep even more pressure off of Fafaul.
The major concern for UCLA in this game is that they just won't care, but the same goes for Cal. Both teams are 4-7, and they're fairly evenly matched, even if they are wildly different teams. From a pure matchup standpoint, though, there's reason to think the Bruins could have success on this end of it.