Facts and Factors
• UCLA travels north to take on the California Bears in Berkeley Saturday.
• The game is scheduled for a 4:00 p.m. kickoff, and to be televised by ESPN 2. Mark Jones, Rod Gilmore and Quint Kessenich will be calling the action.
• UCLA and Cal have identical records: 4-7 overall and 2-6 in the Pac-12.
• It's the 87th time the two sister schools have met on the football field, with UCLA holding a 53-32-1 edge all-time.
• UCLA won last year's match-up at the Rose Bowl, 40-24. Unranked UCLA beat #20-ranked Cal, with Josh Rosen completing 39 passes for 399 yards and three touchdowns. Rosen's 39 completions was at the time a UCLA record for most completions in a game, which was then shattered this year by Mike Fafaul when he completed 57 in the loss to Utah. Last year was also the game that UCLA placekicker Ka'imi Fairbairn kicked a UCLA record 60-yarder.
• UCLA has won the last three against the Bears, but there still is a vivid memory of the loss at Berkeley in 2012 when the #20-ranked Bruins were beaten soundly, 43-17, by a struggling Cal team in Jim Mora's first season.
• The win in 2014 by UCLA was the Bruins' first in 16 years in Berkeley, going 0-7 from 1998 to 2014.
• Between 1972 and 1989, UCLA beat the Bears 18 times in a row, the longest winning steak against any UCLA opponent.
• Since then, Cal leads the series 14-12.
• Sonny Dykes (47) is in his fourth year in Berkeley, with a record of 15-26. It was looking like Dykes was turning around Cal, going 1-11 in 2013, 5-7 in 2014 and then 8-5 last year, but has now had a set-back of a season for 2016. Dykes made a name for himself as the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech under Mike Leach, being one of the principal architects of the Air Raid offense. He went on to be the OC at Arizona, then the head coach at Texas Tech before being hired as Cal’s head guy after the firing of Jeff Tedford. Dykes is from Texas, and hired a staff with some Texans at Cal, and the thought has been that it's been difficult for Dykes and his staff to recruit California kids to Cal. The feeling is that Dykes was riding the talent of the #1 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, quarterback Jared Goff, for those first three seasons and now doesn't have much of an easy road to success in Berkeley. After his 8-5 season last year, Dykes received a contract extension and raise last winter, but the general feeling is that he'll have to fix his incredibly porous defense or his seat will heat up next season. There has always been some sentiment that Dykes would like to return to his native Texas, and there are rumors that he could be a candidate for the open Baylor head coaching job.
• UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley is ranked second in the nation for tackles for loss per game (1.8) and fifth in the nation in sacks per game (1.0).
• UCLA linebacker Jayon Brown ranks first in the Pac-12 in tackles (105) and 16th in the nation in tackles per game (9.5).
• Cal plays its games on campus at Memorial Stadium, which currently seats 62,467 and utilizes Matrix Turf. The most-noteworthy recent news about the stadium is that it cost $321 million to renovate it in 2011, which has ultimately turned into $440 million in debt. In accordance with the debt payment structure, Cal has until the year 2112 to pay it off but intends to do it by the 2050s or so.
• The debt of the stadium renovation has contributed to the Cal athletic department's sizeable deficit, and it's on-going loss of about $20 million per year. The feeling is that it will cause the Cal athletic department to have to downsize, which will probably put some non-revenue Cal sports on the chopping block.
• UCLA was, of course, founded in 1919, when the California State Legislature created the Southern Branch of the University of California, which then took over the facilities of the Los Angeles branch of the Los Angeles State Normal School.
• The Golden Age of Cal football is considered the 1920s, when Cal football, led by coach Andy Smith, went 50 games straight undefeated, the third-longest unbeaten streak in NCAA football history. During Smith's tenure, Cal won three NCAA recognized national titles, four Pacific Coast Conference championships and made three trips to the Rose Bowl.
• There is a chance that the winner of UCLA/Cal could earn a berth in a bowl game. It's expected that possibly a handful of 5-7 teams will have a chance at a bowl berth, depending on the school's APR.
• UCLA is favored by 3 points.
• The weather forecast calls for a high of 57 degrees Saturday in Berkeley and a 70% chance of rain.
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.
California's Offense vs. UCLA's Defense.
We went through the myriad ways that California's defense is terrible in the first part of this preview, so it bears mentioning on this side that Cal's offense in the good to very good range. The Bears are 12th in the country in the offensive S&P+ rating, and they've done it, surprisingly, through being pretty good both running and passing the ball. They haven't been particularly explosive, but they've been pretty consistent in both their running game and passing game, averaging six yards per play overall, with 4.6 per rush attempt and 7 per pass attempt. They're averaging 2.67 points per drive, which is hovering around a top 25 level.
So they're good -- maybe not the best offense UCLA has faced, but probably in the top three or so.
Cal's offense was expected to take a bigger step back this year, but the Bears have been aided quite a bit by the last-minute offseason addition of grad transfer quarterback Davis Webb (6'5, 230). Webb, who transferred in from Texas Tech, has been a natural fit for Sonny Dykes' offensive system. He has thrown 35 touchdowns this year against 12 interceptions, with a 61% completion rate, despite nursing a hand injury of some kind over the last month or so. Considering Cal was going to be in real trouble if Webb hadn't transferred in, his production has been very fortuitous. If there's one note, it's that his accuracy has probably not been what Dykes would like to see in his Air Raid-y type system. With so many short passes involved in that scheme, getting nearer to 70% is the norm for the truly top level Air Raid quarterbacks. Luke Falk, as one example, has hovered right around 70% each of the last two years.
Like we said up top, Cal has been a decent enough running team this year as well, and they've used a handful of backs. The two main guys at this point in the year are senior speedster Khalfani Muhammad (5'9, 170) and junior Tre Watson (5'10 195). Watson is more of a one-cut back with good vision, while Muhammad is a truly explosive player, and each of them will get roughly the same number of carries. Muhammad is averaging 5.8 yards per carry, while Watson is averaging an even five. Combined they've recorded almost 1350 yards this year along with six touchdowns. They were helped a bit at the beginning of the year by having Vic Enwere as a power back, but he was lost for the year in October after an ankle injury. For the most part, Muhammad and Watson will be the main guys in this one.
The receiving corps took some hits in the offseason as well, but the Bears have done a good job replacing the departed players. Redshirt junior Chad Hansen (6'2, 205) has been Webb's favored target, with Hansen going over 1000 yards this year to go along with 11 touchdowns. There are two shocking things about Hansen -- first, he is a former walk-on, and second, he missed two games this year and still put up those kinds of numbers. The second most important target for the Bears is true freshman and former five-star Demetris Robertson (6'0, 175). Robertson has basically been as advertised, with 49 catches for 761 yards and 7 touchdowns as a true freshman. At slot receiver, Melquise Stovall (5'9, 190), who UCLA recruited a bit, and redshirt senior Bug Rivera (5'8, 175) will both get a ton of time, and both are pretty slippery and difficult to cover. There are some other rotational guys who are talented, and it's fair to say that UCLA will have its hands full against this receiving corps.
On the offensive line, the Bears have some experience. They've been studly this year at preventing sacks, which is so key in an Air Raid system. They're second in the Pac-12 behind only USC in terms of getting their quarterback sacked, at a rate of just 2.88% of all drop backs. That's elite level pass protection. As we said above, Cal is also pretty decent running the ball, so it's fair to say that this offense line is probably one of the better ones UCLA has faced this year. From left to right the Bears will start mammoth junior Aaron Cochran (6'8, 350), senior Chris Borrayo (6'3, 325), sophomore Addison Ooms (6'4, 295), redshirt junior Dwayne Wallace (6'5, 330), and redshirt senior Steven Moore (6'6, 310). That's three returning starters from last year, and probably the biggest offensive line UCLA has gone up against.
The Bruins have been a good defensive team this year, last game against USC and a previous ugly showing against Utah notwithstanding. Senior defensive end Takkarist McKinley has been one of the elite ends in the country despite nursing a season-long groin injury. The defensive line as a whole has been pretty solid all year, with UCLA also getting very good contributions from defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes and tackle/end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner.
Linebacker play has also improved quite a bit from the very beginning of the year, and for most of the season now, UCLA's linebackers have actually played fairly well. Kenny Young is a much better player right now than he was at this point last year, though he still has some room to grow. Jayon Brown is leading the Pac-12 in tackles, and has been impressive.
The secondary has been a strength much of the year, but faltered a bit last week against USC's talented and athletic receivers. Fabian Moreau more or less held his own against JuJu Smith-Schuster, but still got hit a few times for big plays. He did make a nice read and an interception at one point. Nathan Meadors, his counterpart, struggled more, and safety play wasn't great in general, with Randall Goforth especially getting picked on by USC's offense. The Bruins will have to hope for a bounce back performance from the secondary in this one, because it would be a shame for their mostly excellent play this season to be marred by two substandard performances to end the year.
This should be the actually fun side of this matchup. After getting weakness on weakness with UCLA's offense vs. Cal's defense, this is truly strength on strength.
UCLA handled Washington State's system pretty well, and Cal's is similar, if not exactly the same, so there's that to consider. Washington State was still able to score in the high 20s though, and if UCLA allows Cal to do the same, that could be difficult for the Bruins to overcome, even with UCLA's offense getting a favorable matchup against Cal's bad defense. As has been the case for much of the year, UCLA really will need the defense to step up and win this side of the matchup in a profound way, and it'll be interesting to see if they're up to it.
We'd like to see UCLA bring a little bit of pressure. Cal's offensive line, while not quite as good as USC's, is quite good, and as we saw last week, against a good offensive line, UCLA's defensive front wasn't quite up to the task of generating consistent pressure with four. Bringing an extra guy a little bit more often would be advised in this one, since Webb also isn't as mobile as Darnold, and won't flash that same escapability. Webb isn't incredibly accurate, so a little bit of pressure could go a long way.
This is also a tough matchup against Cal's receivers. The Bears have legitimate receiver talent, and a week after the secondary had a lot of trouble against USC's receivers, it'll be interesting to see if the Bruins are put to the task of stopping another very talented receiving corps.
Redshirt junior Matt Anderson (6'0, 190) is a very good college kicker, making 17 of 21 kicks this year with a long of 47. Redshirt sophomore punter Dylan Klumph (6'3, 230) is also pretty solid, with 47 punts and an average of 44.7 yards per punt this year. He has downed 17 of those 47 within the 20. Cal will also do some quick kicks with Webb from time to time, and he's been good at that, with an average of 40 yards per punt and three of his six downed inside the 20.
Cal's return game is nothing special, but the Bears do have Muhammad back there on kickoffs, and he has the kind of speed that could get very dangerous if he finds some lanes. Cal's special team coverage is garbage, as the Bears allow an astounding 12 yards per punt and have given up three touchdown returns this year.
UCLA's kicking game isn't great, but it has stabilized in recent weeks, with freshman J.J. Molson earning the uninhibited starting spot over the last two weeks. He has had two kicks blocked in the last three games, but they both looked like they were issues in the blocking scheme. Punter Austin Kent has been out with what Jim Mora described as a bruised knee, and Stefan Flintoft has taken his place. Flintoft was fine last week against USC, kicking 7 punts for 280 yards.
UCLA's return game is also not good, as the Bruins haven't generated much consistent yardage with Ishmael Adams either on punts or on kickoffs. The Bruins are somehow even worse than Cal on kick and punt return coverage, with the Bruins giving up an average -- an average -- of 13.5 yards per punt and 24.47 yards per kickoff. UCLA has also given up two kick return touchdowns this year as well. After special teams were a major strength for UCLA over the first three years under Mora, they've been basically a disaster for the last two seasons, especially in terms of kick return coverage.
It would be foolish to predict this game strictly from a matchup standpoint. Thanks to the awful vagaries of Pac-12 scheduling, this game has many soft factors working against it, but fundamentally, both teams are 4-7 and have very little to play for at this point in the season. Adding to that, both teams are fresh off of losses to their arch-rivals, and that always takes an emotional toll. It wouldn't be a shock to see a very lethargic performance from both of these teams to start the game.
The question is which one will care more. Will it be UCLA, trying to get to a bowl game on the strength of a 5-7 record and a high APR? Will it be Cal, trying to get one last win for Dykes before he takes literally the first job opening in Texas that shows interest in him? We really can't say. This game has the feel of one of those mid-tier bowl games that UCLA has always found a way to lose over the last dozen years.
From a matchup standpoint, the game strikes us as fairly even. Cal's offense can probably score on UCLA's defense, at least a little, but UCLA's offense, that dreaded beast, might actually be able to do something against Cal's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad defense. This one could be a back-and-forth, close game, and it wouldn't be a stunner for it to be decided on one special teams play.
Ultimately, we come back to the question of which team will care more, though, and with this being Senior Day for the Bears, and Cal playing at home, we're going to side with the Bears, who will push UCLA to 4-8 and, mercifully, end the 2016 Bruin season.