In what stage of the Sonny Dykes rebuild would you say Cal is in at the moment and how much more time does he have as the Pac-12 North experiences a shift in power?
Ryan Gorcey: Man, starting off with the tough one. I'd say things were right on track after last year, but the Bears have seen a rash of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, and some lackluster recruiting hasn't helped.
Cal is down four linebackers from last season that they thought they'd have -- Jake Kearney (injury retirement), Hardy Nickerson (graduate transfer), Michael Barton (graduate transfer) and Derron Brown (broken hand) -- and have been decimated at safety, with Brown (recruited as a safety) down, as well as A.J. Greathouse (shoulder), Griffin Piatt (injury retirement), Damariay Drew (ACL), Evan Rambo (ACL), Luke Rubenzer (biceps), Chibuzo Nwokocha (ankle) and DePriest Turner (Achilles).
Cal lost a game it shouldn't have (Oregon State), caught USC at the wrong time and then failed to take advantage of a down Stanford team. The defense has been non-competitive against the run (last in the nation), and with the attrition in the defensive backfield, they're now very susceptible to the pass. Opponents are annihilating the Bears when it comes to halftime adjustments (outscoring Cal 107-51 in the third quarter), meaning that the run game -- which returned its top three most productive backs and virtually its entire starting offensive line from last season -- has been abandoned, in favor of the pass. It's a big step back that will have Dykes on the hot seat next season.
UCLA takes a lot of pride in its secondary but obviously has its hands full this weekend with Davis Webb. What has made him effective in Dykes' system and where does he show a vulnerability, if any?
Gorcey: Webb tends to go to his right (where Chad Hansen resides) more than he goes to the left (leaving dangerous Brandon Singleton and Jordan Duncan out in the cold more often than not), and he's more of a gun-slinger than Jared Goff, so he'll throw into double coverage. He hasn't really been hurt by that, though, throwing 12 picks to 35 touchdowns. That said, his interceptions tend to come in bunches: He threw three against San Diego State, and three against Washington.
What helps Webb is that this offense has a lot of quick game in it, and he can get the ball out as quickly as Goff, and has arguably a stronger arm, with weapons to make that a factor, in Hansen and five-star freshman Demetris Robertson, who has five catches of over 50 yards this season.
Webb isn't mobile, but like Goff, he's mobile enough to slide the pocket and move away from pressure. Cal's sacks-allowed percentage is just 2.88% -- seventh-best in the nation. Part of that is due to a veteran line, but a lot of that is due to Webb's ability to sense pressure.
Chad Hansen has a major role in the Bear Raid offense and has been a headache for opponents all year. How does he manage to get the better of so many defensive backs?
Gorcey: Hansen is deceptively fast, and the size he put on over the offseason has allowed him to give as good as he gets, in the physicality department. He doesn't look it, but Hansen is a legit 6-foot-2, 205 pounds. He was a sprinter in high school, and he's been able to keep that speed despite the added weight (he's about 30 pounds heavier than he was as a prep athlete). He has some of the best ball skills I've seen, and last year, the Bears had Kenny Lawler one-handing everything in sight. He's caught three passes (and that's just off the top of my head) with his arms wrapped around a defensive back, and has remarkable body control, with two receptions along the sidelines that saw him vault into the air, with a defender wrapped around him like a Snuggie, and manage to get a foot in-bounds, with one of them requiring almost a full twist to do it.
Obviously not a good year defensively for Cal. UCLA's offense hasn't been all that effective but what areas could you see the Bruins exploiting Saturday?
Gorcey: "Not a good year," is actually kind. The Bears are dead last in the nation in scoring defense (45.55 points per game), second-to-last in rushing yards allowed per game (290.9), and 110th or worse in the nation in red zone defense (92.31%), rushing first downs (14.09 per game), rushing touchdowns allowed (2.91 per game), sacks (1.36 per game), sacks per opponent passing attempt (0.04), tackles for loss (4.27 per game), opponent third-down conversion (49.32%), opponent plays for first downs or touchdowns (39.06%) and opponent plays resulting in a turnover/sack/TFL (8.94%). Cal's 2013 defense was horrendous, but this bunch is bucking to unseat it as the worst statistical defense in FBS history. Cal allowed 529.6 yards per game that season, and this year's edition is allowing 541.8.
So far, this team has lost 91 man-games due to injury on defense, with four players the Bears thought they'd have going into last offseason missing the entire campaign due to season-ending injuries or retirement.
All that is to say that UCLA can exploit just about whatever it wants. Cal almost certainly won't have top corner Darius Allensworth back (he wasn't in pads during Tuesday's open practice), and while they may get freshman defensive tackle Chris Yaghi back (he was in pads, after missing the last four games with a foot), helping to stiffen up the middle (which had been without Yaghi, JuCo transfer Rusty Becker and redshirt freshman stud Luc Bequette for much of the season), but I wouldn't be shocked if the Bruins run for twice their season average, or if Cal makes Mike Fafaul look like Josh Rosen.
What are your expectations for this finale and which reeling program do you expect to end on a good note?
Gorcey: UCLA can't run, and Cal can't defend the run. Fafaul has limited down-field arm strength, but the Bears can't tackle, which tells me there should be a lot of yards after catch for the Bruins. The Bears' one true strength -- pass protection and the down-field passing game -- are countered by the Pac-12's leading tackler in Jayon Brown and the nightmarish Takkarist McKinley up front, with a stout back end that's forced 15 picks this season. To me, this says UCLA strikes early, holds down what rushing Cal will try to muster and force the Bears into passing to play catch-up. That equates to Webb forcing the ball into coverage. The one area in which I think the Bears may be able to make some hay could be the short game, drawing defenders in by hitting speedy Bug Rivera, physical Jordan Veasy and Duncan over the middle against the nickel backs, and maybe opening up the edges for the likes of Hansen and Robertson. It's not going to be pretty, no matter who comes out on top, but I think the numbers weigh heavily in favor of UCLA, now that I have them all in front of me.