California Preview

The Bruins face one of the best-coached teams in the conference in California Saturday, and probably one of the least talented. UCLA has shown improvement in every game at the Rosel this year, can it continue the trend? Will Matt Moore provide a spark?

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS

-- California is 3-4 overall and 1-1 in the Pac-10.

-- UCLA leads the all-time series 46-25-1.  But since 1990 the Bears have won eight of those thirteen games.   Cal beat UCLA last year, in a devastating loss at Berkeley, 17-12.  The last time Cal played in the Rose Bowl in 2001, UCLA routed the Bears, 56-17. In 1999 in the Rose Bowl, the Bears beat UCLA 17-0.

-- The Bears' losses have come against Kansas State, Colorado State, Utah and Oregon State. Cal has beaten Southern Miss, Illinois, and upset then #3-ranked USC September 27th.

-- Cal's head coach is Jeff Tedford, the former Oregon offensive coordinator. Tedford is in his second year as Cal's head coach, in his first year posting the first winning season for the Bears in nine years and the nation's biggest one-year turnaround, going from 1-10 in 2001 to 7-5 last year.  He is considered an offensive guru that many feel will be coaching in the NFL relatively soon.

-- The Cal coaching staff under Tedford has a distinct Duck flavor.  Its defensive coordinator, running backs coach, linebacker coach and strength coach all spent time at Oregon during their careers.

-- Cal is coming off a bye week.

-- Interesting statistic: In its three victories, Cal has dominated the second quarter, outscoring its opponent 48-0.  In its four losses, Cal has been outscored 38-21 in the second quarter. 

-- Cal is tied with USC among Pac-10 programs for having the most players currently in the NFL with 28.  UCLA has 22.

-- Four of Cal's last five games were decided in the last two minutes of the game.

-- The game will be televised by ABC at 12:30 p.m., with Keith Jackson and Dan Fouts in the booth.

CAL'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

Cal has more talent in this matchup - but its talent isn't necessarily on the field.

Cal's Jeff Tedford is the talent behind their offense, with a great, creative and dynamic offensive scheme.  It's the same scheme that made Oregon's offense so effective for years, one that utilizes a diversity of formations, misdirection and surprised to keep the defense off-balance.  Programs all over the country are emulating his blocking schemes, formations and other aspects of his offense.

Cal WR Geoff McArthur.

Last year, his scheme breathed new life into a dismal Cal offense and pretty much gave a shot in the arm to the career of Cal's quarterback, Kyle Boller, which he has parlayed into the NFL.

It's an offense that can shift emphasis from the pass to the run on a weekly basis.  Last year the Bears emphasized the pass behind Boller's arm.  This year, the Bears have gone to the ground when it warranted it.  It has a budding star in senior tailback Adimchinobe Echemandu (6-0, 225), which it utilized in its big win against USC in late September.  In Cal's three wins it's averaged 169 yards on the ground (143 against USC) while in its four losses it's averaged 104 yards.  It's very obvious, and is a very early key to the game: If Cal can run behind Echemandu, it will have a very good chance of winning.

Echemandu is the #2 leading rusher in the Pac-10, averaging 91 yards a game. In his last two games against USC and Oregon State (a win and a loss), he's run for 147 and 146 respectively, the two best games of his career. He's a player that you can say is feeling it, and coming into his own and peaking at the right time.  He combines good size at 225 pounds with good quickness, and is very tough to bring down. He's actually very reminiscent of the guy UCLA's defense could still be having nightmares about, Arizona's Clarence Farmer

Cal's offensive line is a collection of no-names, but are solid, relying on experience from three returning starters, led by senior left tackle Mark Wilson (6-6, 295).  They've done a fairly good job of opening running room against some pretty tough defenses this year, and have done an acceptable job at protecting Cal's quarterbacks. In the last two weeks they've only allowed two sacks, and none against Oregon State, even though the Beavers were constantly pressuring the Cal quarterbacks.

It was believed going into the season that Cal's offense would struggle at the loss of Boller, but Tedford has plugged in a couple of young quarterbacks that have been pretty effective, sophomore Aaron Rodgers (6-2, 195) and junior Reggie Robertson (6-2, 190).  Rodgers, a JC transfer, has started the last several games, but actually to mixed results. Against USC he was impressive, fighting off some nagging little injuries to throw for 203 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.  Against Oregon State last week, however, he was shut down.  The Beavers'  coverage seemed to baffle him. He threw for only 52 yards, which was the lowest passing yardage achieved by a Cal team in 17 years.  Rodgers, with a week off, has a lot to prove against UCLA, coming off his poor performance against OSU. What was most curious about the OSU game was the fact that Tedford didn't use Robertson at all, after substituting the two liberally through Cal's first five games.  Robertson began the season as the starter and has generally played pretty well, and is attributed with svaing the USC game in the second half. While Robertson and Rodgers are similar types of quarterbacks, pretty athletic with decent arms, Robertson has more experience than Rodgers.

UCLA's Jarrad Page.

What possibly has hurt the Bears passing game is the loss of wide receiver Jonathan Makonnen, who is out for the season with a broken foot and was Cal's leading returning receiver from a year ago.  A reliable senior target, losing Makonnen now places a great deal of pressure and focus on Cal's other receiver, junior Geoff McArthur (6-1, 200). McArthur, before the loss of Makonnen, was having a stellar year, currently third in the nation in total receiving yards.  He's definitely had a tail off in his production since Makonnen went down - in his first five games, catching 35 passes for 612 yards, but in the last two games only six passes for 70 yards.  USC and Oregon State both efficiently shut him down, with McArthur not getting his one catch against Oregon State until the fourth quarter.

UCLA's defensive secondary could be in for a challenge this week again.  With it almost certain that cornerback Matt Ware won't play, and sophomore safety Jarrad Page just returning from a shoulder injury and not practicing much this week, the defensive backfield could be suspect. It was against Arizona, for the first time this season, when it was faced with some sophisticated and surprising offensive schemes.  UCLA can only expect to see the same from Tedford's offense. It probably places a great deal of responsibility on UCLA's safety Ben Emanuel to pick up the slack.  Most likely senior cornerback Keith Short will start in place of Ware, which changes the make-up of UCLA's secondary considerably - going from having a 6-3, 225-pound cornerback to two 5-9ish guys in Short and the other starting cornerback, Matt Clark. Sophomore Marcus Cassel could be utilized if size becomes a problem.

UCLA's front seven will also see a second straight week of a big, bruising running back in Echemandu.  The play of UCLA's defensive line last week against Arizona was, for the first time this year, less than excellent.  Much of it might have been attributed to the second string d-line being on the field too much at key moments. Watch for starters Rodney Leisle and Ryan Boschetti to be on the field more, especially early on while the game is still at least tight.  Mat and Dave Ball will try to get back into the form they had against Washington and pressure the Cal quarterbacks.  They might not necessarily register a great deal of sacks with the way Cal moves its quarterbacks and their general athleticism, but it's likely they could put a decent amount of pressure on them.

Coming off their worst game of the season, UCLA's quality linebackers have said all week that they took much of the blame for UCLA defense coming apart against Arizona, and will be the "glue" that puts it back together this week.

Advantage:  Even.  UCLA has more talent on the field, but you can never under-estimate what Tedford brings to an offense.  After watching UCLA's defense break down against Arizona last week, you'd have to anticipate that Tedford will try to do some things to exploit the vulnerabilities he undoubtedly saw against Arizona, particularly a softness in the middle of UCLA's cover-two pass coverage.  UCLA struggled to adapt to the new formations Arizona threw at them, so you can expect some new wrinkles from Tedford to keep UCLA's defense off-balance.  If UCLA were at full strength in its defensive backfield you might even give the advantage to UCLA, since it would seem with the loss of Cal's WR Makonnen, UCLA's superior defensive backs could more or less take away Cal's passing game and concentrate on keying on Echemandu. But without Ware, it's a whole different ball game.  UCLA will still try to take away Echemandu and probably cheat its linebackers up into the running lanes, and make Cal beat the Bruins through the air. 

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. CAL'S DEFENSE

UCLA's under-achieving offense goes up against the second-worst defense in the Pac-10.

But then again, it was out-played by Arizona last week, the worst defense in the conference. 

So, if you look at this in a straight-ahead comparison of talent and even productivity yet this year, UCLA has an advantage.   But you have to discount in how UCLA played last week against Arizona and how it has yet to really sustain a full game where the offense played well.

Cal safety Donnie McCleskey

Cal's defense has some good talent, but just not enough.  Perhaps its best NFL-type prospect is junior defensive tackle Lorenzo Alexander (6-3, 295), but without a great deal of talent around him, Alexander sees quite a few double-teams.  Cal starts three new starters this year with Alexander, and the unit overall has been fairly suspect.  Against the rush, they're second-worst in the Pac-10 (Arizona being the worst), allowing an average of 165 yards on the ground a game.

Cal has a solid linebacker in junior Wendell Hunter (6-1, 230). Hunter has shown great instincts for the ball so far this season, with 55 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. 

Safety Donnie McCleskey leads the team in tackles with 61 and 8.7 per game, which gets him fourth in the Pac-10 (Brandon Chillar is #1 with 11.5 per game and 69 total). He is used well in Cal's offense, given the chance to blitz from his safety spot and roam the field freely. 

After Alexander, Hunter and McCleskey, though, the talent and production from Cal's defense falls off considerably.

Cal's passing defense is pretty vulnerable, too, along with its running defense, giving up 257 yards per game.  Having lost a starting cornerback to an injury when Tim Mixon tore the ACL in his knee a few weeks ago, the Bears are struggling to cover opponents' receivers. They had holes fill to begin with in the defensive secondary alongside McCleskey, and they thought they had one filled with Mixon, who had broken up the most passes by a Cal defender this year before getting hurt against Utah.  True freshman Daymeion Hughes (6-2, 175), from Los Angeles Crenshaw is filling in for Mixon and he'll undoutedly have opposing quarterbacks throwing his way quite a bit for the remainder of the season.

UCLA's offense has seen the effectiveness of Manuel White trail off a bit in the last couple of weeks - perhaps a result of White getting a bit over-used at both tailback and fullback.  Tyler Ebell, though, has been the second most productive offensive player behind wide receiver Craig Bragg in the last couple of weeks, looking stronger and quicker than he did at the beginning of the season.  Cal is vulnerable in containing the ends on runs, and look for Ebell to get even more of his share of calls on UCLA's stretch run plays.

UCLA's Tyler Ebell

It's a week like a few we've had so far this season where everything points towards UCLA's talented group of receivers to be able to exploit a much less talented and experienced defensive secondary.  Bragg, on paper, should have a field day with Cal. Cal has no one to match up against Marcedes Lewis. But we've written this pretty much every week - to mixed results in the games.  

Cal's D, even without a great deal of talent, won't back off from its aggressive philosophy. It has lived or died by it, and will do so this week against UCLA.  UCLA's offensive line will see a lot of blitzing from Cal's defense, with blitzers coming from all angles and positions.  The Bruins' line did a good job of picking up blitzes against Arizona generally, and gave quarterback Drew Olson ample time to throw.  If it's clear that UCLA's quarterbacks again have time to throw it will be interesting to see if UCLA's play-callers exploit it and throw the ball more often this week.

What will also be interesting is to see UCLA's offensive game plan, given two issues coming to considerable fruition this week - that of Matt Moore and then conservative play-calling. 

The coaches have said that Moore will definitely see more time, and you can probably expect him to get more of a chance than he did last week against Arizona.  There was a reason he was named the starter at the beginning of the season; the coaches know he has the play-making ability they need to make this offense more explosive.  While Olson's gained experience since starting the last five games have brought him closer to Moore in terms of production, Moore offers far too much potential to make plays to keep him on the bench too long.  If UCLA is to be successful down the stretch of the season, it's going to need Moore.

You probably can't expect UCLA to deviate too much from the play-calling trend we've seen so far this season. But as the coaches gain more confidence in Olson, and with the confidence they already seem to have in Moore when it comes to throwing the ball, you can probably expect the offensive play-calling to open up a bit this week.  Cal's defense is a good opportunity to both get Moore on the field and experiment a bit with opening up the offense, trying to exploit Cal's inexperienced cornerbacks.

Advantage: UCLA.  UCLA's offense performs quite a bit better in the Rose Bowl - evidenced by its performance against Washington, so it should be more comfortable Saturday against Cal.  The offense, despite being stodgy, has continued to improve.  It does seem like it really has to be a matter of time before either 1) the offense is opened up and is more effective or 2) the talent on the offense overcomes the limits of the play-calling.  UCLA continues to face the worst defenses in the conference and, despite how well the opposing defensive coordinators can scheme against UCLA's offense, it's still a matter that UCLA's offense has too much talent for a defense like Cal to contain. Craig Bragg, despite catching mostly five-yard outs, is going to break loose.  This is a week, against a far less talented defense missing some key personnel that UCLA's offense takes a few more baby steps forward. 

PREDICTION

Going against UCLA in this game is the fact that, after last week, its defense can't be considered a constant anymore.  It also has a key injury that could inhibit its effectiveness considerably.  UCLA's offense continues to be mired in the unimaginativeness of its scheme and there is a thought that the sharp, opposing Pac-10 coaches will scheme even better against it as the conference play continues on.  Also on the negative side for UCLA is the fact that Cal showed it can get up to beat a better opponent, as it did against USC. Every week UCLA seems to come up with new "issues" that hurt its effectiveness.  On UCLA's positive side for this game, it just plainly has more talent on both sides of the ball.  UCLA hasn't lost in the Rose Bowl yet this year, and it's made advances offensively every time it's played at home.  Matt Moore is healthy, playing for the first time really at home, will be comfortable, and is the potential spark to get this offense lit up. Well, at least glowing a little.

UCLA 28
Cal 20


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