Expectations for Cal Game

What can you expect to see against California this Saturday at the Rose Bowl? Steve Waters provides the fears, hopes and reasonable expectations of how the Bruins will fare against the Bears..

Another week, another win. Another black cloud of funk hanging overhead?

College football really is a game of expectations. Fail to meet or exceed them, and even a three-game winning streak can have fans tearing into each other. Issues such as who should start and who should replace injured starters dominate the Bruin landscape. Not to mention an endless referendum on the job the coaching staff is doing.

Are we having fun yet or what?

The Cal Bears are an extremely dangerous team. Just ask Pete Carroll and USC, who were outgained 469 to 376 by Cal. Cal ran 85 plays to USC's 63, enjoyed a 17-minute advantage in time of possession (TOP), and won 3rd down (11 of 18 for Cal vs. 3 of 12 for USC). What makes this 3-4 team so scary to play?

- Adimchinobe Echamandu. The big (225 lb) and fast (bests of 10.93 in the 100 meters and 21.97 in the 200 for Cal) SR RB shredded USC for 147 thoroughly well-deserved yards on 34 carries. Echamandu earned most of those yards between the tackles, sometimes taking a toss and cutting it upfield to become an off-tackle run, and broke numerous tackles throughout the game against allegedly one of the greatest defensive fronts in CFB history. Given the problems UCLA had tackling the comparably-sized Clarence Farmer last week, Echamandu seems tailor-made to give Bruin fans bad dreams.

- Jeff Tedford. The offensive whiz kid/QB guru supreme/recruiting phenom also finds time to be Cal's head coach when he's not spending the night in his office after devising stunning offensive game plans or tying his QBs' left wrists to their biceps. Tedford micromanages the game so closely he even wears a plastic-covered play list on his left forearm during games just like his QBs. How cute! But no one is laughing at possibly the hottest coach in the Pac-10. Yes, he inherited insane talent from predecessor Tom Holmoe (two first round NFL draft picks last year)…ahem…but that doesn't mean his career mark of 10-9 isn't underperformance for someone with his rep. Love him while ya got him, ‘cause he's gone after this year.

- 12-17. One year after wiping out Cal 56-17 at the Rose Bowl, Cal pulled off a 34-point swing to beat UCLA last year in one of the most painful games in recent memory. UCLA was able to bottle up Cal's explosive offense, led by Kyle Boller, for almost the entire game. UCLA even blocked two punts near Cal's end zone. But the gutty lil' Cal D terrorized UCLA's O all day. Seven sacks, two injured QBs, and one case of deer-in-the-headlights later, and UCLA's season was basically left in smoldering ruins. Cal never fails to get up for their rivals from the Southern Extension campus.

- Aaron Rodgers. Meet the Pac-10's answer to Jeckyl and Hyde. One game he's 18 of 25 against USC, and the next game he's 9 for 34 against Oregon State for 52 yards. Wackiness level: yellow, or ‘elevated.' Rodgers is a JC transfer, and is proficient at running the option (he had 6 carries for 34 yards vs. Oregon State) and throwing on the run. Tedford will be sure to move the pocket on UCLA to put more distance between Rodgers and UCLA's best pass rusher, Dave Ball.

- Reggie Robertson. Like many teams in the Pac-10, Cal has two QBs that can play. Robertson was the starter to begin the season, but he played below par, so Rodgers took over. But my, how the worm turns. Robertson took over in the 3rd quarter of the USC game after Rodgers a) hurt his index finger on his throwing hand -or- b) threw an incredibly ill-advised INT right to Lofa Tatupu which was returned for a TD (you decide). He only went 9 for 12 for 109 yards and 1 TD to preserve the win for Cal. And then he didn't play at all vs. Oregon State. Sounds about right.

- Balanced Attack. Cal's passing O is #3 in the conference in efficiency, with a rating of 132.65. (UCLA is 8th at 113.01.) And Cal's rushing O is 5th in the conference with 132 yards/game, while UCLA is 10th with 96.17 (111th in the nation). In total offense, Cal is averaging almost 75 yards/game more than UCLA is (371 to 294). The Bears inundate their opponents with lots of H-back sets because their offense is very similar to Oregon's, not surprisingly.

- Growing Up. The Oskis returned only 8 starters, the lowest number in all of D1. So Teddy jumped all over the chance for five non-conference games to get his charges as much game experience as possible before league started. Given their upset of #3 USC in game 1 of the Pac-10 season, I guess you could say it worked.

So why is this team 3-4? The D is 9th in the Pac-10, allowing 423 yards/game after playing very challenging Os such as Oregon State (10th in nation), Kansas State (25th) and USC (40th). DT Lorenzo Alexander hasn't lived up to his HS All-American hype early this season, but he's coming on strong recently. Rover Donnie McCleskey is the #1 playmaker on D for Cal, followed by LB Wendell Hunter. McCleskey is a little dinged right now, though. If the Bears had to play last week, McCleskey could not have gone. FS Ryan Gutierrez is another emerging player. When RB Steven Jackson of Oregon State went for 227 yards on 35 carries, Gutierrez had 13 total tackles, 12 solo, 2.5 for loss. Meanwhile, MLB Sid Slate had one solo tackle total. Sounds like the LBs are overmatched and can't get off blocks, so the D gambles and sends the FS on run blitzes.

Currently, the Golden Beers 4-3 D is allowing rushing yards like fraternities allow underage drinking during rush week: 166 yards/game. And their pass efficiency defense is the 2nd worst in the league: a rating of 137.82 (vs. 106 for UCLA, 25th in country), and almost 260 yards/game through the air. But the teams they've played are collectively 27-18, and the average rank of their opponents in total offense (throwing out the 112th ranked Southern Mississippi) is 38th.

On the injury front, Cal will be without its best WR, Jonathon Makonnen. UCLA will be without CB Matt Ware, and possibly SS Jarrad Page, whose shoulder is one hit away from sending him to the sidelines.

Offense:

My fear is that Cal will borrow the defensive game plan from Arizona to shut down the UCLA offense. Play 7 in the box, sometimes 8 when FS Ryan Gutierrez or Rover Donnie McCleskey cheats up, but run blitz frequently around the off-tackle area, especially when Tyler Ebell is in the game. UCLA is probably counting on being able to run the ball on Cal, given Cal's dismal record so far, so if that is taken away or made into a painful grind, it could derail UCLA's other offensive plans.

More often than not, the fullback (either Manuel White when Ebell or Maurice Drew is at tailback, or JD Groves when White is the tailback) is just a homing beacon for the D. UCLA's FB gives the D a very easy read, because he's going to the point of attack 90% of the time. If the FB isn't used to decoy the Cal LBs and safeties, which I fear is doubtful, they'll swarm like bears to honey.

Compounding the frustration, Matt Moore will again struggle during his token playing time because he'll be pressing to make big plays, taking unnecessary risks in the process, at best wasting plays, at worst turning the ball over.

Because of the trouble running the ball, which UCLA will continue to try to do on 1st and 2nd down, especially on Cal's side of the field, the passing game will slowly be squeezed via a strong pass rush. Overall, the Bruins generate only around 325 yards.

I'd love to see UCLA outfox Cal. It's safe to opine that Teddy will scout UCLA ferociously in all phases of the game. So do to Cal what Arizona did to UCLA last week: confuse them with sets they haven't seen before. Given that UCLA has run about 90% of its plays from the I formation, new wrinkles like shotgun or bunch formations may work, especially if some new plays are run from those formations.

In the meanwhile, I'll settle for solid execution of the good, ol' favorite plays such as split end screens to Bragg, swing passes to White, screen passes to Drew, delayed hand-offs to Ebell, seam routes to Marcedes Lewis, short drags over the middle to Junior Taylor, deep drags to Lewis, quick outs whenever the CBs give plenty of cushion and the DE doesn't drop off into flat coverage, deep outs to Bragg, bombs to the WRs down the sideline, and weakside off-tackle runs by Ebell or White when the numbers are in UCLA's favor.

UCLA started to show the slightest hint of the passing attack Karl Dorrell and Steve Axman showed in the spring and fall: drags over the middle by FLs, deep ‘in' routes, and middle checkdowns. All of these routes attack the middle zone and require a QB who can see over the line, which is why we started to see them when Matt Moore entered the game.

After throwing so much against UCLA's LBs in practice, a group that is pretty proficient playing the pass, it will be interesting to see if Cal's LBs in their 4-3 D can cover UCLA's receivers attacking the middle zones.

Although Cal seems to have a weak running D, I'd love to see UCLA fire out and establish the pass, throwing the ball 70% of the time in the first half while jumping out to a quick lead. Then, flip the ratio in the second half and run up the rushing numbers as Cal's D starts to tire and just tries to hang on.

One key match-up I'd love to see go UCLA's way is between C Robert Chai (6-3, 275) and NT Josh Beckham (6-2, 270, coming off shoulder surgery). For once, the NT won't outweigh UCLA's center, which might help Chai cut-off backside pursuit. If it's a battle of quickness and footwork, I like Chai's chances in this fight.

Statistically, it would be great to see UCLA get 450+ yards from 70+ plays, with equal balance pass and run. A real stretch goal for UCLA this week is one or fewer sacks.

I expect to see UCLA start slowly, because Drew Olson takes a while to get going, as he told the Daily News : "Bruins quarterback Drew Olson admitted it takes him a few series to get into the flow of a game, and he feels much more comfortable in the second half." As the QB goes, so goes the O, in most cases.

Therefore, I expect the Bruin O to tread water in the first half, hopefully keeping the game within reach at half. If the "blunt force trauma" running game, spearheaded by The Bludgeon, Manny White, can consistently net 3+ yards per blow throughout the 1st quarter, then the Bruins might be even or slightly ahead going into the break.

Then, when the team comes out fully focused and aware of what to expect in the second half, the passes will start to click and the production will start to come.

Bottom line, I expect UCLA to produce between 375 and 400 yards of total offense minimum, 250+ through the air and 125+ on the ground, while allowing 2 or 3 sacks. Tyler will be the leading rusher after Manny softens up the D, and Bragg will lead the receivers.

Defense: is that Jeff Tedford will out-scheme Larry Kerr. Picture this: Tedford develops a stellar opening script doesn't let the DL use its strength to bull rush the QB, doesn't let the LBs make plays in space, and isolates the new guys in the secondary (Kevin Brant at SS, Keith Short at CB). The Bruins' heads are spinning on the first drive as misdirection consistently gets receivers open or opens seams for Echamandu. Tedford possibly uses a trick play to get the ball into the end zone.

While UCLA adjusts afterwards, and doesn't allow many more drives like that the rest of the game, Tedford's prep work consistently allows Cal to win 1st and 2nd down, thereby staying out of the ‘X and long' situations that have been so friendly to UCLA this year. UCLA already has 14 INTs this year after 6 games…as compared to 17 all of last year. UCLA's DL alone has 4 INTs, two courtesy of the zone blitz. Where would UCLA be this year record-wise without those big plays?

Because Tedford moves the pocket around, because he gets Echamandu a blocking bubble to work with, because he disguises running plays with passing formations, because Aaron Rodgers gets the ball to Geoff McArthur (100 receiving yards/game) and Garrett Cross (7 catches v. USC, 1 for six), because Reggie Robertson scrambles for some critical 1st downs, Cal consistently moves the ball when it needs to.

Given that Cal demonstrated the ability to roll up huge yardage on USC and dominate the TOP, it could happen to UCLA as well.

I'd love to see UCLA's defenders get their heads in front of Echamandu and Marcus O'Keith, drive through the ball carrier, wrap-up, and swarm the ball. So many of Clarence Farmer's big plays last week were because guys like David Tautofi billy-goated Farmer on that crazy flanker screen pass, but didn't grab a leg, allowing him to bounce outside.

A return to great fundamentals is required this week for the D to win their battle. Nothing less. Don't expect to UCLA to be in, much less win, many games where it gives up 500+ yards, especially with the Cade era far in the rear view mirror.

Assuming that UCLA plays with great energy and returns to great fundamentals, I'd love to see UCLA win the turnover battle, getting 4 while only giving up 2. Also, shut Cal down on 3rd down (<= 35%), and get 3+ sacks. Short, a very underrated and underappreciated Bruin, has a solid game covering and tackling at CB for UCLA. In a show of willingness to tinker with what isn't working very well, UCLA moves slightly away from the wholesale line-changes along the DL and individually mixes guys like Asi Faoa, CJ Niusulu and Kevin Brown in with the 1st string DL to keep everybody fresher. And UCLA lets coach-on-the-field Ben Emanuel call the signals from his safety spot so that explosive talent like Nnamdi Ohaeri can get some reps at SS without having to worry about coverage calls.

I expect the UCLA LBs to be critical this week. While Echamandu is a better back than Clarence Farmer (because his surrounding team/program is better, mostly), the Bruins are going to be all business this week, and that starts with Brandon Chillar, Justin London and Spencer Havner.

Those three have the best combination of size and speed, so they are the ones that will have to pop Echamandu and establish that UCLA is the physically more dominant team. At the same time, their speed and quickness allow them to cover passing zones with the aplomb of a DB. They give up some plays in the passing game, obviously, but they make far more than their fair share, too.

The more plays the UCLA DL makes, the greater chances UCLA has of winning. No one expects Rodney Leisle to intercept a pass for the 3rd game in a row, nor Mat Ball for his second game in a row. But forced fumbles, strips, big hits, well-timed sacks…we'll take those in a minute.

Given how UCLA double-covers the outside receivers (a CB and a S for each), expect Cal to attack UCLA with patterns to the TE (wheel routes, seams, middles), and patterns to the backs (flares to the flat, angles, checkdowns, etc.)

If the Bruins can get up on Cal early and dictate the flow of the game by forcing Cal to its passing game, I expect UCLA to hold Cal to about 350 yards and 24 points. If UCLA sputters throughout the first half, and Cal has some early offensive success, the numbers could be far north of 400 and 30.

Special Teams:

The UCLA special teams are probably in their overall best shape in years. Every UCLA return is a threat to break off a TD in the opponent's face. Every kick-off coverage is a chance to pin the opponent deep, often inside their 15. Chris Kluwe is scaling back his kicks to distances the punt coverage guys can handle, often pinning the returner against the sideline. And Justin Medlock is money from the right hash.

Now that he's missed one left and one right from the left hash, I expect the next FG from the left to split the uprights.

This week would be a great time for a blocked kick, especially if the game is tight, the D is forcing numerous punts, and the O is struggling.

Overall:

My fear is that UCLA O of the Colorado/Illinois/San Diego State/Arizona games shows up, along with the Cal of the USC game, and Cal emerges with a 31-28 win.

I'd love to see UCLA show more diversity on O, better tackling on D, and lots of talent on special teams en route to going to 3-0 in the Pac with a big 37-24 win.

All things considered, I expect the Bruins to win another nail-biter, 24-21.


Bruin Report Online Top Stories