Preview of California Game

We have to give it to you straight, with no sugar-coating: It just doesn't look good for UCLA when it takes on the 10th-ranked California Bears in Berkeley on Saturday. There aren't too many aspects of the match-up that bode well for the Bruins, unless UCLA can start passing the ball...

**Due to time contraints, this preview will be more succinct than usual.

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS

-- UCLA travels to Berkeley on Saturday to face Cal at 5:00. The game will be televised by ABC, with commentators Dan Fouts and Tim Brant in the booth.

-- Cal is 7-1 overall and in first place in the Pac-10 with a 5-0 conference record. They are currently ranked No. 10 by AP and BCS, and No. 11 by ESPN/USA Today.

-- Cal's lone loss was at Tennessee in the season opener, since having won 7 straight.  They are 5-0 at home this season.

-- UCLA leads the all-time series, 48-27-1, which dates back to 1933. The teams have split the last six meetings.  The last time UCLA beat the Bears in Berkely was in 1998, 28-16. 

-- The Bruins won last year's match-up, 47-40, in a come-from-behind win, featuring five touchdowns by UCLA's Maurice Drew, including an 81-yard punt return.

-- Cal is coached by Jeff Tedford, in his fifth season, with a record in Berkeley of 40-18.  He took a team that went 1-10 the previous season, to 7-5 in 2002, then 8-6 in 2003, 10-2 in 2004, 8-4 in 2005 and now currently 7-1.  Cal's attendance has jumped from about 33,000 fans per game in 2001 to more than 60,000 (second in the conference and ahead of UCLA). He has led Cal to three straight bowl games, the first time since 1950.

-- Cal hasn't won a Pac-10 championship since 1975.

CALIFORNIA'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

Cal has the #20 offense in the country, featuring a very potent, balanced spread attack, averaging 439 yards per game.

Junior running back Marshawn Lynch (5-11, 217) is the headliner, and could end up being named the Pac-10 Player of the Year. He's averaging 113 yards rushing per game, which rates him 11th in the nation, but he's done it by averaging a whopping 6.9 yards per carry.  He's big, fast and shifty - a linebacker's nightmare.
Cal receiver DeSean Jackson.


Cal, however, didn't really put it together offensively until sophomore quarterback Nate Longshore (6-5, 233) started to come into his own. He's the #1 quarterback in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency (151), and 15th in the nation. He's a big, strong, pocket passer who has matured this season, and he doesn't make many mistakes, having thrown just 7 interceptions against 17 touchdowns.

It really is a triumvirate of talent for Cal's offense, though, with the Bears featuring one of the most dangerous offensive players in the conference in sophomore receiver DeSean Jackson (6-0, 166).  Jackson is fast and shifty, and can get behind defensive backs with ease. He's also one of the best punt returners in the conference, averaging 14 yards per return.

Cal, though, spreads around the wealth in its passing game, which is #1 in the Pac-10. There are also junior receivers Lavelle Hawkins (5-11, 181) and Robert Jordan (5-11, 165), who are also long-ball threats.  Backing up Lynch in the backfield is possibly a future pro in junior Justin Forsett (5-8, 186).

Cal's O-line had to replace some starters who left last season and has dealt with some injuries this year, but has gone on without a beat.  They've been very good at protecting Longshore, allowing just nine sacks in 8 games.

Advantage:  Cal.  UCLA's defense has fallen from #2 in the country to #36, after getting beaten in its last three games. It had been allowing 12.6 points per game before Oregon, and in the last three games is giving up an average of 29 points.  The defense is still considered a good one, but it could be a matter of it wearing down, having spent a great deal of time on the field since UCLA's offense can't generate first downs.  UCLA's secondary had easily its worst game of the season last week against Washington State, giving up 405 yards passing to the Cougars. Now, this week against Cal, it faces an even better passing attack, on the road.  Cal, though, also averages 170 yards per game on the ground. It's such a luxury of a problem to have - when you have a very effective passing game and know you can get big chunks of yards through the air but you also have a given 7-10 yards if you hand the ball to Lynch. 

Cal has to be the best team in the league for big plays, both through the air and the ground.They'll get very quick scores on successive possessions, and opponents will find themselves down by three touchdowns and not know what hit them. If you turn over the ball to Cal early, they'll put you away early. 

UCLA's defense will probably put up a valiant effort, but if UCLA's offense can't hold onto the ball, the Bruin D will probably wear down.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. CALIFORNIA'S DEFENSE

Cal's defense is, statistically, toward the bottom of the conference. In fact, it's 8th in yards given up per game (375).  The stats have been a bit skewered, with Cal having faced Tennessee, Oregon, Arizona State, and Washington State, and also having jumped out on top of a few teams and then, subsequently, those teams are then forced to play catch-up and throw the ball quite a bit.
Bears' cornerback Daymeion Hughes.


If you watch Cal's defense, though, they look pretty good, with good team speed and pursuit, especially against the run. Up front they're led by senior defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (6-2, 295), a graduate of Los Angeles Crenshaw.  The defense is truly anchored by its middle linebacker, senior Desmond Bishop (6-2, 243), who is probably having an all-conference year, being third in the league in tackles (75).  Their linebacking unit is good and deep.

Cal has shown its most susceptibility against the pass, giving up 246 yards per game, worst in the Pac-10.  Just about every conference team the Bears have faced has been able to throw on them.  It's a bit surprising since Cal might have the best cornerback in the league in senior Daymeion Hughes (6-2, 188), also a grad of Crenshaw.  Hughes is hands-down having an all-conference year and perhaps an All-American year, second in the nation in interceptions so far this season with seven, and first in passes defended per game in the conference.  They've been vulnerable, however, since they start a freshman at the other corner, Syd'Quan Thompson (5-11, 176). 

Advantage:  Cal.  UCLA's offense has been so abysmal as of late it's hard to see it moving the ball consistently on the road against this Cal defense.  Cal's vulnerability is defending the pass, which is what UCLA doesn't do very well.  While quarterback Patrick Cowan had solid performances against Arizona, Oregon and Notre Dame, he really didn't last week against Washington State.  He's young and inexperienced, and making inexperienced mistakes -- missing receivers, not seeing receivers, throwing with very little touch, etc.  But UCLA's game plan should be to try to get him some time to throw the ball more down the field and try to get some big chunks of yards through the air. 

Because it's even more of a challenge for UCLA to run the ball lately. It's averaged 68 yards on the ground in its last three games.  That also might be a bit misleading, since it starts out games doing fairly well, getting 5-to-7-yard gains pretty regularly.  But things break down as the game progresses, as defenses adjust, UCLA gets behind and needs to throw more, and there just aren't any runs going for more than those 5-7 yards.  UCLA has had just five rushing touchdowns, one from two yards out and four from one yard.  It's really curious that they finally took the wraps off of junior running back Derrick Williams last week, who looks far more effective, at least at this time in the season, than starter Chris Markey.  Both Williams and freshman Chane Moline were gaining good, tough yards for the Bruins last week, and you'd expect that they'll get more carries this week. 

While Head Coach Karl Dorrell keeps maintaining that UCLA's offense needs to keep its nose to the grindstone, it seems, at this point in the season, it's time to possibly do something a bit more provocative, like opening up the offense more, rather than dinking and dunking down the field. We'll see if it's nose-to-the-grindstone or something inspired.

On Special Teams, Cal is solid with its punter, junior Andrew Larson (6-1, 190), and field goal kicker, junior Tom Schneider (6-0, 191).

Prediction:

It's not a great match-up for UCLA anyway you look at it.  UCLA's defense could be breaking down, and now they're facing perhaps the best offense they'll face all season.  On the other side of the ball, Cal's one vulnerability has been against the pass, but UCLA doesn't pass well. 

From an emotional, intangible standpoint, it doesn't look good either.  Cal is trying to win its first Pac-10 championship in 31 years, playing on their home field, where they haven't lost all season.  UCLA is coming off a three-game losing streak and is looking for answers, going on the road again for the third time in four weeks.  Also, UCLA's victory over Cal last season was a devastating one for the Bears, and the word is that they're looking for revenge. Don't expect Tedford to take his foot off the gas pedal, especially when you're a top-ten team and big, lopsided wins look good nationally.

While we have to go with the prevailing wisdom here, that Cal will probably roll, this is one of those flashpoint moments in Karl Dorrell's time at UCLA. To salvage the season he needs a win against Cal or USC, and we'll see if he can defy the prevailing sentiment and inspire his charges to an upset in such a critical game. 

California 37
UCLA 16

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