So far this season the Washington and the Washington State games didn't go how we thought they would. But the other seven, including this 38-24 loss to California in Berkeley, played out pretty predictably.
It just wasn't hard to predict: UCLA lost to a better team in Cal on their home field. While Cal is on their way to playing for a Pac-10 championship, UCLA is a team trying desperately and dilligently to salvage a season that's getting away from them.
But it was very easy to see that UCLA was clearly not on par with Cal. UCLA tried to stand toe to toe, and hung in there for a while, trading blows, but ultimately the better team emerged.
Cal emerged because it had more talent, and well-coached talent. When Cal needed to put it away it put the ball in the hands of its playmakers, Marshawn Lynch, DeSean Jackson and, inadvertently, Daymeion Hughes. Those are three players who are probably more talented than anyone on UCLA's roster right now.
And if you want to try to make a case of the youth argument in terms of UCLA matching up with Cal, remember that Lynch is a junior, the same as two of UCLA's tailbacks; DeSean Jackson is a true sophomore, one class younger than UCLA's true junior wide receivers Brandon Breazell and Marcus Everett; and Daymeion Hughes is a true senior, and in the same high school graduating class as Trey Brown.
UCLA recruited Lynch, Jackson and Hughes, and lost out to Cal on all three of them.
It's been a new era since Jeff Tedford took over at Cal as its head coach.
Cal, in just 2001, was the Cal we used to know and love, going 1-10. Before that, it had just seven winning seasons in 30 years. It hasn't been to a Rose Bowl in 48 years. It was the school that occasionally had one superstar, like Joe Kapp, Russell White or Chuck Muncie, but they usually played futilely on a losing team. Then Tedford took over the program and they've gone 7-5 in 2002, 8-6 in 2003, 10-2 in 2004, 8-4 in 2005 and now currently are 8-1.
UCLA, on the other hand, is the program that has gone to more Rose Bowls in the last 30 years than anyone but USC. It was the winningest team in the Pac-10 for almost 20 years in the ‘80s and ‘90s. As recently as 1997 and 1998, UCLA went 10-2 in back-to-back seasons.
But while Cal has put together five wining seasons in a row since 2001, UCLA fired a coach, and has had had just one winning season under Karl Dorrell.
Tedford has been recruiting the second-best in the west, behind USC, and has combined that with good coaching to build a consistently top ten team. He's done it with many Southern California kids, too.
But still, it's kind of strange to think of Cal in this role, as the other team besides USC in the west that has risen to these heights and been competitive with USC in recent years. It's probably strange because it's just not Cal, really, not who we know them to be.
In fact, it's UCLA.
Cal has stolen UCLA's football program.
So why can't UCLA have it? Cal is a UC, just like UCLA. It has an excellent academic reputation. But it has decided to be good in football, going out to boosters and getting some big amounts of cash to pay its coaches good money, build great facilities, and then also being reasonable and practical about the academics of college football players.
Yes, we don't want UCLA football players to list on a nationally televised game that their favorite book is "The Cat in the Hat," as Lynch did on Saturday's ABC telecast. But it doesn't have to be that bad. Realistically, we're closer to Stanford (that 0-9 Stanford) and probably should be closer to Cal, shouldn't we?
But there is really not much argument anyone can muster against the fact that Cal is a better, more-talented team than UCLA. And yes, Cal is more of a veteran team, starting nine seniors, but regardless of experience, Cal is plainly more talented.. You can't really imagine UCLA next year, when it's supposed to be a veteran team itself, miraculously growing a Marshawn Lynch, DeSean Jackson or Daymeion Hughes on Spaulding Field.
Playing Cal right now, at this moment in the history of UCLA's program, really illustrated the point that UCLA is not what it should be, either in terms of talent, coaching or dedication to being good in football.
That's not to say, like we mentioned above, that UCLA didn't put up a dilligent fight on Saturday. Through the first half, UCLA was in the game, doing it with its lesser-talented but possibly bigger-hearted, smarter, solid guys, down just 14-10. And even, at that point, UCLA had gained more yards and was looking comparable. But then over the course of the next 20 minutes, Cal's superior talent took over. UCLA sustained a drive, but it stalled and it missed a field goal, while Cal drove the field and scored a touchdown, on the back of Lynch and Cal's talented receivers. After an exchange of possessions, Cal's Jackson returned a punt for a touchdown, and UCLA's Patrick Cowan threw an interception – to Hughes. Cal then handed the ball to Lynch seven times and passed it to Jackson once, drove the field and scored, and the superior talent floated to the top, making it 35-10 and the game was over.
There were so many moments when clearly UCLA was over-matched talent-wise. Aaron Whittington, the under-sized and, admittedly, hobbled, UCLA linebacker, was pancaked a couple of times on key Lynch runs, just clearly without the size or strength to match-up. The gutsy middle linebacker Christian Taylor, also admittedly dinged up, was in the right place at the right time, but whiffed on a couple of tackles. Dennis Keyes, the starting safety, fell asleep in coverage and Cal's sophomore quarterback Nate Longshore found his receiver Robert Jordan wide open for a 44-yard touchdown. UCLA's sophomore quarterback Patrick Cowan missed a few key plays that might have kept UCLA in the game (e.g. on a third down at the two and not seeing a wide open Breazell in the end zone). UCLA's two vaunted pass rushers, defensive ends Justin Hickman and Bruce Davis, got only one sack between them and basically were kept under wraps by Cal's just-decent offensive line. Marcus Everett, probably UCLA's top receiver, didn't make the catch on a great throw by Cowan in the endzone that would have probably put UCLA up going into halftime (a pass that might have been tipped by Hughes, in fact). Center Robert Chai got called for two holding penalties on one drive trying to hold down Cal's elite defensive tackle, Brandon Mebane (another player Cal out-recruited UCLA for).
You could go on and on.
It's just an illustration of how "good" UCLA is at this point. We saw them beat the likes of Utah, Rice, Stanford and Arizona, and were wondering how they'd stack up against a "good" team. This was a perfect illustration. Cal is a good team, and UCLA was playing hard and well. It was probably its best overall game of the season. And this probably the best you're going to get against a "good" team.
Again, UCLA did play pretty well and definitely played hard. This wasn't the effort you saw against Washington State. You have to give them credit for not rolling over after Washington State. The Bruins came to play in Berkeley, but, as the saying goes, "just don't have the horses."
You have to also give props to Cowan, for having the best day of his college career, throwing for 329 yards. Chris Markey might have had the best day of his entire UCLA career also, rushing for 136 yards, with the television highlight being the longest touchdown run of his career, a 70-yarder (even though the game was already on ice at the time). But for us insider-types, probably the best run of Markey's season was a modest 4-yard gain in the second quarter when he bounced off three-would be tacklers.
UCLA's defense had the performance you probably thought it would against such an elite offense. Cal could be the #1 big-play offense in the country and UCLA basically made them drive the field to score. UCLA's defense clearly looks worn down, and other teams are beginning to sniff out its weaknesses, but it didn't, by any means, get run over in this game. It kept Cal just about at its average for total yards per game and scoring per game. It allowed UCLA's offense to have more time of possession.
And the UCLA game plan and game coaching were good. The play-calling was perhaps the best it's been since the Utah game.
It's just, really, Cal is better than UCLA, in just about every facet.
Last year, UCLA beat Cal in a dramatic win, 47-40, behind five touchdowns by UCLA's Maurice Drew, including an 81-yard punt return. On that day, UCLA won because it had the "horses." This year it was a matter of Cal having the horses and UCLA didn't. The question is: In the next few years, where is UCLA going to get the horses to compete with Cal?
Cal has simply stolen many of the horses UCLA should have gotten.
Cal has stolen UCLA's football program.