Cal Preview

The UCLA Bruins (4-2) go to Berkeley to face the re-vitalized Cal Bears (4-3), and their quarterback, Kyle Boller, who has found new life under first-year head coach Jeff Tedford...

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS:

-- UCLA leads the overall series, 46-25-1. Cal, though is 6-5 against UCLA since 1991, including 3-2 in Berkeley.

-- Jeff Tedford is in his first season as head coach of the Golden Bears, after being Oregon's offensive coordinator.

-- Cal finished with its worst record in 104 years in 2001, 1-10. Cal, though, has a chance to complete one of the best turnarounds in school history. Already with 4 wins (4-3), Cal already had its best one-year turnaround since 1993 (it's last winning season). If Cal gets eight wins this year, it will be the best turnaround in Cal history.

-- The Cal coaching staff is practically the southern branch of the Oregon coaching staff. Tedford is the former offensive coordinator. Cal's linebacker coach Bob Foster is Oregon's former defensive coordinator. Wide receiver coach Keric Kiesau is Oregon's former teamwork coordinator. Running back coach Ron Gould is a former graduate assistant and player at Oregon. Cal's strength coach John Krasinski is Oregon's former assistant strength coach.

-- Cal is #1 in turnover ratio in the Pac-10, and fifth in the country (+13 on the season).

-- While UCLA's Cory Paus is second on UCLA's all-time passing list (6,748 yards), Cal's Kyle Boller is currently fourth (6,884). Boller is tied for first in career TD passes at Cal with 54.

-- Cal's offense, after eight games, has already outscored its offense from last year by 70 points. Cal ranks #1 in the Pac-10 in scoring offense, averaging 38.7 a game, 12th in the nation.

-- Cal has been quick out of the gate this season, outscoring opponents 163-55 in the first half this year.

-- Jarrad Page is the first true freshman safety to start more than one game since Kenny Easley in 1977.

-- Cal features many players and coaches from Southern California and UCLA has many from Northern California. Cal head coach Tedford is from Warren High School in Downey, while UCLA head coach Bob Toledo is from Lincoln High School in San Jose.

-- Kyle Boller was a life-long Bruin fan, and would have gone to UCLA if offered. He hadn't played quarterback at Newhall Hart High School in his junior year. UCLA had a scholarship for only one quarterback in 1998 and gave it to J.P. Losman, who enrolled early and left the school after spring practice. Boller, in the meantime, had committed to Cal.

-- UCLA is 3-0 when its opponents have scored first this year, and 1-2 when the Bruins have scored first.

-- UCLA is 3-0 on the road and 1-2 at home.

-- With Tab Perry and Mike Seidman having 100+ receiving yard games against Oregon State, and Perry and Craig Bragg doing it against Cal, it's the first time UCLA has had back-to-back games with a pair of 100-yard receivers since the final two games of the 1998 season (Miami and Wisconsin games).

-- Cal is first in the Pac-10 in kick-off returns and fifth in punt returns. Kick returner LaShawn Ward is a threat, averaging 26.5 yards a return, which is first in the Pac-10 and 16th in the country. Punt returner Jemeel Powell, the school's all-time punt return leader, is averaging 12 yards a return, while his 90-yard punt return against Michigan State was the longest by a Cal player in 43 years.

-- The Bears' place-kicker, Mark Jensen, has kicked 11 field goals so far this year, is 2nd in the Pac-10 and 22nd in the nation. He kicked a 51-yard field goal at Michigan State.

CAL'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

Cal's offense can put up a lot of points, but not necessarily yards. Strangely enough, Cal leads the Pac-10 in scoring, averaging 38.7 points a game, but is second-to-last in total offense, averaging 378.6 yards a game. Cal, like UCLA, has gotten quite a bit of its points from turnovers, special teams and big plays, and when they get in the redzone, they've consistently scored. When it comes to big plays, Cal has had 12 plays that have gone for 50 yards or more this season.

The offensive turnaround for Cal this year has been mostly due to the improvement in its passing offense, and the vast improvement of its senior quarterback, Kyle Boller (pictured at right). With Tedford going back to the drawing board with Boller, instilling a new emphasis on fundamentals and his throwing techniques, Boller has been a far better quarterback. But it's just not Boller's individual improvement; Tedford has transformed Cal's offense so that it protects the quarterback well, gives him the opportunity to roll out and uses more short passes. It's vastly similar to Oregon's offense in its schemes and style. Boller is having the best season of his college career as a result.

It also helps that Boller has had a few good receiving targets. Sophomore Geoff McArthur leads the team with 30 catches for 359 yards, ranking him among the best in the Pac-10. He's been sidelined the last two games with a hamstring pull but is expected back for the UCLA game. The Bears' other receiver is JC transfer Jonathan Makonnen, who leads the team with 429 receiving yards and 5 TDs. Senior LeShaun Ward was thought to be their best returning receiver and he is no slouch, having caught 25 passes for 408 yards and 5 TDs himself. Plus, Cal has a very good tight end target in Tom Swoboda. He caught six passes last week against USC for the third time this year. His 20 catches so far this season are two more than the entire Cal tight end corps last season. Boller has been very good at distributing the wealth.

Cal's offensive line has made great strides in pass protection. They've allowed only 11 sacks in 7 games, which is second best in the Pac-10, a drastic change from last season. You can attribute quite a bit to the new offensive system, but it's also a matter that the offensive line has improved. Three returning starters have played well – junior tackle Mark Wilson, senior guard Scott Tercero and senior center Ryan Jones. At least Tercero will be considered for all-conference honors.

Running the ball has been a bit more of a challenge for the Bears. Tedford has tried to apply the Oregon balanced-offense style, but he hasn't been able to transform the Cal running game as well as he has the passing game. Running back Joe Igber (Has he been at Cal for eight years?) is having a good year, averaging 83.1 yards per game, but he's earning every one of those yards. His backup, Terrell Williams, is a pretty talented sophomore, but he's not seeing much running room. Cal is third to last in Pac-10 in rushing offense, gaining only 113.6 yards per game.

Cal's offense is generally a good matchup for UCLA's defense. The Bruins haven't done well against good running offenses so far this season. If a team can run against the Bruins, obviously, it has been able to move the ball. But also, if an offense can stay on the field long enough it will eventually find holes in UCLA's secondary, like Oregon did last week. But running the ball is critical for an offense to succeed against UCLA's defense, and Cal's running game has struggled this year. Without its star defensive lineman, Rodney Leisle, who is out for at least another month with a broken foot, UCLA will look to others to step up. Dave Ball (pictured at left) has been perhaps UCLA's best defensive lineman overall behind Leisle. Ball leads the team in sacks with 4, has been good against the run, and looks like he's gaining more confidence every game. The defensive tackle taking Leisle's place in the lineup is Ryan Boschetti, and he had a pretty good game against Oregon last week. Watch for him to get even better in just his second start, especially going home to the Bay Area to play.

The quality of UCLA's linebackers looks like it could give UCLA the edge in its matchup with the Bears' offense. Marcus Reese has been playing at an all Pac-10 clip, leading the team in tackles with 45. Second on that list of tackles is redshirt freshman weakside linebacker Spencer Havner, and third is strongside linebacker Brandon Chillar. UCLA's rushing defense gives up 155.8 yards a game, second-worst in the Pac-10, but it has looked particularly good in defending the run against teams that don't run well.

The best matchup of the day is going to be between Cal's passing offense and UCLA's passing defense. UCLA's defensive backs are young and a little banged up, but athletic and talented. Cornerback Matt Ware experience back spasms this week in practice; strong safety Ben Emanuel didn't play last week due to a neck stinger; and starting true freshman strong safety Jarrad Page has tendinitis in his knee. All are expected to start against Cal, though.

Boller has done very well going both short and deep, in much the same way that Oregon attacks a defense. UCLA will benefit from going against the same style of offense for two weeks in a row in practice, and will look to cut down on the mistakes it made in the secondary against Oregon. Senior cornerback Ricky Manning is really keeping the UCLA defensive secondary together, having a great season and coming off two very good games against Oregon State and Oregon.

Advantage: Even. Cal, in its new system, has gained confidence and comes right at a defense and attacks. The passing game is hard to deny. UCLA's defense could be pretty tough early on, especially as Cal probably doesn't stay on the field much with its struggling running game. If Cal actually carves out a running game, UCLA's defense could be in trouble. The young UCLA secondary will probably make a few mistakes, and Cal will probably get some points from it. It could be similar to last week against Oregon – just with a far less effective running game. But look for Cal to get points from big plays, and from its special teams, especially as a result of good field position. Cal's offense also is very opportunistic; when it gets the ball in its opponents red zone it has been very good at converting it to points. But UCLA has enough talent and personnel that it has a good chance of shutting down Cal's running game and then putting more emphasis on taking away its passing game. UCLA will try to put a lot of pressure on Boller and get him out of a rhythm.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. CAL'S DEFENSE

In just about every way you look at it, this is a lopsided matchup. UCLA's offense is really coming into its own, with some big-play weapons, a very good passing attack and a rushing offense that looks difficult to stop.

UCLA is averaging 437 yards a game (third in the Pac-10) with a very balanced attack, while Cal is last in the Pac-10 in total defense, allowing 412 yards a game. It be a complete surprise if UCLA's offense didn't rack up over 400 yards of offense in this game.

So much of what has made UCLA's offense work in the last two games has been its running game. And the big difference has been the impact that redshirt freshman tailback Tyler Ebell (pictured at right) has made. Ebell has run for 322 yards in the last two games, which has made defenses have to defend against the run and not be able to just try to take away UCLA's passing game. The UCLA running game has probably looked better in the last two games than it has in years, even with DeShaun Foster running the ball. Ebell, the little guy with great vision, quickness and cutting ability, is probably the best fit at running back for UCLA's style of run blocking and offensive line talent, even moreso than Foster. UCLA's offensive line doesn't really blow anyone off the block, but is good at holding up their man. That doesn't necessarily make for great holes, which makes it hard for bigger backs such as Foster, who sometimes struggled to find and pick a hole anyway. But Ebell is probably a better marriage; he's great at seeing the field, finding small seams in the line, and then has the quickness to shoot through them.

With Ebell as a legitimate threat, which he proved he was in the Oregon game, Cal's defense will have to be honest, stay up for the run and not cheat back into pass coverage. Really the only way to combat Ebell is to not let him get going, to penetrate, swarm and contain, and that takes a lot of bodies.

The problem is if a defense stacks the box against UCLA this year they'll get burned. And with Ebell, even if you stack the box, the little guy can still find a small seam and squirt through. So, it doesn't really behoove a defense to try to stack the box, but more than likely, Cal will probably bring a lot of bodies to the line, similar to the way Oregon plays defense. Pressure is the name of the game, especially when you have a defense that has to make up for a lack of overall talent at every position. Cal has done well at masking some of its defensive deficiencies with big plays and turnovers.

Cal does have some talent in some critical positions that bring the heat. Free safety Bert Watts has thrived in the risky, pressure-emphasizing defense, leading the team in tackles, and getting 15 against USC a week ago. Cal's aggressive defensive end, senior Tully Banta-Cain (pictured below), is a great pass rusher, second in the Pac-10 with seven sacks on the season. His backup, Tom Canada, has four sacks himself from that rush defensive end spot. UCLA's tackle Bryce Bohlander will mostly get the assignment of blocking against that one position, and Bohlander has, so far, had a good year providing pass protection. It will be one of the best matchups on this side of the ball.

In fact, a great deal of UCLA success on offense this season is due to the improved pass protection it's provided quarterback Cory Paus. UCLA worked hard in improving its pass protection blocking schemes and it's doing a better job at team-blocking on pass plays.

This has opened up UCLA's passing offense and Paus, despite a few bad decisions, has generally had a very good year to date. He had just an okay game against Oregon, but that's a sign of good things for Paus, who usually follows up a bad decision-making game with a good one. He also seems to perform better on the road than at the Rose Bowl.

Paus also has the weapons this season. Craig Bragg showed last week that he not only has a chance to be very good, but a potential national star. The one-handed grab and run for a touchdown on a receiver screen last week was one of the best plays by a receiver in recent UCLA history. Tab Perry has had the two best games of his career back to back. And tight end Mike Seidman, despite a quiet performance against Oregon last week, is probably UCLA's biggest threat.

Cal has some decent talent in their defensive backfield, but not a great deal of depth. There is Watts, and Nnamdi Asomugha is solid at rover, and James Bethea and Jemeel Powell are generally pretty well-regarded at cornerback. Powell is expected to return from an injury after sitting out the last two games. In his absense, Asomugha moved to cornerback and freshman Donnie McCleskey from La Puente Bishop Amat, who UCLA considered offering at the end of last recruiting season, has stepped up and performed. He's had 20 tackles, including 7 last week against USC.

Even so, Cal's defense has been very porous. In the last three weeks, against good Pac-10 passing teams, they've given up an average of 387 yards a game through the air. The defense has given up an astounding 494 total yards a game in its last three. It has the worst defense overall in the conference, giving 412 yards a game for the season.

UCLA will be balanced offensively, but you can expect that it won't be able to resist putting the ball up and deep, and often. Especially Paus, who can't ever resist looking long.

Advantage: UCLA. UCLA has too much offensively for Cal, who is playing better defense this year, to keep up. If UCLA can minimize its mistakes and turnovers, it should rack up the yardage and the points. Cal will try to do what it can to mix up its pass rush and blitzing patterns to try to surprise UCLA's blockers, but with the way it likes to isolate its cornerbacks on its receivers like Oregon does, it's only a matter of time. Ebell, again, by opening up UCLA's running game, is the integral part in keeping the defense honest and having to play the run.

PREDICTION:

There isn't one indication here that this will be a low-scoring game. The two teams are two of the worst in the Pac-10 in scoring defense. Cal is the worst in total defense. Both offenses have weapons, and both teams have shown a penchant for getting points from big plays, with Cal especially able to do it from special teams. In fact, Cal's special teams play will be the one element where it truly has an advantage over UCLA, and is good for keeping the score relatively close. Both UCLA and Cal will get points from their passing offenses. So much of the game's outcome will be decided by how well indeed UCLA runs the ball, if it can eat up clock on the ground and keep the ball out of Cal's hands. And if UCLA can minimize its mistakes and breakdowns, especially on special teams. But given both teams' style this year, you can expect both to rack up some points in their usual ways. Toledo will probably get what he's looking for here – a shootout.

UCLA 44
Cal 34


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