-- UCLA travels to Berkeley to take on California Saturday at 12:30. The game will be televised regionally by ABC, with Terry Gannon and David Norrie in the booth.
-- Cal is 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the Pac-10. They've beaten Michigan State (38-31), Washington State in Pullman (66-3), Colorado State (42-7) and Arizona State (24-14), while having lost at Maryland (35-27) and last week at Arizona (24-14).
-- The Bears are 3-0 at home, and 1-2 on the road.
-- It's the 79th meeting between the two schools, dating back to 1933. The Bruins lead the series by a 49-28-1 margin, while the two teams have split the last eight meetings, with each program winning on their respective home fields. Neither team has won back-to-back games in the series since UCLA won four straight between 1995 and 1998.
-- UCLA's last win in Berkeley came in 1998 (28-16), when UCLA went 10-2, won the Pac-10 and finished 8th nationally.
-- In the last 20 years, UCLA is 2-8 in Berkeley.
-- In those 10 meetings, Cal has averaged 32 points per game. In its last four games at home against UCLA, Cal has scored 38 points or more three times.
-- Last year in the Rose Bowl, UCLA upset then-ranked #10 Cal, 30-21. In that game, with UCLA leading 23-21 late in the fourth quarter, Cal drove the field and was at UCLA's 30-yard line when UCLA cornerback Alterraun Verner intercepted a Nate Longshore pass and returned it for a touchdown to seal the win.
-- In UCLA's last trip to Berkeley in 2006, the Bruins lost to the Bears, 38-24.
-- Cal has flirted with the Top 25 this season, only to be beaten back into the unranked. After starting the season 2-0, the Bears were ranked 23rd and 25th by the two national polls, but then lost to Maryland. The Bears then won two games in a row and edged their way back into the polls at #22 and #25, only to then lose at Arizona and be relegated again.
-- Last week against Arizona, Cal built a 24-14 halftime lead to then watch Arizona hit them with a 28-3 blitz in the third quarter.
-- Cal is coached by Jeff Teford, who is in his seventh season and is credited for one of the most dramatic turnarounds of any program in recent college football history. In the six years before Tedford arrived in 2002, the Bears had 18 total victories. Not including the four wins this season, the 50 wins he accomplished in his first six seasons are the most of any Cal coach in a six-year stretch in 50 years. The Bears have climbed into the AP Top 10 during each of the last four seasons, finishing in the Top 25 three times. The program under Tedford has advanced to five straight bowl games for the first time in Cal history, winning four of them, to make Tedford the first Cal coach with more than two bowl victories. Tedford, who grew up in Southern California and attended Fresno State, where he got his coaching start, made a name for himself as Oregon's offensive coordinator before coming to Cal, and is known for an inventive offensive scheme and being a guru of a quarterbacks coach. Just about the only occasional criticism you can hear of Tedford is some questioning of his in-game coaching and play-calling.
-- Since attaining success at Cal there has been consistent talk at the end of every season about Tedford going to the NFL or getting a higher-profile college job. But Tedford is being paid particularly well and has other periphery forms of income that actually put him among the best-paid coaches in college football. Reportedly, one of the conditions of Tedford staying in Berkeley was the Cal administration's continued investment in facilities, which it has tried to meet. In fact, Tedford has escape clauses built into his contract if facility upgrades aren't completed.
-- Cal is moving forward with a $124-million athletic training center and renovation of Memorial Stadium, which hit a number of court hurdles and setbacks, mostly over the dispute of cutting down redwoods around the facility. Protesters known as "tree-sitters" camped out in the branches of the trees for nearly two years in protest until they recently conceded after a state appeals court declined to block the university's construction plans.
-- The 82-year-old Memorial Stadium holds 67,537, and Cal fans are turning out in record numbers in recent years. In the 12 years before Tedford, Cal had only nine games of 60,000 fans or more. In Tedford's 6 ½ years, there have been 15 games of 60K+.
-- Tedford, known as an offensive guy, is also a coach who distinctly emphasizes turnovers as a key to the game. Tedford has greatly emphasized turnover drills in his practices, and it's paid off: the Bears are #1 in the Pac-10 and 12th in the nation in turnover margin at +6. In his six and a half years at Cal, Tedford is 30-3 when winning the turnover battle, and 19-1 in the Pac-10.
-- Of the 86 head coaches at Pac-10 schools over the last 50 years, Tedford is just one of four t0 have winning seasons in each of his first six years. Others: Frank Kush (ASU), John Robinson (USC) and Mike Bellotti (Oregon).
-- UCLA Head Coach Rick Neuheisel owns a 3-1 record against Cal, with each meeting coming while he was head coach at Washington.
-- Cal had six players selected in the 2008 NFL Draft. Despite the talent, though, Cal finished 7-6 in 2007.
-- Tedford, dissastisfied with the results, made it public that he consequently read a book called "Talent is Never Enough" that he then had distributed to all of the head coaches in Cal's athletic program.
-- Cal's 63-point margin of victory against Washington State was its largest since 1922.
-- Cal has not been shut out in a school-record 113 straight games dating back to 1999.
-- The Bear faithful are holding on to hope of winning the Pac-10, and, mathmatically, it's a reasonable hope. The Bears are 2-1 in the conferece, and just a half-game behind four other one-loss teams – Arizona, USC, Oregon and Oregon State. Among all of those teams, Cal has the most home games remaining in the conference.
-- Cal has not won a conference championship since it tied for one in 1975 (with UCLA), when the league was the Pac-8. Since 1950, it's only won three ('75, '58, '50).
-- After Cal's demoralizing come-from-ahead loss to Arizona last week, Cal's defensive veterans called a defensive player meeting to step up the team's effort in practice.
-- Saturday's game is designated the Joe Roth Memorial game, honoring the former Cal All-American quarterback who passed away at the age of 21 in 1977 after playing the 1976 season with cancer (melanoma). Each year the Cal home game against either UCLA or USC honors Roth's memory.
-- Saturday calls for a high of 79 degrees in Berkeley and clear, sunny skies.
CALIFORNIA'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
After facing offenses for a few weeks that were either one-dimensional or just plain bad, UCLA's defense will have another crack against a good, well-balanced one.
Cal's offense is averaging 413 yards and 37 points per game, with a good running and passing attack.
Not meaning to scare you, Bruin fans, but the most similar offense to the Cal offense that UCLA has faced so far this season is BYU's.
And just like against the Cougars, UCLA is on the road.
|Cal center Alex Mack.|
This, for a defense that was already very vulnerable against the run, going up against a very strong rushing offense.
We have to give it to you, straight: The outlook for this match-up is bleak.
As is standard in college football, Cal's offense is good because its offensive line is good, easily in the top third of the conference. Center Alex Mack (SR, 6-4, 316) is all-everything, and probably the best offensive lineman in the Pac-10 right now. Guard Noris Malele (SR, 6-2, 303) will also be a candidate for post-season honors. He dinged his knee last week but is expected to play.
The offensive line has created some big holes for Cal's running game, which is led by tailback Jahvid Best (SO, 5-10, 193). Best has stepped into the void left by the departed Justin Forsettt from a season ago, and has excelled – leading the country in all-purpose yards per game (200). That was even after he didn't do his usual kick-off returns last week due to a dislocated elbow. Best missed the Arizona State game two weeks ago, then rushed for 107 yards last week against Arizona. He did, though, sit out the fourth quarter last week after experiencing some tenderness in the elbow. He is expected to play, but he might not get the full load he regularly would were he completely healthy.
Shane Vereen (R-FR, 5-10, 192) has filled in admirably, gaining 411 yards to Best's 554, and averaging 6 yards per carry (Best averages 7).
Between the two of them, they're getting an average of 170 yards per game out of the tailback position.
The quarterback situation has been about two different quarterbacks, without really a quarterback controversy. In fall, Kevin Riley (SO, 6-2, 224) beat out veteran Nate Longshore (SR, 6-5, 233), and he started Cal's first four games, to erratic results. Riley, who is the better athlete, was missing on some relatively easy throws, so Head Coach Jeff Tedford opted to go with Longshore for the last two weeks, who has been slightly more efficient but doesn't give Cal as much mobility at the position. Riley and Longshore were splitting first-team reps in practice this week, and Tedford said he wouldn't name a starter until close to game time. It doesn't matter much, since UCLA expects both to play, like they did last week against Arizona.
Cal's group of receivers has been serviceable, but even the most avid Cal fan would have to say that there has been a bit of a void left after the departure of DeSean Jackson, Robert Jordan and Lavelle Hawkins. Those three combined for 184 catches a season ago, and no receiver has really come close to replacing even one of them. LaReylle Cunningham (SR, 6-1, 205) has 16 catches, and Nyan Boateng (JR, 6-2, 210) and Sean Young (SR, 5-11, 180) have 14 apiece, and while they've been able to occasionally get behind opposing secondaries for fairly big gains, the Cal quarterbacks just haven't looked at them consistently for crucial short, possession-type throws.
The Cal QBs have looked to Cameron Morrah (JR, 6-4, 245), the tight end, as that guy, and he leads the team with 18 catches on the season. Morrah is a legit threat, with good enough quickness to turn a short gainer into a big one.
|Bret Lockett and Alterraun Verner.|
As we said above, UCLA's already young and inexperienced defense got quite a bit younger and inexperienced this week since both Tom Blake and Reginald Stokes are out with injuries at defensive end. That means true freshman Datone Jones has to step into one starting defensive end spot and, while Jones is a talented athlete, he is still not nearly strong enough or savvy enough at this point to go up against Cal's veteran offensive line. To make matters worse, back-up Chase Moline is still out. UCLA moved David Carter back to d-end this week in practice (he had moved from d-end to defensive tackle earlier this season), and he'll get a lot of playing time since the only other option is 213-pound Chinonso Anyanwu, or redshirt freshman Justin Edison, who can't play at this level, at least yet.
That puts a great deal of pressure on UCLA's two interior defensive linemen, Brigham Harwell and Brian Price. But there might not be much they can do if they are consistently double-teamed and Cal just pitches the ball out to a tailback to exploit Cal's clear advantage on the edge.
UCLA will have to do a lot of gang tackling and swarming, and it will need a much better effort in run support from its back seven. UCLA's secondary has been fairly good against the pass, but fairly mediocre against the run. Safety Bret Lockett, in particular, has been burned, and the Bruins will need a more consistent effort from him if it has even slight hopes to occasionally stop Cal's running game.
Advantage: Cal. . This has all the makings of ugliness. Where it could get particularly unattractive is how it might be reminiscent of BYU's quarterback Max Hall having time to make tea in the pocket as he picked apart UCLA's secondary. It's doubtful UCLA will be able to get a good pass rush against the Bears (who have only allowed 9 sacks in six games), and Riley/Longshore, who are prone to mistakes, will have plenty of time to make sure they don't make mistakes.
The only thing Defensive Coordinator DeWayne Walker has going for him is the element of surprise, and he's going to have to gamble with some new blitzes to keep Cal off-balance. If UCLA's defense settles into its nickel alignment, and plays bend-don't-break, you can bet that it will not only bend but also break. The stats on UCLA's pass defense are a bit inflated since it's gone against three teams in three weeks (Washington State, Oregon and Stanford) that couldn't throw. Those three teams averaged only 21 pass attempts per game. Cal is averaging 37. Cal is the first team UCLA has faced in four weeks (including Fresno State) that passes more than it throws.
So, not only does it look depressing for UCLA against Cal's running game, given the Bruins' combination of a poor rushing defense and a lack of defensive ends, UCLA can't really take any solace in the projected match-up through the air.
Proably the most entertaining positional match-up to watch is Mack and his interior OL co-horts go up against UCLA's Harwell and Price. Other than that, there might not be many other aspects of this match-up that UCLA fans will find entertaining.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. CALIFORNIA'S DEFENSE
Cal's defense might be the best UCLA has faced yet this season. It combines a very good rush defense with a big-play secondary that is very good at generating turnovers, particularly interceptions. Cal leads the league in both turnover margin (+6) and interceptions (11).
You could maybe attribute Cal's effectiveness on defense to an alignment change going into the season. Cal went to a 3-4 this year to take advantage of its linebacking group, which is dominated by talent and experience. Three seniors – Worrell Williams (SR, 6-0, 250), Zach Follett (SR, 6-1, 238) and Anthony Felder (SR, 6-3, 235) -- are the defense's leaders. Felder leads the team in tackles (44), Follett in tackles for loss (8.5), and Williams is a big, immovable object in the middle.
|Cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson.|
In the back seven, Cal has some talent, particularly at cornerback. Responsible for three of those 11 league-leading interceptions is Syd'Quan Thompson (JR, 5-9, 184), who is having an All-Pac-10 type of year. Opposite him is Darian Hagan (SO, 6-0, 181), who is considered one of the best young cover guys in the conference.
UCLA's offense has become a bit one-dimensional itself, with a developing passing game and a sputtering running game.
It's really hurt the running game that UCLA can't get a good performance out of the tailback position. It's not Kahlil Bell's fault, since he's playing through some injuries. True freshman Derrick Coleman has shown occasional flashes, and he looked a bit more comfortable breaking tackles last week against Stanford.
|Fullback Chane Moline.|
Quarterback Kevin Craft has been making incremental progress week by week. He simply has to play in the first half of a game like he's played in the second half. And while that sounds unscientific, there might be more to it than you think: Many believe it's a matter of Craft being more effective in the second halves of games because he's settled down by then. So, now that the issue has been recognized, it will be interesting to see if a resolution can be implemented.
No matter if Craft is playing well in the first half or not, he's going to be getting a great deal of pressure from the Cal pass rush. UCLA's pass protection has been abysmal, and Cal is a very good pass-rushing team, with 17 sacks on the season. Its linebackers provide most of the pressure from the edge or stunting through the middle, which UCLA has really struggled to pick up.
UCLA is doing more juggling on its offensive line this week since Jeff Baca, the true freshman starting at left tackle, pulled a hamstring and is out. Micah Kia, who started last week at right tackle after being benched for a couple of games, will go back to his original left tackle spot. In practice, Mike Harris, a redshirt freshman with very little game experience, was getting the majority of the reps at starting right tackle.
It appears that UCLA's receiving group has emerged as UCLA's offensive strength. Terrence Austin has proved to be a reliable target, as has freshman Taylor Embree. It was particularly encouraging when freshman Nelson Rosario flashed some big-time talent last week against Stanford after being slowed by an ankle injury for a few weeks. Senior Marcus Everett has also looked more like himself in practice after returning from injury. And of course, there is tight end Ryan Moya, who is having a very good season in Norm Chow's offense.
But, while the receivers are the offenses strength, you can't take advantage of that strength if you can't get the ball in their hands.
Advantage: Cal. There's one very obvious call to make here: UCLA will try to get Craft away from pressure so he can make good decisions. But not only do we know that, Cal knows that. So, expect Cal to be sending its heat-seeking linebackers wide on the edge to contain Craft.
The UCLA offensive game plan will have to try to exploit the Cal defense's great pursuit. You could see many screens and throwbacks in this game from Chow, in trying to get the four Cal linebackers to over-commit and create some space.
UCLA will undoubtedly test the ground game, and probably unsuccessfully. It's becoming more and more apparent that UCLA can actually control possession with its passing game, but it's completely dependent on giving Craft time enough to work.
While the UCLA coaches have said they wouldn't go to the no-huddle, two-minute offense in any other situation than the last two minutes of a half, we're guessing they could experiment with it in this game. Craft tends to be able to play better in it, relieving him of having to think too much and just being able to react.
Cal has gotten some solid Special Teams play, but it will be without its biggest special teams weapon again this week. Best was averaging 31.6 yards per kick-off return, but he's been relieved of those duties again this week because of his elbow. Punter Bryan Anger (FR, 6-4, 196) leads the Pac-10, averaging 45.9 yards per punt. First-string placekicker David Seawright has a groin injury, and those duties have been taken over by Giorgio Tavecchio (FR, 5-8, 165), who last week made two field goals and narrowly missed a 50-yard attempt. Leading the Pac-10 in field goals is UCLA's Kai Forbath, who has made 10 of 13 on the season.
The match-ups are generally bad just about any way you look at them for UCLA. Really, the only vulnerability for Cal is its pass defense, which is 7th in the Pac-10 and allowing 200 yards per game. But you'd have to think, with the way Cal's defense has been generating sacks and turnovers, it will easily negate any potential advantage UCLA's passing game might have.
When searching for any aspects of the match-up where UCLA might have an advantage, that's about it.
This game will clearly come down to UCLA, again, trying to steal it. If UCLA can keep its offense on the field, which it's been able to do with some clutch plays in its passing game, it would have a chance to keep Cal's score down and stay in it through the fourth quarter. If that's the case, UCLA's biggest strength so far this season, its two-minute offense, could take over again. But there are just too many factors that are keeping UCLA from even staying in the game until the fourth quarter and being in a position to steal it. What could make this really ugly is if some of those near-interceptions Craft is prone to throw aren't just nearly intercepted.
This isn't a great Cal team. But it's by far more talented than UCLA. It does give you the shudders to imagine what Cal's offense could do against UCLA's young and depleted defense. It could very well be shades of UCLA's defense in 2004, when there wasn't a Bruin defender anywhere on your TV screen when an opposing running back turned the corner. Sorry to conjure up bad memories, but just trying to get you prepared.
Just keep saying to yourself, "It's all about rebuilding, it's all about rebuilding..."