Cal Preview

The mysterious Cal Bears come to the Rose Bowl Saturday. They have talent and seemingly should be better than what they looked like against USC and Oregon. UCLA is trying to get its passing game on track. For both teams, a win could turn around the season...

FACTS AND FACTORS

-- The California Golden Bears come to the Rose Bowl Saturday at 12:30. The game will be televised by ABC, with Terry Gannon and David Norrie calling the action.

-- UCLA is 3-2, and 0-2 in the Pac-10, having lost the last two games, to Stanford on the road, and Oregon at home.

-- Cal is also 3-2 and has had a schizophrenic season so far. The Bears started off by beating Maryland, Eastern Washington and Minnesota by a combined score of 144-41. It then dropped its last two games, to Oregon an USC, by a combined score of 6-72.

-- Cal, which is now unranked, started the season ranked 12th in the country, and then climbed to #6, before the bottom fell out in the last two games.

-- In the all-time series that dates back to 1933, UCLA leads with a 49-29-1 advantage.

-- UCLA leads with a 27-11-1 advantage in games played in Los Angeles, and a 10-3 edge in games played at the Rose Bowl.

-- The two teams have split the last eight meetings, with each winning on its own home field.

-- The last road for Cal victory was in 1999, when Cal beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl, 17-0, but the Bears had to later forfeit that win due to the use of an ineligible player. If you include that game, UCLA has taken 7 straight from the Bears at the Rose Bowl, dating back to Cal's victory in 1993.

-- Last season, Cal won in Berkeley, 41-20, when the Bears scored 21 fourth-quarter points.

-- In that game, Cal gained 232 yards on the ground, while UCLA gained 16.

-- Cal is just 2-8 in its last 10 road games. The Bears haven't had a winning road record since 2005, when they went 3-2.

-- Cal starting its Pac-10 schedule 0-2 marks its worst conference start since 2001, when it lost all of its Pac-10 games and went 1-10 overall.

-- Cal's 7 consecutive winning seasons moves it to within one winning year of tying the school record. The record of 8 straight winning seasons goes back to 1918-1925.

-- Cal is coached by Jeff Tedford, who is in his 8th year in Berkeley. His 62-32 record at Cal ranks him fourth on the list of winningest Cal coaches. He's actually only five victories away from tying Pappy Waldorf for the most wins of any Cal coach in the modern era. He's set a school record of taking the Bears to six straight bowl games and four straight victories. He's compiled a Pac-10 record of 36-25, after taking over a program in 2002 that hadn't had a winning conference season since 1991. Under Tedford, Cal has finished ranked among the nation's top 25 teams four of the last five seasons. You could easily say that Tedford has created one of the best eras in Cal's football history. He's known as an offensive and quarterback guru.

-- Probably the heyday of Cal football was in the late 1940s, when the Bears won or tied for three straight conference championships. Since then, the Bears have only won the conference title outright once, in 1958, and tied for the championship twice, in 1975 and in 2006.

-- Cal hasn't been to the Rose Bowl game since 1951, which was the last of three consecutive appearances.

-- UCLA's much-publicized pre-season goal, to become bowl eligible this season after going 4-8 a year ago, is still very much within reach. The NCAA requires all bowl teams win at least 6 games, so that would mean UCLA needs to win 3 of its last 7 games. Three of those games are home – this week against Cal, and then against Washington and Arizona State. And four of the remaining games are on the road, against Arizona, Oregon State, Washington State and USC.

-- UCLA's honorary captain for the game is Charles Arbuckle, who played tight end for the Bruins in 1986-1989. He earned first-team All-American as a junior and second team as senior. Arbuckle played in the NFL for a few teams, and now works as a college football analyst for ESPNU.

-- Cal is taking busses bus to the game from Berkeley. They'll make the six- to seven-hour ride Thursday.

-- After raining this week, the weather is supposed to make a dramatic turnaround. The forecast for Pasadena Saturday calls for sunny skies and a temperature of 87 degrees.

CAL'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

It truly is a tale of two offenses for the Bears so far this season. In its first three games the offense averaged 48 points and 488 yards. In its last two, it averaged 3 points and 246.

You could make the case that it was a matter of Cal playing against three poor defenses and then two good ones.

UCLA's defense, despite some lapses, is closer to USC's and Oregon's defense than it is to Maryland's or Minnesota's.

There's also the factor of Cal playing on the road. It scraped by Minnesota, pulling out the game in the fourth quarter, and it got shut down in Eugene against the Ducks.

At the very least, Cal's offense is suspect.

Qaurterback Kevin Riley.
It has relied mostly on the big play to gain yards. In its first three games, when it put up huge amounts of yardage, much of it was due to big plays. Cal didn't sustain many drives down the field, but they did complete the homerun ball, or get that 50-yard run.

Those runs were courtesy of junior running back Jahvid Best (5-10, 195), who is one of the best at his position in the country. When he was ripping it up in the first three games, Best was mentioned prominently as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Best, if he stays for his senior season, would definitely challenge to be the most productive running back in Cal history, which is saying something, since they do boast the likes of Russell White and Chuck Muncie.

Best is very fast and elusive, and stronger than he looks. He is "best" at the big play, breaking off those big-gaining, back-breaking runs. In his career, he's had 9 runs of 60+ yards, and 3 of 80+. He is the best antidote for a struggling offense, especially one that doesn't throw well, because, odds are, Best is going to rescue your offense and give you a big play.

Against USC and Oregon, however, it didn't happen. Against USC, he gained 47 yards, and his longest run was 13 yards. Against Oregon, 55 yards and a long of 11.

It's really the key to stopping Cal's offense: Take away the big play by Best.

Cal does have the benefit of being able to go to one of the best second-string running backs in the conference, sophomore Shane Vereen (5-10, 198). Best got banged up considerably last season, and Cal has been using Vereen quite a bit to keep the wear-and-tear on Best to a minimum, and Vereen has been dependable. There's also redshirt freshman Covaghn Deboskie-Johnson (5-11, 205) who has shown flashes so far this season.

Cal is fairly one-dimensional offensively because their junior quarterback, Kevin Riley (6-2, 221), has struggled. In Cal's West Coast Offense, predicated on doing the dink-and-dunk, and then going over the top, Riley hasn't been as accurate in his throws as he needs to be. Against Oregon and USC, he went for a combined 27 of 71 (38%), and averaged just 161 yards. Riley was under pressure quite a bit, being sacked eight times in those two games.

In terms of whether it's all Riley's fault, or some of the blame could be placed on Cal's receivers, well, it's a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. The receivers haven't done well, with Cal trying to find the right guys and dealing with injuries. Sophomore Marvin Jones (6-2, 190), a guy they were expecting to have a big impact as a freshman but then injured his knee last season, has been carrying the biggest load as Cal's leading receiver, but he's only averaging 2.2 catches per game. Against USC and Oregon he had 4 catches for a total of 67 yards. Senior Verran Tucker (6-1, 204) has been dealing with a calf injury, but he was cleared to play this week. Junior Jeremy Ross (5-11, 216) is also a decent threat. Coming off the bye week gave the Bears got a chance to heal up, so they'll also get back senior Nyan Boateng (6-2, 211).

Cal's tight end, sophomore Anthony Miller (6-3, 268) is a solid target.

The Bears, of course, like to throw a great deal to their backs. Best, in fact, is tied for the most receptions on the team, with 11. Best and Vereen combined have just one less reception than the two Cal receivers combined.

Cornerback Sheldon Price.
Perhaps one of the things that has limited Cal's offense in sustaining drives has been the loss of All-American center Alex Mack from last season. Cal has had good continuity on the offensive line, without really any injuries to speak of, but they had to replace three starters, and one returning starter lost his spot, so the offensive line has had issues gelling. They looked good against the three pushovers, but then really struggled against Oregon and USC. Sophomore tackle Mitchell Schwartz (6-6, 317) started last year as a freshman, and is considered the Bears' next headliner on the OL. Except for senior left tackle Mike Tepper (6-7, 313), the Cal OL is young, with a junior, two sophomores and one redshirt freshman.

For UCLA's defense, it's been kind of the same story in every game: It gives up good chunks of yardage, but keeps the opposing offenses out of the end zone. It's still good enough to be ranked the 21st best defense in the country.

Most of the big chunks have been on the ground. Last week, the Bruin defense was very susceptible to the big running play, allowing Oregon's LaMichael James to run for 152 yards. The week before, they gave up 134 yards to Stanford's Toby Gerhart.

It appears that UCLA's back seven aren't doing a great job in run support. First, there's true freshman cornerback Sheldon Price, who has been pushed back on running plays at times, clearing out one side of the field. UCLA's linebackers, which were supposed to be the strength of the D, have been inconsistent. Kyle Bosworth has played well, and actually been the defense's savior. Middle linebacker Reggie Carter, though, has been out of position at times, and it doesn't help that he's sat out the last two days of practice with a knee injury.

Advantage: Even. It's pretty even just about any way you look at it. On paper, UCLA's defense looks like it should have the edge, but UCLA's vulnerability to big-play runs, which is Best's forte, makes it a wash.

It will probably look pretty similar to UCLA's match-up against Oregon. Cal will have a good day running the ball, based on Best getting into the secondary and UCLA struggling with its tackling again. He'll probably break a couple of 40+ yarders.

Cal also has shown a penchant for the big pass play, and that could definitely happen against UCLA's generally untested secondary.

Cal will scheme to pick on Price, and throw his way, which will have a degree of success. But UCLA will get enough pressure on Riley – not a lot, but enough – to keep him from being really efficient in Cal's passing game. Riley doesn't make a lot of mistakes – having thrown just one interception on the season – but he'll be out of sync enough to shut down drives.

The Bears will gain some yards because of its big plays, but UCLA will keep it from translating into many points.

Remember, Cal hasn't scored a touchdown in two games.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. CAL'S DEFENSE

This definitely isn't the marquee match-up of this game. UCLA's offense is 114th in the country, while Cal's defense is 63rd.

The generally mediocre performance of the Cal D has pretty much baffled Cal watchers. The Bears ranked 23rd in the nation a year ago, and returned eight starters.

Linebacker Mychal Kendricks.
They did, however, lose a great trio of linebackers in Zack Follett, Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder. One starter, senior Eddie Young (6-0, 239) returned to the starting linebacking unit.

Stepping into that void has been sophomore Mychal Kendricks (6-0, 230), who currently leads the Pac-10 in tackles, averaging 9.2 per game. Kendricks has shown good quickness and pursuit to the ball. Juniot Mike Mohamed (6-3, 237) is one of the inside anchors in Cal's 3-4, and he's been around the ball himself quite a bit.

All three of Cal's down linemen returned from last season, led by senior defense end Tyson Alualu (6-3, 295). Alualu is more of a defensive tackle type, even though he plays end in Cal's 3-4, but he's quick off the ball and gets into the backfield of opposing offenses with regularity. He has 4.5 sacks on the season.

Junior Cameron Jordan (6-4, 287) is also considered a good one at the other defensive end spot.

Where the loss of the three linebackers has really hurt is in Cal's pass rush. In the 3-4, the pass rush comes primarily from the linebackers, and the Bears haven't been getting much pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Coming into the season, many college football writers thought Cal would have one of the best secondaries in the country, returning all four starters from a unit, last season, that ranked sixth nationally in passing defense efficency and third in interceptions (24). But it hasn't quite lived up to its hype.

Senior cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson (5-9, 191), who was a first-team all-Pac-10 member last year, has struggled some, particularly in tackling. The other returning starter at cornerback, junior Darian Hagan (6-0, 185), was benched following sub-par performances in the first three games. Hagan was torched by Minnesota receiver, Eric Decker. In fact, Decker, Oregon's Ed Dickson and USC's Damien Williams all had huge days against Cal's passing D.

Redshirt freshman Josh Hill (5-11, 194) has replaced Hagan, and he's become a target much like UCLA's Price.

Cal onlookers are a bit baffled, because not only did the Cal D not look good against Oregon and USC, it wasn't exactly stellar against Minnesota, and not overly impressive against Maryland. Even against Eastern Washington, an FCS (or 1-AA ) team, it gave up 221 yards passing.

It's difficult to ever predict that UCLA's offense is going to have a break-out game. There have been a few times when it seemed like it would and it's fallen back into its struggling ways.

Offensive tackle Mike Harris.
You'd have to say, though, that this match-up against Cal's defense might give it the opportunity.

UCLA has been running the ball decently, with the UCLA OL opening up a good amount of holes for its running backs. The young offensive line, with redshirt sophomore tackle Mike Harris being the veteran of the group, has come out in every game and given UCLA's offense running room and the basis for an effective offense.

Where the offense has failed is in its passing game. And without the passing game, opposing defenses have dedicated more defenders to the box to stop UCLA's rushing game. It's gone predictably in every game; UCLA starts out running well, then opposing defensive coaches realize that UCLA can't throw and do everything they can to stop UCLA from running, so then, in the second half, UCLA's running game is taken away.

It's clearly on the UCLA passing game to make the offense work. Of course, much of that falls on the shoulders of quarterback Kevin Prince, who struggled last week against Oregon. I'll probably be called an apologist, but you have to put his performance in perspective: He's a redshirt freshman who is a new starter, who hadn't played a game in two years before this season, and then last week played his first game after being out for three weeks with a fractured jaw.

UCLA's receivers, too, are responsible. They haven't exactly been perfect, running poor routes, missing assignments and dropping catchable balls.

But sources inside the program pretty much say that, if UCLA can get some execution from its quarterback position, the coaches believe the offense will be effective.

If Prince sputters again, you can probably expect true freshman Richard Brehaut to step in quickly, after showing some poise and ability last week in his relief of Prince against Oregon.

Watch for more new faces to get chances in UCLA's offense. With starting tailback Johnathan Franklin possibly still bothered by an ankle injury (even though he ran with the 1s Wednesday in practice), junior running back Christian Ramirez was the projected starter before injuries set him back at the beginning of the season. Young guys like Morrell Presley, Randall Carroll and Damien Thigpen got more snaps against Oregon, and increased reps this week in practice.

Advantage: Even. Cal's defense is a mystery right now. Is it really not very good or just under-achieving? It's difficult to say. On paper, it should be good, but on the field it hasn't been.

Again, we don't want to get in the trap of predicting that this will be the break-out game for UCLA's offense. But we think there are some indications that UCLA's O has a chance to have its most effective game yet this season. It's reasonable to think that Prince got out his jitters against Oregon and, with Cal's average pass rush, he'll get enough time to be comfortable. He's looked good in practice this week throwing in the rain (perhaps UCLA needs an unexpected downpour in Pasadena Saturday).

It also helps that UCLA is in the friendly confines of the Rose Bowl, and Cal is on the road, where their defense has looked particularly suspect.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The mediocre bug has even hit Cal's special teams. All-American punter Brian Anger is averaging under 40 yards per punt. Its field goal kicker, freshman Vince D'Amato, has been very inconsistent, hitting on 4 of 8 attempts so far this season, with no attempt longer than 47 yards. Cal's kick-off coverage has looked vulnerable also. Against USC, the Bear punt return coverage made Damien Williams look like Moses.

UCLA, though, has coverage issues of its own, with the kick-off return coverage getting exposed for a touchdown last week against Oregon.

But still, if there's an advantage here, it goes to UCLA's special teams.

Prediction

If you're talking intangibles, you have to give it to the Cal Bears. After getting plastered by Oregon and USC, and then having a bye week to get their mind straight and get healthy, you would think they'd come to the Rose Bowl Saturday with a renewed sense about the season.

They'll need it since they looked flat and uncompetitive against both Oregon and USC.

The question really is: How good is Cal? Yeah, they were probably over-hyped at the beginning of the season, but they still have a lot of talent.

This game will probably answer that question. If Cal dominates UCLA, you could conclude that they were talented under-achievers against Oregon and USC. If UCLA plays them tough, or beats the Bears, you could conclude that the Bears were far over-hyped.

Cal has been good at holding onto the ball, and making opponents cough it up. As we said, Riley has only thrown one interception, and Cal has fumbled just four times in five games, for a total of just five turnovers. In what will probably be a low-scoring game, the turnover advantage will probably make the difference. Heck, in a matter of a few minutes, a break-down in special teams and two turnovers can cost you a game, and something similar could very well be the deciding factor in this one.

It's pretty clear that the predictions we make in this preview every week directly affect the outcome of the game. Recently, we think we've been very accurate in describing how the games would play out and how the units would match-up, but have worked as an opposite mo-jo against UCLA in predicting they'd beat Stanford and Oregon.

So…

Cal 24
UCLA 20


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