THIS WEEK’S OPPONENT:
California Golden Bears (1-4, 0-2 in the Pac-12 Conference)
SITE: Rose Bowl
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 12, 7:30 p.m.
LINE: UCLA by 24 1/2
LAST MEETING: California won, 43-17
ALL-TIME SERIES: UCLA leads, 50-32-1
This annual game between the two flagship schools of the University of California system hasn’t completely gone UCLA’s way during this century, as the Bruins’ older brothers from Berkeley have a 8-5 edge since 2000.
This misfortune particularly manifested itself last year when Jim Mora’s squad traveled north to face a bunch of Golden Bears that were well on its way to a 3-9 season and would eventually fire its coach, Jeff Tedford – and committed six turnovers as they were mauled by a sub-par Cal team.
It was UCLA’s worst loss of 2012.
The 11th-ranked Bruins (4-0, 1-0 in the Pac-12) and Bears have continued to go in opposite directions since last year’s game in Berkeley, with Sonny Dykes, Cal’s new coach, not making much of an impact in the win-loss department to this point as the Bears have but one victory so far in 2013: a seven-point squeaker over FCS school Portland State.
Coming from Louisiana Tech, Dykes has good offensive talent that can score in bunches, led by true freshman quarterback Jared Goff.
Goff has a strong arm; his 59% completion rate, 1,821 yards in the air and nine touchdown passes are proof of that. Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs have been the beneficiaries as the receivers have 38 and 36 catches respectively, with Harper boasting four TD catches and 114 yards per game.
Cal’s running game could be better, with Brendan Bigelow only averaging 3.7 yards a carry, but make no mistake about it:
After intercepting six passes in their last outing against Utah, Anthony Jefferson, Ishmael Adams, Randal Goforth, and the rest of UCLA’s secondary will be severely tested again.
The key to Bruin success on defense is simple:
Put heavy pressure on the Bears’ rookie quarterback.
UCLA’s linebackers, led by Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, and defensive line, led by Cassius Marsh and Keenan Graham, must cause havoc in Cal’s backfield; getting in Goff’s face, sacking him numerous times, forcing him to make freshman mistakes, and making him run for his life.
A reduced pressure on the secondary will result, and the Bruins, who are giving up 20 points and 362 yards a game, should be just fine.
If defensive coordinator Lou Spanos’ unit fails to pressure, if Goff has all day to throw, a shootout will ensue, and Bruin Nation does not want that as it will give the Bears hope of what (God Forbid!) would be a devastating upset.
As promising as the Cal offense is – the team in general is bound to get better in the next couple of years – their defense is not only awful in giving up 45 points and 524 yards per game, they’ve also been shorthanded as several starters have been lost due to injury.
This is a unit that gave up 52 points to an Ohio State team that was playing its backup quarterback, Kenny Guiton throwing for 276 yards and four touchdowns against them (I think the Buckeyes were taking it easy that day), so if such is the case, Brett Hundley and company, though they’ll never admit it, must be licking their chops.
Hundley’s sailing along with his 65% completion rate and nine passing scores, and his 4.7 yards a carry and three touchdowns on the ground give him an edge, but he needs to avoid bad mistakes like that pick-six he threw last week against Utah.
As for the running backs, with Jordon James out because of an ankle injury, the rest of that group needs to step up.
I’m confident that Malcolm Jones, Paul Perkins, and Steven Manfro will do well against that Cal defense, but it will be one guy’s time to shine on Saturday night: Damien Thigpen, who has been practicing and was suited up in Utah.
Thigpen hasn’t played since tearing his ACL against USC last year, but not only do I expect him to make his return against the Bears, I’m looking for him to contribute.
No, I don’t expect him to get 150 yards, but I do expect Thigpen to get some good runs.
In fact, the UCLA running game will be a key in the offensive attack in that if they can get multiple first downs on the ground – especially when it’s third-and-short and even fourth-and-short as I’d like to see the Bruins go for it in that situation when they are beyond Cal’s 50-yard line – and chew up some clock, that would keep the Cal offense off the field.
If UCLA follows that game plan as well as the defensive one, putting heat on the freshman QB, revenge will be served for last year and the Bruins should win this game comfortably.
A fast start, unlike what they’ve done in previous games, would also be very nice in this 84th renewal of what I like to call, “The World’s Biggest Bear Fight”.