UCLA vs. Cal: Complete Game Preview and Prediction
On Saturday, the No. 25 UCLA Bruins will head into Berkeley to take on the struggling Cal Golden Bears.
For the Bruins, they hope to build upon their current 4-1 record and win on the road in Strawberry Canyon for the first time since 1998. The Cal Golden Bears sit on the other side of the spectrum with a 1-4 record. Head coach Jeff Tedford is on a seat that's scalding hot, and this could be a "make or break" game for his job security.
Expect this matchup between bitter University of California rivals to be a physical and emotional affair. Both teams have something to play for, and it only adds to the intrigue of the contest.
Let's take a look at a full preview/prediction of the game on Saturday.
Where: California Memorial Stadium
When: Saturday, October 6 at 7:00 p.m. PT
Watch: Pac-12 Network
Betting Line: UCLA -2.5 according to Wager Minds
Key Storylines: Cal
What will we see from Cal?
With an inauspicious 1-4 start to the season, no one in Berkeley is feeling too good right now. Much of the criticism surrounding the program has been thrown at the feet of Tedford—and rightfully so. Cal has looked sloppy, undisciplined and even weary in terms of body language.
In this contest, will we see a team fighting to turn their season around, or a team that will "go through the motions" and play uninspired football? No one really knows at this point. It will be fascinating to see how the Golden Bears respond on Saturday night against a big rival.
Can the offensive line protect quarterback Zach Maynard?
For the season, the beleaguered Cal offensive line has allowed the most sacks in the entire nation through five games with 25. Against Southern Cal alone, they gave up nine sacks. Those numbers have to be dramatically altered if they are to be victorious this weekend.
Key Storylines: UCLA
Can the Bruins break "The Berkeley curse?"
UCLA has not won up in Berkeley since 1998. That's a fourteen year span in which the Golden Bears have owned the Bruins. Under Jim Mora, the culture has seemingly changed from within the program. Of course, the term "culture change" can be taken with a grain of salt in many cases. However, the Bruins do appear to be a team that plays with more of a sense of urgency and exuberance. Those qualities should be attributed to Mora.
In this game, Mora will take his young team on the road with the hopes of coming away with a victory. The term "mental toughness" has been a mantra preached by Mora since he took the job over in Westwood. UCLA needs to play a clean football game—while blocking out the possible distraction of the losing streak.
How will the youth play in a hostile environment?
Despite Cal's 1-4 record, the crowd on Saturday night should be a raucous bunch. There will be a big UCLA contingency traveling up north for the game, and that will only add to the projected atmosphere.
UCLA starts five freshmen, and has a litany of inexperienced athletes throughout their two-deep. The Bruins rely on freshmen at multiple spots on the offensive line, at quarterback and at various skill positions. The crowd will be loud, and the youthful Bruins need to stay focused and not let the atmosphere become bigger than it should be. Aside from a Week 1 pounding of Rice in Houston, and the glorified scrimmage in Boulder last week, this will be the first true road test for the squad.
UCLA Offense vs. Cal Defense
In this contest, it's imperative that Cal's secondary and outside linebackers tackle well. A big portion of UCLA's offense is getting the ball out quickly to running backs and wide outs on the perimeter. These one-on-one matchups are geared towards getting the Bruins' athletes in space and working their magic. Missed tackles could make a five-yard play turn into a 40-yard mistake.
The zone read in the run game is also a staple of the Bruins' spread offense. Against Colorado last week, senior tailback Johnathan Franklin was gashing the Buffs for big gains. Those runs won't come as easy this week. Cal not only has good talent on its defensive line, but they also possess depth.
The defensive line is anchored by the talented trio of DeAndre Coleman, Mustafa Jalil and Kendrick Payne. Behind the aforementioned trio, Aaron Tipoti, Tiny Moala and Todd Barr add depth. Barr has been emerging of late off the edge for the Golden Bears.
The overall health of Brett Hundley's ankle is also an issue. It could prohibit UCLA from having another dangerous element in the run game if Hundley isn't comfortable with taking off and running for yardage.
If UCLA can run the ball effectively, it will open up the pass game down the field. Although he hasn't played up to expectations this season, tight end Joe Fauria could have a big game. Currently, Cal is last in the conference in rushing defense, allowing 174.80 yards/game.
From Cal's perspective, getting after Hundley will be key. If defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast can confuse the young Bruins' offensive line with exotic blitz packages centering around Chris McCain and Brennan Scarlett, it could be a long night for Hundley.
*Watch out for Cal safety Avery Sebastian. The physical safety from Georgia looked very impressive last week against Arizona State, and could be in line for action this weekend.
Cal Offense vs. UCLA Defense
The quarterback position at Cal hasn't really been solidified since the days of Aaron Rodgers. The current incumbent, Zach Maynard, has been very up and down this season.
Maynard makes mistakes when he's pressured from all angles. Most quarterbacks do, truthfully, but it doesn't help matters when Maynard's offensive line has been dreadful this year. As previously mentioned, Cal ranks dead last in the entire nation in sacks allowed with 25.
With that in mind, look for the Bruins to pressure from all over the field—namely with outside 'backers Jordan Zumwalt, Damien Holmes and Anthony Barr. Barr leads the team with six sacks, and might be the best NFL prospect on the entire roster. He's long, explosive and plays with a great motor off the edge.
To combat the pressure, the Golden Bears can do a couple of things. Cal would be well advised to run misdirection and draw plays from the backfield. Not only can it compensate for a below-average unit up front, but it can combat possible pressure that UCLA will send. A prime target in this said package would be the grossly underutilized Brendan Bigelow.
In addition, Maynard should roll out more. It'll buy him more time to survey the field, and it seems as if he's much more comfortable throwing on the run when compared to him sitting in the pocket. Play action plays that hit the fullback out in the flat for good chunks of yardage could also help to alleviate blitzing by the Bruins' defense.
UCLA likes to play with senior corners Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester out on an island. Hester is usually good for one pass interference penalty a game, and Price has been beaten multiple times already this season. The Bruins' secondary was supposed to be a strength heading into the season, but it could be construed as a weakness right now.
With the Bruins' playing up on the line of scrimmage with the corners, expect Tedford to test them deep with Keenan Allen and Chris Harper. Allen could also have big success on crossing routes that exploit the soft underbelly between the UCLA defensive line and linebackers. Cal's two-headed backfield attack of Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson also have to be bottled up.
If I'm Tedford, I give Bigelow at minimum, 15 touches. He's far too explosive to play sparingly.
Prediction: UCLA 27 Cal 23
How will Cal respond? That's the biggest question mark heading into this game. If the Golden Bears can play inspired football, there's no doubt that the team can be successful. A win against UCLA could even set the tone for the remainder of the season. If Cal comes out flat and uninspired, be prepared to start crafting Tedford's obituary as head football coach in Berkeley.
Cal's 1-4 record is very misleading, if one actually studies their schedule. Cal's first five opponents have a combined record of 18-6. Simply, they aren't as bad as their record indicates. The roster is chock full of talent at all levels, specifically on the offensive side of the ball.
UCLA needs to shake the bugaboo of a fourteen year drought in the Bay Area. The Bruins need to play confidently, and smart. Right now, the momentum of both programs are polarizing. UCLA keeps climbing and climbing, while Cal is on the precipice of falling into the abyss.
This game could go either way, and it would not be a shock to see Cal pull the upset. However, this game has massive implications for the Bruins.
A win here would not only take UCLA's record to 5-1, but it would also signify, more than anything, a changing of the times. These are the types of games that UCLA hasn't been able to win in recent years. If they want to become an upper echelon team in the conference, they have to be able to beat middling opponents on the road. A win against the Golden Bears could indicate that the program is starting to turn the proverbial corner. With that in mind, I expect the Bruins to get it done on Saturday night in a close game.
UCLA 27 Cal 23