UCLA has a difficult slate of games in the coming weeks, which means Saturday's contest against California must be used for preparation.
The Bruins have been one of the best teams in the country this season despite not receiving a lot of national attention. The undefeated squad has been blowing teams out, and could present a serious challenge to both Oregon and Stanford.
Meanwhile, Cal is not as bad as the 1-4 record indicates. The Bears have faced an incredibly difficult schedule while losing to three ranked teams.
Still, UCLA should earn an easy victory as 25.5-point favorites, according to Vegas Insider. As a result, the game should be about more than just winning. The squad must also work to improve in the following areas.
Stopping the Pass
This has been one of UCLA's biggest strengths to start the year, ranking 28th in the country in passing yards allowed per game. Most impressively, the squad has only allowed 5.85 yards per attempt this season.
However, the secondary will be challenged against freshman Jared Goff and the Cal passing attack.
The Bears enter the game ranked fourth in the country with 402.6 passing yards per game. Goff has thrown over 50 passes in four of his five starts and is averaging over 450 passing in those games.
While the young player tends to make some mistakes, he is still capable of beating any defense through the air. This should provide a serious test of the Bruins defense.
The secondary must continue to make plays on the ball in the air to break up passes and force turnovers. If the players cannot do that against Goff, it will be hard to imagine this happening against Marcus Mariota or Kevin Hogan.
While the Bruins forced six turnovers against Utah, a few mistakes prevented the game from being a blowout.
The biggest one was an ill-advised throw by quarterback Brett Hundley across the field that led to a game-tying pick-six in the fourth quarter. A failure to recover an onside kick also kept the door open for a comeback.
Against a team like Utah or even Cal, the squad might be able to get away with these types of mistakes. However, that will not work against the elite teams in the Pac-12.
Hundley is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the nation, but he has thrown four interceptions in the last three games. This was a huge problem last season in this matchup, as four picks led to a 43-17 loss at the hands of the Bears.
The quarterback must display better decision-making and more consistency on the field. That is not only what NFL scouts will want to see from the sophomore, but it will also lead to more success for UCLA.
While Hundley can clearly run the ball on scrambles, UCLA has to continue attacking opponents with designed runs. This will keep opposing teams honest defensively, as well as controlling possession to keep high-scoring offenses off the field.
The Bruins have the talent in the backfield to make this happen. Jordan James has been the workhorse for the team, but Paul Perkins showed last week that he can also produce when called upon.
If the two running backs are healthy, they should combine for at least 30 carries in the upcoming game against Cal. This will take the pressure off Hundley and allow the passing attack to be even more successful later on.
Going against the No. 110 run defense in the country should give the squad plenty of confidence that it is capable of rushing the ball at will.
While Oregon and Stanford will provide tougher challenges in the coming weeks, a quality showing in this game will give UCLA all the tools it needs to be successful in those games.
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