Going into Saturday's game between UCLA and Cal, there is some conflicting history. It’s true that the home team has won the matchup every year since 2000. However, Cal has lost two of the last three, and each UCLA loss started a string of losses that kept the Bears out of a big bowl.
In 2005, Cal lost four of the next five games (starting with UCLA) and played in the Las Vegas Bowl. In 2007, the Bears lost five of six (including UCLA), finished seventh in the Pac-10, and settled for the Armed Forces Bowl.
After the Arizona game, it seemed like people wanted to blame the defense. I’m not saying it had a great game...but the offense didn’t do it any favors...between the turnovers and the lack of a sustained drive. Those are killers for a defense. Either way, the "D" showed up bigtime Saturday in a 41-20 victory.
The defense couldn’t have been more solid in the first half. Kevin Craft couldn’t make anything happen. The first four UCLA’s pass plays turned into an interception, a dropped pass, a pass to no one, and a sack. After the pick, each UCLA series in the first quarter ended with a three-and-out.
In the second quarter, the next two drives saw UCLA get some first downs, but they both ended with an interception. The last UCLA drive started at Cal’s 39 and ended with a field goal. Overall, the defense held strong. Unfortunately, the offense couldn’t reward the its hard work. Seven of the 17 first-half points came from the "D."
In the third quarter, another three-and-out for the "D," followed by a sustained drive that resulted in a field goal. On the other hand, the offense produced nothing.
As well as the D has played, the Bears only had a 17-13 lead. Finally, in the fourth quarter, another defensive play turned the game around. On 4th-and-23, that weasel Rick Neuheisel called for a fake punt. But the defense sniffed it out and stopped it one yard short.
If that fake was successful (and it probably would have been if Perez had thrown the ball far enough) we would have been looking at a completely different game. Instead, Cal went for the jugular on the first play with a flea-flicker that turned into a 53-yard touchdown.
The next UCLA series ended in another interception returned for a touchdown (if you’re keeping score, its Cal offense 19, Cal defense 14, UCLA team 13). Finally, after a big punt return, Cal's offense put the final points on the board.
But, before anyone starts buying Rose Bowl tickets, realize that this team has to get better. The special teams were awful, producing a blocked Cal punt for a touchdown and 250 yards on nine UCLA returns (kickoff and punt).
The offense can't rely on four picks and touchdowns from the defense. Jahvid Best ran the ball well, but the passing game needs to get more consistent since the Bears will see better run defenses.
The Bears need a stronger passing game. They need better protection from the line and better decision making by the quarterback of the moment. Face it. Saturday's game did not put an end to the quarterback carousel. The better teams will convert on Cal's mistakes and failures.
The next three games are at home vs. Oregon, at USC and then at Oregon State. Those teams are a combined 9-3 (11-3 if USC and Oregon win tonight) in the conference.
Maybe we expected too much when the Bears were ranked in the top 10. Maybe we’ll get more than expected this year. Only the next three weeks will tell.