What to watch: UCLA at Cal

UCLA hasn’t won at Memorial Stadium in 1998, but this is no longer the Cal team that placed in the top half of the conference under Jeff Tedford for most of the 2000s. The Bears have been one of the Pac-12′s biggest surprises, with a 4-1 start already matching their win total from the past two seasons — but could get exposed with a rough second-half schedule.

The Bruins, meanwhile, need to keep their season from spiraling out of control after back-to-back losses to Utah and Oregon most likely erased their playoff hopes.

What to watch heading into today’s 12:30 p.m. kickoff:

UCLA offense vs. Cal defense: By at least one measure, UCLA has the No. 1 offense in college football. No, that’s not a typo. The Bruins are first overall in offensive FEI, an efficiency rating that accounts for the strength of opposing defenses. In those rankings, the weakest defense UCLA has faced this season is Memphis, at No. 54.

But even by more traditional stats, the Bruins’ chances look good on Saturday. UCLA’s best offensive performance this year came against Arizona State, a team that lost nine defensive starters and currently gives up 6.07 yards per play. That number is good for 99th in the FBS and last in the Pac-12.

Cal isn’t much better. The Bears have surrendered 5.92 yards per play and, like the Sun Devils, are particularly vulnerable through the air. Continue reading

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Five questions: BearTerritory.net’s Ryan Gorcey talks Cal

Following back-to-back home losses, UCLA heads to Cal for a game that could stabilize the Bruins’ season — or knock it completely off the rails. The Bruins are a slight favorite, but haven’t won at Memorial Stadium since 1998. Ryan Gorcey, who publishes Scout’s Cal site BearTerritory.net, answered five questions about the Bears.

1. Sonny Dykes’ first season went about as poorly as anyone could have imagined. Does a 4-1 start in 2014 keep his job safe for the next few years, or could a second-half collapse put him in jeopardy again?

Well, 4-1 did wonders not just for the team itself, but also for a lot of folks in the general Cal community. I think there’s certainly evidence that the program is getting turned around, already winning as many games as it has over the past two seasons combined. The Bears are also playing an exciting brand of football, offensively, and the reasoning behind Dykes’s hiring was that he was going to put butts in seats with offense. That hasn’t happened quite yet. That’s a very expensive stadium that the university has to pay off, and the folks buying the most expensive seats aren’t sold on this new order quite yet. That said, Dykes has gotten Cal’s house in order, academically, which was the most significant directive given him when he was brought in. That’s played very well amongst those up top. Now, as far as a collapse, there are two ways it could happen: Cal could get blown out (like they did in the second half of 2007), or the Bears could keep things competitive against very, very good teams in a back-loaded schedule. We all knew that the second half would be tough, but if he can have his team in games at the end, I think folks will start believing.

2. What are the biggest improvements that you’ve seen from quarterback Jared Goff? Do you expect Cal to play Luke Rubenzer more given UCLA’s recent struggles against running quarterbacks?

Goff’s deep ball is much more precise and is incredibly consistent. He throws the back-shoulder fade better than any college quarterback I’ve seen, and wide receiver Kenny Lawler has rightly called it “indefensible.” Continue reading

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Ishmael Adams’ electrifying returns have slowed down

In his first four games this season, UCLA’s Ishmael Adams ran, cut and shimmied his way to 447 special teams yards on 19 touches — including a 100-yarder that marked the Bruins’ first kickoff return touchdown since 2007.

In his last two, the 5-foot-8, 190-pound defensive back has just 64 yards on kickoff and punt returns.

The Bruins’ opponents may have affected him: Armed with the conference’s best punter in Tom Hackett and strong kicker in Andy Phillips, Utah held Adams to one 18-yard kickoff return and a one-yard punt return; Oregon ranks top-40 nationally in return coverage, and held him to 45 yards on three kick returns.

Adams credited teams for picking up his and the rest of the Bruins’ special teams tendencies on film.

“They’re doing a good job keeping the ball away from me,” he said. “Keeping me guessing on where they want to kick to the ball. Recognizing what we do different in our different returns. Having great effort running down the field, wanting to get after me and make a play. It is what it is.”

Cal should offer a similarly stiff challenge this Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Punter Cole Leininger has booted five of his 25 punts for at least 50 yards, and landed eight inside the 20-yard line. The Bears are top-20 nationally in both kick and punt return coverage.

RELATED:
» A position-by-position look at UCLA through six games.
» Linebacker Myles Jack is adjusting to a different role as a sophomore.

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VIDEO: Jim Mora talks about UCLA’s approach vs. Cal offense

UCLA head coach Jim Mora talked on Thursday about the keys to stopping Cal’s explosive offense, and also touched on the state of the Bruins’ offensive line: offensive tackle Simon Goines, who has yet to play this season after undergoing ankle surgery in August, had “a good week of practice”; offensive guard Alex Redmond remains a gametime decision with a sprained ankle.

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