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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First look: California Golden Bears

UCLA Bruins (4-2, 1-2) at California Golden Bears (4-2, 2-2)
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 18, 12:30 p.m. PT, Memorial Stadium (Berkeley, Calif.)
TV: ABC/ESPN2 (Bob Wischusen, Matt Millen, Quint Kessenich)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)

Coach: Sonny Dykes first season at Cal was an utter disaster as the Bears won just one game: a 37-30 home decision over Portland State, a FCS team that finished 6-6.

All but one of their 11 losses were decided by a double-digit margin, with the lone exception being a 33-28 loss to Arizona in front of a season-low crowd of 41,874. Take out that game, and the Bears lost 10 by an average of nearly four touchdowns (27.7 points). After Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour stepped down/was forced out this summer, everyone started adding coals beneath Dykes’ tinder seat.

Six games into his second season, his job looks completely safe. Dykes’ “Bear Raid” offense powered a surprising a 4-1 start, and now ranks 10th nationally in scoring (42.8) and 16th in yards per play (6.77). While Cal still sits near the bottom of several defensive categories, there are flashes of hope in Berkeley — even if a 31-7 loss to Washington dulled some of the shine.

Key players:

QB Jared Goff, So., 6-4, 210 — 152/232, 2,179 yards, 22 TD, 3 INT
– Goff isn’t being asked to throw as much as he did as a freshman, but he’s become much more efficient. His 9.4 yards per attempt marks almost a three-yard improvement, and ties Brett Hundley and Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace for ninth in the FBS.

WR Bryce Treggs, Jr., 5-11, 185 — 29 catches, 360 yards, 5 TD
– Cal has a lot of talented pass-catchers. Treggs is the only one with multiple 100-yard games this season. He and Goff are the Bears’ only two returning All-Pac-12 honorable mentions from 2013. Continue reading

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VIDEO: Receiver Jordan Payton says UCLA is in must-win mode

UCLA receiver Jordan Payton talked on Monday about the team’s mood after losing to Utah and Oregon — the second straight year that the Bruins have lost back-to-back games in the middle of the season.

“We have to get this out of our system,” Payton said. “This one hurts a lot because you put a lot of time and effort into understanding how big that game was. For us to go out there and kind of just play like we did, it’s sad. It’s hard. …

“Now, we have to win. Now, we have to do everything right. Now, our backs are fully against the wall.”

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UCLA’s kickoff at Cal on Oct. 18 scheduled for 12:30 p.m.

After four straight late kickoffs, UCLA finally gets a couple of back-to-back starts just after noon.

The No. 18 Bruins’ Oct. 18 trip to Cal was announced as a 12:30 p.m. kickoff at Memorial Stadium, to be broadcast on ABC/ESPN2. UCLA’s home game this Saturday against 12th-ranked Oregon will also kick off at that time slot, and will be aired on FOX.

The team had started three of its last four games at 7 p.m. PT or later — with the lone exception being a 5 p.m. PT start to a Sept. 13 win over Texas at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

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Pac-12 links: USC’s Josh Shaw (doesn’t) save nephew from drowning

» USC cornerback Josh Shaw sprained his ankles saving his nephew from drowning during a family social on Saturday. Remarkably, Shaw leaped off second-story balcony when he saw the 7-year-old struggling, landing on the concrete before crawling into the pool.

UPDATE: Serious doubts about Shaw’s story have surfaced, and USC is investigating further.

» Anu Solomon officially became Arizona’s starting quarterback, marking the first time since freshmen became eligible in 1972 that the Wildcats will open the season with one behind center.

» A closer look at the running ability of Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly, whom Jim Mora called “tough as nails.” Continue reading

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