What to watch: UCLA vs No. 20 Cal

Back in July, UCLA looked at its preseason ranking and sneered. Despite returning a talented defense and almost every offensive starter, the Bruins were picked to finish third in the Pac-12 media poll.

Six games and several injuries later, the team stands at fourth in the division, licking its wounds after back-to-back losses to Arizona State and Stanford. Another loss could erase whatever chance they have left at claiming a spot in the Pac-12 title game.

Here’s what to watch when UCLA hosts No. 20 Cal today at 6 p.m.

When UCLA has the ball

Since his stunning introduction to the college football world, Josh Rosen’s numbers have come back to earth. In his last five games, he has completed less than 55 percent of his passes and averaged below 7.0 yards per attempt. While he’s looked better than those numbers suggest, his penchant for unforced errors could prove especially costly against Cal.

Rosen has thrown seven interceptions in his last five games, with five coming against BYU and Stanford. Those two teams have combined for 13 interceptions this season.

The Bears are tied for fifth in the FBS with 12 picks. That number has helped mask some of the deficiencies in the Cal secondary, which ranks in the bottom half of the conference in opposing completion percentage (57.7) and yards allowed per attempt (7.2).

In other words, Rosen and the rest of the Bruins need to avoid beating themselves. Continue reading

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Five questions: S.F. Chronicle’s Connor Letourneau on Cal

UCLA has never lost three straight regular-season games under Jim Mora. To avoid falling into that hole, the Bruins will need to hold off a Cal offense led by star quarterback Jared Goff. The No. 20 Bears are averaging 40.2 points per game after a surprising 5-1 start, and will be eager to win at the Rose Bowl for just the second time in the last 15 years. Connor Letourneau, who covers Cal for the San Francisco Chronicle, answered five questions about the team.

(Here are the questions I answered about the Bruins for the Chronicle.)

1. After suffering its first loss, what does Cal most need to prove against a second-half schedule that looks much more intimidating than the first?

The Bears are trying to prove they can win the Pac-12 North. Though No. 10 Stanford is the clear favorite at this point, No. 20 Cal is very much in contention. The division title would likely come down to the Big Game on Nov. 21 if the Bears can win their next four games over unranked opponents.

To make that happen, they must start stringing together complete performances. Cal’s past four games have been within six points, largely because it has struggled in at least one phase. In its Oct. 10 loss at Utah, for example, uncharacteristic offensive mistakes put the pressure on an inconsistent — albeit much-improved — defense.

2. Jared Goff threw a career-high five interceptions in Salt Lake City. Did Utah do something that other defenses will be able to replicate, or did the quarterback simply have a bad day?

That was an odd performance. The first couple interceptions, which came on a dropped pass and a tipped ball, weren’t necessarily Goff’s fault. Then the takeaways seemed to throw him off-kilter a bit. Continue reading

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