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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First look: UCLA vs. No. 20 Cal

A true freshman the last time he entered the Rose Bowl, Cal quarterback Jared Goff didn't throw a touchdown pass in that 37-10 loss to UCLA on Oct. 12, 2013. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

A true freshman the last time he entered the Rose Bowl, Cal quarterback Jared Goff didn’t throw a touchdown pass in that 37-10 loss to UCLA on Oct. 12, 2013. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

UCLA Bruins (4-2, 1-2) vs. No. 15 Cal Golden Bears (5-1, 2-1)
Kickoff:
Thursday, Oct. 22, 6 p.m., Rose Bowl
TV: ESPN (Joe Tessitore, Jesse Palmer, David Pollack, Kaylee Hartung)
Radio: AM 570 (Bill Roth, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)

Scouting report: Cal’s defense has gone from atrocious to acceptable through Sonny Dykes three seasons, allowing 7.1 yards per play in 2013, 6.3 last fall, and 5.6 through their first six games this year. … The Bears’ defensive front has performed surprisingly well. Their 19 sacks rank No. 20 in the FBS, and already exceeded their own 2014 season total by three. Seven sacks did come against Washington State, which is 116th in the country with 20 sacks allowed. … Cal is susceptible to giving up big plays, particularly through the air. It’s given up 11 catches of at least 30 yards, more than anyone in the Pac-12 except Arizona State, Arizona and Colorado. … Before his five interceptions at Utah, quarterback Jared Goff had thrown multiple picks just twice since his career debut as a true freshman. That game sank his pass efficiency from 170.46 to 157.15 — still a top-15 mark nationally.

Series history: UCLA leads the all-time series, 51-32-1, and has taken three of the last four games. Cal notched a 43-17 upset in 2012, but has only beaten the Bruins on the road once in its last seven tries.

Key players:

QB Jared Goff, Jr., 6-4, 215 — 150/225, 1,970 yards, 17 TD, 9 INT
— He threw a career-worst five interceptions at Utah less than two weeks ago, but it’s hard to imagine the likely first-round pick looking as bad again the rest of the season. Continue reading

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Pac-12 links: FCC approval of AT&T—DirecTV merger could help Pac-12 Networks

» The FCC announced on Friday that it has approved AT&T’s takeover of DirecTV, a move that could clear the way for the Pac-12 Networks to appear on the satellite provider. The breakdown in negotiations between DirecTV and the Pac-12 has been arguably the biggest blemish on the resume of commissioner Larry Scott.

Bay Area News Group columnist Jon Wilner examined the issue earlier this week.

» Each Division I school will receive $18.9 million from the NCAA to fund cost-of-attendance-based scholarships and other projects.

» USC’s Adoree’ Jackson wants to win the Heisman and an Olympic gold medal.

» Oregonian columnist John Canzano no longer believes in Dana Altman — and according to emails he obtained, the Oregon administration may not either. Continue reading

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