Marcus Rios’ interception a product of resilience, strategy

The most remarkable part of what Marcus Rios did on Saturday happened long before the ball fell into his hands with 51 seconds left in UCLA’s 36-34 win at Cal.

It’s been well-reported, but worth mentioning again: Back in spring of 2013, the cornerback spent months at UCLA Medical Center battling a life-threatening fungal infection. Even after he returned to the practice field last season, he looked underweight and far from playing in an actual game.

And yet, there he was at Memorial Stadium, pulling in an interception that sealed the Bruins’ first win in Berkeley since 1998.

“A year ago, this kid was battling for his life,” said UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. “That’s no exaggeration. I remember when he had just gotten out of the hospital and he was 135, 140 pounds. To think how far he’s come and for him to have an opportunity to seal this win for us, that was just really cool.”

Rios received the game ball afterward, the first one handed out since head coach Jim Mora was hired. “It just made sense,” Mora said.

Less discussed has been exactly what happened on that play. Down two points, Cal was threatening to enter field goal range with another first down. With a kicker who was 7-of-10 on field goal attempts this season — and a long of 47 — all the Bears needed was another run or a short pass.

But they opted to take another shot at the end zone. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

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

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

At a glance: No. 11 UCLA vs. Cal

No. 11 UCLA (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) vs. Cal (1-4, 0-2)
Location:
Rose Bowl, Oct. 12, 7:30 p.m.
TV: ESPN2 (Mike Patrick, Ed Cunningham, Jeannine Edwards)
Radio: 570 AM (Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)

Last meeting: Cal upset No. 25 UCLA, 43-17, in what was the Bruins’ worst outing of 2012. The Bears picked off Brett Hundley four times and sacked him five times.
2012 records: Bruins (9-5, 6-3); Bears (3-9, 2-7)

Key storylines: UCLA won’t likely peek forward to next weekend’s Stanford trip. No, most of the team is still seething over last year’s 43-17 upset loss to Cal.

“You can tell on all their faces,” said true freshman linebacker Myles Jack. “They have a bitter feeling about that game. Coach Mora, he’s still sour about that game. I’m just feeding off that energy.”

Jack and the rest of the team shouldn’t have much trouble exacting revenge. The Bruins are a better squad than they were last year, and the Bears are significantly worse.

Led by first-year head coach Sonny Dykes, Cal is limping through its rebuilding season. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Jim Mora: DE Ellis McCarthy doubtful for Saturday


– According to UCLA head coach Jim Mora, nothing about Cal quarterback Jared Goff’s film makes him look like a true freshman.

“His poise for his age and his experience (stand out),” Mora said. “His ability to get the ball out of his hand quickly and throw accurately. His decision-making. I think he’s a really good football player.”

– Defensive end Ellis McCarthy returned to practice after suffering a head injury against Utah last Thursday. He did light work on the sideline and is still doubtful to play Saturday. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email