Greetings, Bear fans. Hope everyone enjoyed that win over the Utes as much as I did. Some tremendous positives to be taken out of that game, and some things the team can continue to improve upon. I was pretty thrilled with our defensive effort, although Jon Hays just might win the second annual Brock Mansion Award for "Most Woefully Unprepared and Awful Backup QB Thrust Into a Starting Role" this year in the Pac-12. Welcome to the conference, glad to have you guys! Seriously though, good luck to the Utes. They're going to need it.
This week, we'll be facing a team with plenty of its own problems, off-field and on. Ladies and gentlemen, the 2011 UCLA Bruins! The Bruin fanbase has officially turned on both the coach and the AD (and its about damn time by the way), the players have given every appearance that they've quit on their coach, and...oh yeah, there was a little issue right before halftime of that prison rape they suffered in Tucson last Thursday. Now, we all know a thing or two about a program embarrassing itself on the national stage, but really...let's just take a minute and hand it to the Southern Branch. Style points. Lots of them.
Despite all of the things that are easy to make fun of them about, UCLA is still a sort of respectable 3-4 going into this Saturday and has a roster chock full of talent (most of whom are seriously regretting their choice of school, no doubt). And while their defense flat out sucks (106th nationally), their offense is more of a lukewarm suck (74th nationally). They, of course, run a variation of the Pistol offense. I think we're all familiar enough with the Pistol at this point, but just in case...let me try to simplify it as much as possible. It's a run-heavy shotgun offense that pairs a power running game with enough deception to freeze linebackers with doubt, hold backside defenders in place with added responsibility, and thus create space for a runner to gain heavy chunks of yardage. Since that was a pretty weak summary, feel free to give a look here too. Or, if you really want to see the Pistol run to perfection (AND YOU ARE A FILTHY MASOCHIST!), re-watch the Cal-Nevada game from last year.
UCLA returns a whole lot of familiar faces from last year's offense. And we remember what happened when they came strutting into Memorial last year, right? So what should we expect from this year in the Rose Bowl, aside from about fifty thousand empty seats? Read on, reader.
2011 record: 3-4
Week 1: LOSS @ Houston (34-38)
Week 2: WIN vs San Jose State (27-17)
Week 3: LOSS vs Texas (20-49)
Week 4: WIN @ Oregon State (27-19)
Week 5: LOSS @ Stanford (19-45)
Week 6: WIN vs Washington State (28-25)
Week 7: LOSS @ Arizona (12-48)
Last Season: 4-8 (LOSS @ Cal 7-35)
2011 Offensive Stats:
Passing: 211.1 yards/game (82nd)
Rushing: 172.0 yards/game (47th)
Scoring: 23.9 points/game (86th)
STARTER- Kevin Prince, Junior - 6'2, 230 lbs
Prince has had a tumultuous season (career really), which makes sense considering what a dumpster fire UCLA football has been from week to week. He started in week 1 against Houston, but suffered a stinger that saw him leave the game and then miss the week 2 victory over San Jose State. He started vs Texas in week 3, but got the hook quickly after throwing three picks early in the game. The Texas debacle appeared to bring an end to Prince's tenure as the starting QB for the Bruins, but he was tossed back into the role after Richard Brehaut broke his leg against Washington State. Worth noting that Prince led the Bruins back for a victory against the Cougars in that game as well...a glimmer of hope! Then last Thursday night against Arizona happened. Prince threw for 286 yards against Arizona, but most of those came long after the outcome had been decided. 7-42 at halftime will do that. Those yards also came with Prince only completing 48.6 % of his passes. On the season, he's thrown for 543 yards, 3TDs and 4 INTs on 53.4% passing. He can run a bit (22 carries for 72 yards), but hasn't really had an opportunity to get comfortable as of yet. Pretty meh, but he's only played in 5 of 7 games and hasn't exactly been put in a position to gain confidence or rhythm. The poor guy has certainly suffered during his time at Westwood between injuries, inconsistency, and a horrendous coach. With Brehaut already out, any further injury to Prince would potentially lead to UCLA burning the redshirt of touted freshman QB Brett Hundley, who many view as the savior of UCLA football. Of course, they used to say that about Neuheisel too. HA!
Upside: Mobility...that's pretty much it.
Downside: Everything else needed to be a good quarterback, durability and depth.
What to expect:
Utah strategy, rinse and repeat. Any success Prince could have against our defense is contingent upon UCLA being able to run the ball. They have a deep and talented RB corps, so its certainly possible they could gash us a bit. I'm guessing we'll load up the box and dare UCLA to pass...similar to what we forced Utah to do. Expect man coverage and Man Free in the secondary. Last year, we had a lot of success bringing a blindside cornerback blitz on obvious passing downs. We could definitely see that again as well.While UCLA not having four of their wide receivers available this week due to the shenanigans during the Arizona game may seem like a big deal, its really not. None of those guys have had a tangible impact this season, and Prince still has his two favorite (and biggest) targets in Nelson Rosario (6'5) and TE Joseph Fauria (6'8). Their size will be a challenge to defend. Prince is a bit of a threat in the running game and moves pretty well, but he also takes a lot of punishment. Beating him up a bit will make him skittish, which should force some bad decisions. He hasn't shown to be a real surgeon in the passing game either, so I don't think he'll be able to really make us pay for stacking the box. The final stat line should speak volumes at the end of the day. If Prince is throwing the ball 35 times (like he did against Arizona), we got this.
STARTERS- Johnathan Franklin, Junior (RS) - 5'10, 198 lbs
Derrick Coleman, Senior - 6', 231 lbs
The focal point of the Bruin offense, and also the deepest and most talented group on this side of the ball. Even though Franklin (83 carries for 520 yards, 2 TDs) is the starter here, I'm listing Coleman as well since he's really the bruiser of the two (68 carries for 343 yards, 6 TDs). Franklin is more of the gamebreaker back, while Coleman is the guy who gets the tougher inside yards. At least, that's the plan. Both guys have been a bit spotty this year, perhaps due more to inconsistent play both at QB and on the offensive line. Or it could also be due to the fact that this offense is not built to play from behind...which is something UCLA has had to do a fair amount of this season. Typically the guy with the hot hand will get the bulk of the carries, and that has been Franklin more than Coleman. In fact, Franklin's hands will sometimes get SO hot that he starts dropping the ball. Yes, he's had a bit of a chronic fumbling problem throughout his UCLA career (sweet!). There are some talented youngsters a little lower on the depth chart that are also worth mentioning. Namely, sophomores Malcolm Jones and Anthony Barr along with freshman Jordon James. Jones is a banger in the mold of Coleman. Barr is 6'4, and could be a candidate to see more looks in the passing game with the absence of the Tucson Four on Saturday. James is a quick little bastard who can make plays in space. Barr and James are two to watch out for this weekend. It's pretty incredible to see how many good football players succumbed to Rick Neuheisel's honey voice and surfer charm. He's like the Monorail guy from that Simpsons episode. "Were you sent here by the Devil?!" "No, good sir, I'm on the level!"
Upside: Ability, athleticism, depth.
Downside: Ball security, consistency, easily wiled by empty promises
What to expect:
Strength on strength, once again. Obviously the pistol (should) play to UCLA's running game, and UCLA has talented running backs of all shapes and sizes to throw out there. But we saw both Franklin and Coleman last year in the pistol offense. Know how they did? Franklin had 13 carries for 54 yards (4.15 YPC). Coleman? 2 carries for 1 yard...including this little beauty:
Taking away rushing yardage lost on sacks, UCLA rushed for 58 yards against the 2010 Cal defense. On 26 carries. Now I'm not saying we should expect an exact repeat of that, but I think its safe to say Clancy and co. know how to stop this rushing attack. We lost some of the key guys that implemented said plan in the 2010 game, but we have a good portion back and our run defense looks pretty damn good still. That 2010 UCLA team had just ripped off three straight wins where they rushed for 266, 264, and 437 yards the previous three weeks. THIS UCLA team is coming off two embarrassing losses with a comeback win over Wazzu sandwiched in between, where they rushed for 141, 170, and 37 yards the previous three weeks. Why exactly should I be worried here? Well...because there isn't much else to be worried about when it comes to this offense. If we stop them early and our offense can put a couple scores on the board, this rushing attack will essentially be neutralized. It should happen.
Nelson Rosario, Senior - 6'5, 218 lbs
Taylor Embree, Junior - 6', 201 lbs SUSPENDED Shaq Evans, Junior - 6'1, 196 lbs SUSPENDED Randall Carroll, Junior - 5'10, 186 lbs SUSPENDED Ricky Marvray, Junior - 5'11, 188 lbs SUSPENDED
Josh Smith, Senior - 6'1, 213 lbs
Jerry Rice Jr, Junior - 5'10, 182 lbs
Yeesh. Without re-hashing too much of the whole fight and suspensions mess, let me just point out that between the 4 wide receivers not playing this week, there was a TOTAL of 30 receptions for 360 yards and 2 TDs. They weren't utilized much, they didn't contribute much, and they likely weren't gonna make much of a difference anyway. So let's just look at whose left for UCLA, since that won't take long. Rosario is the Bruins' leading receiver with 30 catches for 558 yards. He has yet to catch a touchdown. Considering he should be a supreme red-zone weapon at 6'5 and almost 220 pounds, that is pathetic. He doesn't have very good hands and his heart has been openly questioned by UCLA beat writers. Burn. Jerry Rice Jr will likely see the first action of his college career on Saturday. He's a walk-on, and he's not his dad. At all. Josh Smith is fast and possesses big-play ability. He's only got 6 catches on the year, but they go for an average of 26.3 yards. He's also got a rushing touchdown on the year and returns kicks for the Bruins. He might get a lot of work on at least the special teams side of things this Saturday. Junior Jerry Johnson should be back after missing a big chunk of time due to a broken ankle. He's a big body, but how effective can he be in his first game back? Well, he sure seems to think he'll be okay. I guess 5 career receptions is a good indicator of domination potential. Unless Neuheisel burns the redshirt of freshman Devin Lucien, that's pretty much it for UCLA's receivers. Expect frosh running back Jordon James and F-Back Anthony Barr to possibly be split out wide as well though.
Upside: Well...they still have the guy that catches most of their passes. He also drops the most though.
Downside: Depth, discipline and intelligence...LOL!
What to expect:
Even if his hands suck and he's soft, Rosario is still a gigantic wideout and a huge mismatch for just about any cornerback. He'll have a 5 inch height advantage on Marc Anthony and a 7 inch advantage on Steve Williams. That's a lot to overcome. He's not really a possession receiver though, as indicated by the fact that the only game where he caught more than 4 passes was against Stanford (8 catches for 83 yards) during what was really just garbage time (three quarters worth). Still, an 18.6 yard average per catch is nothing to sniff at. Expect safety help deep to mitigate Rosario's impact on long passes, especially if we stick to primarily playing man coverage, which I expect us to do. He may stack up some yardage, and that's okay as long as we keep him out of the endzone. Josh Smith has shown flashes of explosiveness, but there's clearly a reason he's only caught six balls all year. Attribute that to lousy route-running and some serious inconsistency. Outside of Rosario, there's literally nothing to see here, and very little to worry about. After all, we WANT UCLA throwing the ball in this game. And really, the other key players in the UCLA passing game will be the running backs and tight end, not a walk-on, a kick returner, or a dude whose seeing his first game action since last year. I guess you could say these guys might not have a lot of fight in them...HEYOOO!
STARTER - Joseph Fauria, Junior - 6'8, 258 lbs
Behind Rosario, Fauria is the second leading receiver for the Bruin offense (15 catches for 216 yards, 4 TDs). At 6'8, he's also the kind of red-zone weapon that a dude that big should be (PAY ATTENTION NELSON!). It looked like Fauria would be a big factor in the UCLA offense after catching 6 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown in week 1 against Houston, but he's been used pretty sparingly since then...failing to record a single catch against both Oregon State and Washington State. He caught just three balls against Stanford, but two were for touchdowns. He's yet another tough matchup for opposing defenses that just doesn't seem to factor heavily enough into UCLA's scheme. He's not as strong of a blocker as now-supplanted starter Cory Harkey, but his hands are a lot better. Of course, that doesn't say much.
Upside: Size, athleticism.
What to expect:
I don't really know. It's baffling to me that UCLA has seemingly failed thus far to really take advantage of this walking matchup nightmare. Maybe Neuheisel just figures it can be another bullet point on his lengthy resume of Fail during his time in Westwood. I think he might actually be proud of what he's done to that program at this point. Or once again, maybe its because UCLA only resorts to using Fauria (read: passing) once they're losing. Of his 15 catches on the season, all but ONE came in games they lost. Coincidence? Doubt it. Still, I can't allow myself to assume Fauria won't be a factor in this game, even though he may not be at all. So what do you do about a 6'8 tight end? Hit him. Hard. Sean Cattouse is a bit of a liability in coverage, but he likes to headhunt. Sit him back in center field and if Fauria releases up the seam, have Cattouse stick a helmet in his ribs. This really is just me lobbing some sort of a cliche in because really, almost no defense can have a an answer for a guy this big who can catch and run. So why not? Just like the rest of this UCLA team, punching Fauria in the mouth could completely take him out of the game. FIGHT JOKE!!!
LT: Jeff Baca, Junior - 6'4, 305 lbs
LG: Greg Capella, Sophomore - 6'3, 292 lbs
C: Kai Maiava, Senior - 6'1, 318 lbs
RG: Chris Ward, Sophomore - 6'4, 330 lbs
RT: Mike Harris, Senior - 6'5, 326 lbs
This is actually a pretty good group with a lot of size, just not much depth. Maiava is the leader of this line and is a very good center. He's done well despite missing all of the 2010 season after fracturing his ankle in the preseason. Baca has returned to Left Tackle for the last couple games after also recovering from a leg fracture. He's a versatile guy who has started games at both guard and tackle, and could even play center if needed. Harris is another seasoned vet who has started 28 games at right tackle for the Bruins...probably their most consistent lineman. It gets more interesting when we look at the two guard spots. Greg Capella is seeing his first college action this season at left guard, and has been susceptible to bull rushes. He was forced to play center while Maiava served a one-game suspension against Houston too. At right guard, Chris Ward had been alternating with JuCo transfer Alberto Cid...until Cid got himself suspended for the first half of this Saturday's game for his role in the Tucson fracas. Some obvious irony considering that bringing Cid in was supposed to add a little more maturity and discipline to this group. How's that working out? Overall, the three guards have been inconsistent, as have the three more veteran guys. It was pretty shocking to see the kind of trouble they had with an undersized Arizona DL last week, especially when you consider that same Wildcat defense ranked 116th nationally against the run going into that game. The Bruins had 37 yards on 25 carries. That same toothless Wildcat defense had tallied just three sacks in their previous six games...and none since week 2. They sacked Prince twice. What is really scary for UCLA is the number of young and inexperienced guys waiting in the wings. There are basically no guys with game experience backing up the starters.
Upside: Experience, sort of. And...uh...size?
Downside: Consistency, depth.
What to expect:
Maybe I'm just pumped all full of sunshine after last week, but I'd say we're gonna have a good day against this line. They are big and they have some talented pieces, but they don't seem to consistently be able to put it together. In reviewing their schedule, I can also venture to say that we'll be right up there with Texas and Stanford as far as the best front sevens they've seen thus far. Let's consider the debacle against Arizona (the game, not the fight) as an outlier for now too, because i still don't think the UA defense is any good...and that wouldn't fit in with what I'm trying to say . Coincidentally, both the Texas and Stanford defenses held the Bruins to just 141 yards rushing on the day, while also forcing UCLA QBs into 42.3 and 54.5 % completions, respectively. What does this mean? Well, if we're as good (or better?) up front as those two teams, and they handled the UCLA O-Line, shouldn't we do that too? Yes, yes we should. And we will. They've only given up six sacks on the year, but that stat is misleading. Texas failed to sack Prince/Brehaut, but they forced 3 early Prince interceptions by pressuring the hell out of him and hitting him. We'll have our shots at Prince. It's a good thing he can run a little bit.
A couple things are working out well for us when it comes to this matchup. Bruin fan morale is at an all-time low...a home-field advantage should be nullified by the fact that the Rose Bowl will be half-full (if that) for the Homecoming Game. Neuheisel is a dead man walking, but is still the coach...we don't have to worry about this team coming alive and playing like Zona did against them last week. Obviously they're depleted due to the suspensions as well...so we're not getting them at full strength. And most importantly, right now, we're the better team. We can handle this offense. We've seen UCLA's pistol before. UCLA's offense last year was better than this one. And guess what? We absolutely kicked their asses. We sacked this same quarterback and pummeled these same running backs. Sure, we've lost some experienced guys on defense, but the well sure as hell isn't dry. And this is the kind of offense that our front seven should absolutely feast on. Again.
But what kind of a Cal fan would I be if I just set myself up for disappointment, knowing that its in our very essence to crap the bed at the least expected times? No, I'm too smart for that. I admit, I felt more confident last week against Utah than I do this week against UCLA. And there's pretty much no reason whatsoever for that. Our defense can stop them. Our offense can score on them. But some weird shit can happen in college football on any given week. The Bruins surging up out of the abyss for 60 minutes just to ruin our Saturday (and maybe our season) would somehow not totally shock me. Do I think that will actually happen though? Nope. Bruin fans will thank us later. Or sooner. Probably sooner actually. PREDICTION: 34-17 BEARS