(For more preview material on the game, check out the Bruins Nation podcast where CBKWit stops by and talks Cal football.)
Last season: 7-6
This season: 3-2 (wins over Texas, Houston and Wazzu; losses to the Furd and Kansas State)
Glass half-full review: Hard not to start off with the victory against Texas, which seems to be a genuine turning point for Rick Neuheisel's Bruins. UCLA had looked like a dead duck before their twin victories against two ranked teams, but their defense shut down Houston's vertical passing game and knocked out their starting two quarterbacks. They then punched Texas's offense in the mouth for thirty minutes before the offense started clicking well enough for them to break the game open and stun the Longhorns.
Glass half-empty review: Despite the banner victory against Texas, the Longhorns shot themselves in the foot so many times in the first half that it seemed inevitable UCLA would break through. Not to take anything away from the Bruins (they earned that win) but the numerous mistakes by Texas's offense paved the way for UCLA dominance in the second half. Kinda felt more like a black swan event than anything else.
In conference play, UCLA has not looked impressive at all, getting shut down by the Cardinal and then nearly blowing a home game to the previously hapless Washington State Cougars. Nestor of Bruins Nation has remarked that based on the way the team is playing, he doesn't believe UCLA will win their next two games in Berkeley and Eugene. Worst of all, the Bruins still are committing too many turnovers, with 14 on the season so far (114th in the nation).
UCLA's Pistol Offense
After a miserable start to the season, Norm Chow's Pistol Offense seems to finally be coming together. In the past three games the Bruins have topped 250 rushing yards on each occasion, including a whopping 264 yards in their walloping of the Longhorns. Through five games, UCLA's running attack has nearly matched their entire 2009 output (1312 so far in 2010 compared to 1490 in 2009). Kevin Prince will never be making any track teams, but he has rushed for over 50 yards in his last two occasions, including a game-clinching touchdown against the Bruins.
Johnathan Franklin looks pretty good. He's matured from his freshman woes to become a solid starting tailback. He's able to hit up the cutback lanes effectively and make guys miss at first contact. Derrick Coleman isn't quite as capable, but puts up 8 yards per carry and provides a solid second back. Teaming up with Franklin, they provide the running back duo that usually the Golden Bears sport every week. The UCLA offensive line isn't especially experienced, but many of them are seniors and execute as well as they can given the attrition of the starters in front of them on the depth chart.
As good as the run game has looked though, UCLA's pass game remains a complete and utter mess. UCLA is currently dead last nationally in passer rating, with Prince and Richard Brehaut combining to complete 48 percent of their passes (117th) and an awful 4.7 yards per pass attempt (last). Eventually they're going to face a team that can shut their run game down (technically, the Cardinal already shut it down enough), and the quarterbacks will need to make plays.
Prince not be impressing anyone with his passing accuracy (generally he's good at running verticals and that's about it), but the UCLA receivers haven't exactly helped him out. Nelson Rosario is their most consistent pass-catcher, and he won't be playing this Saturday.
So it'll probably be the Pistol that'll trouble us the most yet again. More on the topic Friday. But for those who want a taste of what's to come, check out this posts on the UCLA Pistol vs. Texas courtesy of 03rdn9.
On the other side of the ball, we have similar issues arising--good run, bad pass. The UCLA defense has known to be very conservative at times, but they can also play very aggressive under Chuck Bullough. Paced by likely first round pick Akeem Ayers and solid support from defensive linemen David Carter and linebacker Patrick Larimore, the Bruins are ranked in the top 10 in sacks and tied for 15th in tackles for loss. This has caused trouble for struggling offensive lines and force offenses into 2nd/3rd and longs. The run defense is progressively getting better after their early season debacles in their losses, stuffing Texas and Wazzu on consecutive weeks.
Unfortunately, the pass defense, usually stalwart, has been getting steadily worse, culminating in Jeff Tuel lighting up the Bruin secondary last week for 311 passing yards and two touchdowns. The losses from last season prevent this team from being that great defensively, but it still could be better.
There are concerns about scheme, which Neuheisel addressed as being too predictable and easy for a good quarterback like Tuel to dissect. However, the talent just might not be there, particularly at outside linebacker or at defensive end where the most pass rush is generated. You can only send Ayers or Larimore at the quarterback so much before the opponent figures out how to hit back.
Although safety Rahim Moore and cornerback Sheldon Price are doing their best to keep the offense from attacking vertically, it seems that the Bruins secondary is always left chasing opponents rather than acting instinctively. But while they seem more able than ever to shut down the run, holding the passing game down remains a big mystery.
Bruins Special Teams
The special teams continues to be a top-notch unit, arguably the best in the conference. Kai Forbath ranks 10th in kickoffs and has hit 80% of his field goals. Jeff Locke averages 45.85 yards per punt, also good enough for 10th in the nation and Taylor Embree is currently a top 40 punt returner. UCLA's coverage teams are always solid and should prevent any huge plays in the special teams game.