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Cal at UC Los Angeles: Know the Enemy, previewing the Bruins offense

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We go down to see the little brother in a less-than-amiable sibling rivalry.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

This Thursday, Cal heads down to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena to take on the baby bears of UC Los Angeles. Over the years, there has been a definite home field advantage between the two teams. Until last season, UC Los Angeles hadn't won in Berkeley since 1998, and Cal has only won twice in Pasadena during that time. Yet hope springs eternal every year, as Cal goes south looking for a sixth win that will ensure bowl eligibility for the first time in four years.

UC Los Angeles comes off a beatdown by the Furd up in Palo Alto, continuing their streak of mediocrity when in the Bay Area. They enter this game at 4-2, after losing two straight. It's their second consecutive Thursday game, which may be the prime time for Cal to steal a win, much like UC Los Angeles stole the fight song.

Personnel:

You can't talk about the Bruins without talking first about true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen. Rosen, from Manhattan Beach, is one of three true freshman quarterbacks in the Pac-12, and he's arguably the best of the bunch. Rosen also comes into the Pac-12 in arguably the best of the three situations, to a UC Los Angeles team loaded with talent, and has done a pretty decent job thus far. He's had a few iffy performances, especially against BYU, but he's definitely a better man for the job than Jerry Neuheisel would have been.

Rosen has had a couple of lackluster games accuracy wise, hovering around 50% in 4 of his 6 games. Here are his pertinent stats for the season so far:

  • 59% completion, 7.47 yards per attempt
  • 261.5 yards per game, 134 QB Rating
  • 12 touchdowns, 7 interceptions

To complement Rosen, the Bruins have an excellent running back in Paul Perkins. Perkins, a junior from Queen Creek in Arizona, is currently sitting at 681 yards on 6 yards a carry, which has definitely helped Rosen when he has struggled. This was apparent in the matchup against BYU, where Perkins put up a mammoth 219 yards on 26 carries with a touchdown. Perkins doesn't have complete breakaway speed, but he is quick in hitting holes. He is also adept at breaking tackles and generally doing all the things you want out of a talented running back. This play shows all you need to know about Perkins.

Currently, the leading receiver for the Bruins is Jordan Payton. Yes, that Jordan Payton. The former Cal, Washington, USC, DeVry commit is gaining steam in his senior year, emerging as Rosen's favorite target. He currently has pulled in 31 receptions for 486 yards and 4 TDs. Payton is a solid guy to spread the field with. He's comparable with Trevor Davis in my view, though he gets the ball a lot more then Davis does. He does have a few people who share the ball in Thomas Duarte, Devin Fuller, and Darren Andrews. Duarte is a bigger, possession type receiver, along with Fuller, while Andrews is a deep threat that emerged against Stanford with 4 catches for 100 yards. Rosen will have weapons aplenty to throw to, as well as another 5-star freshman running back in Soso Jamabo

Scheme:

So I was doing some research on the Bruins' offense, and apparently Noel Mazzone, the offensive coordinator, has his own version of the Tony Franklin System. It's called the Nzone system, for maximum wordplay purposes, and it espouses similar concepts to the Tony Franklin System.

There's one thing that the Bruins did well against Cal last year was to throw the short swings and screens and let their receivers get yards after the catch. Due to poor open field tackling, there were plays that ended like this:

The screen pass is still in their arsenal, and expect them to run it until it gets stopped. Considering how much better various players have gotten in open-field tackling, Cameron Walker seeing the biggest improvement, this shouldn't be the same paramount issue that it has been. And that's a good thing, because the play above gave me more than a few nightmares.

Admittedly, the run game is pretty cookie cutter for UC Los Angeles. They'll run Perkins and Jamabo on inside zone plays, sometimes from our big bone formation. Rosen doesn't seem to be a running quarterback, but is capable of scrambling when called upon. Perkins will be a load to stop, and they block very well for him.

Anyhow, the little brothers from Westwood run more than just screens. They are willing to make pre-snap decisions on who to throw to depending on what the defense shows. Against BYU, the defense is showing a five man rush, leaving the cornerback on the far side without too much help. Payton, the receiver being single covered, has a sluggo route. The guys at the bottom have two deep routes and a fake screen.

Rosen doesn't bother with looking at the bottom routes, focusing on the top route in single coverage. He makes the throw over the top, and it's an easy score and one of his few successes that day. The bottom routs do make the safety who has a chance to help look the other way, so those routes do have a purpose. The way to counter something like this is to disguise your coverage. If this were shifted from man on the outside to a cover 2, which it could been considering the positioning of the cornerback, a safety would have been in prime position to blow up that play. Rosen does lock on to his receiver, which could be something our defensive backs can pick up on.

The pass game mostly goes like this for Rosen, as he'll have the short passes over the middle available to Duarte and Fuller along with a very strong running game. His offensive line has also kept him upright pretty well, only allowing eight sacks over six games. Rosen isn't afraid to go deep because of this. However, BYU did figure out how to turn him into Cable Josh Rosen.

BYU only rushes four, but where the four come from changes in this zone blitz. From there, the rush and the olid coverage forces Rosen to attempt a Superman like throw. Spoiler alert, it didn't work and it ended up as an interception in the red zone. Rosen is still young, so he's more willing to take risks like this. If the Cal defense want to have a dominating performance, they need to force Rosen to be the hero. He's certainly capable of it in the future, but I don't think he's there yet.