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Cal @ UCLA 2015: Q & A with BruinsNation

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With a win, Cal would continue to control its own New Years 6 bowl hopes, and essentially knock UCLA out of Pac-12 South contention. With a loss, Cal needs some help, and UCLA keeps its hopes of catching Utah alive. How do the Bruins feel about their team this week? Greg Burcham of BruinsNation checks in this week with a Q & A.

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

1. Who's one player on offense whom Cal fans should know about?

Paul Perkins has to be the guy. Being the true freshman quarterback, Josh Rosen is getting most of the headlines, but the offense will really goes as Perkins goes. He was the Pac-12 leading rusher in 2014 and has generally had a very good start to this year. If Perkins is slashing through defenses and eating up yards, that relieves a lot of pressure on the young QB and the passing game, and it gives the offense mush more diversity. Of course, those rushing lanes are dependent on the offensive line, but if they can do their job, Perkins can really exploit those holes and he wins one on one battles with defenders. This run against Stanford is classic Perkins and shows what he can do. He makes plays like this all the time. His vision and his ability to change directions and accelerate is really pretty special.

2. Who's one player on defense whom Cal fans should know about?

Nose tackle Kenny Clark. I think he's the best defensive lineman in the conference. He is quick and strong, and he has great technique from which base those talents. When the Bruins had Eddie Vanderdoes next to him on the defensive line, offenses had to double one (or both) of those guys which left lots of room and opportunity for the others around them. Since Vanderdoes went out in the opener, Clark has commanded all the double teams, but he's still in the offensive backfield all the time.

3. Who's one 'under the radar' or X-factor player who could swing this game for UCLA?

I'd watch out for WR Darren Andrews who has shown in the last couple weeks that he could be the big play explosive receiver the Bruins have been missing. Guys like Jordan Payton, Thomas Duarte, and Devin Fuller are all very solid receivers for the Bruins, but they aren't the kind who are an home run threat whenever they touch the ball. Andrews may be emerging as that kind of player for UCLA, and they really need that.

4. What would UCLA need to do to win the game?

UCLA absolutely has to stop killing itself with penalties, but that's been an ugly hallmark of Mora's tenure in Westwood so I don't really see that changing. UCLA needs to have some creativity on offense with good balance between runs and passes, and good balance with the location of run plays and routes. Three straight runs into the middle of the line isn't going to be good enough to beat Pac-12 teams. On defense, the Bruins really need to pressure Jared Goff. Cal's passing attack can put up big numbers, but the Bears have had some trouble protecting their QB this year. If the Bruins can make Goff uncomfortable and even force some poor passes and generate turnovers the way Utah did, the the Bruins can slow the Bear offense enough to give Rosen and Perkins and the rest of the offense a chance to outscore them.

5. What would Cal need to do to win the game?

Protect Jared Goff and not turn the ball over. Unfortunately for UCLA, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's offense is as predictable as a sunrise, so good defensive coaches can scheme a way to slow it down. If Cal's improved defense can do that, then Cal's offense ought to put up enough points to win, barring mistakes like turnovers and drive ending sacks,

6. How do you see this game going?

I think it will be similar to last season, a high scoring back and forth affair. Whichever team limits mistakes like penalties and turnovers or makes a key defensive stop will be in good shape at the end.

7. After a reasonably strong start to the season, UCLA has been struggling, losing 2 in a row and dealing with injuries. How can UCLA turn around their season?

Sure, by winning, but that's easier said than done, of course. The Bruins need to get their offensive line more consistent again. The line was very good in 3 of the Bruins' first 4 games, but it got pushed around by Stanford and had some key mistakes the week before against ASU in their two losses. Penalties have also killed the Bruins the last two weeks. Those two factors have really hampered any sort of consistency from the offense that we saw in the first 4 weeks. On the defensive side, the linebacker play, especially inside, has to be better. The ILBs were frequently lost against the read option versus Arizona and ASU and both teams racked up major yards and points as a direct result. When the offense gets inconsistent and the defense gets gashed, it's an obvious recipe for failure. Fixing at least one and ideally both should right the ship, but the fact that we've seen these same issues before with Mora's teams makes Bruin fans pretty wary.

8. How is the fanbase feeling about Jim Mora right now, and is there any danger that he will be fired?

The fanbase is pretty frustrated right now. For the third year in a row, the Bruins had high preseason expectations, started the season off hot and rose high in the rankings, then suffered a pair of pretty humbling defeats in which they weren't really even competitive. That recurrent pattern is leading many to ask if Jim Mora and his staff are going to ever be any better than this or if the program has reached a plateau under his leadership. Granted, a 9-10 win team that gets to a mid-tier bowl is far better than Rick Neuheisel and Karl Dorrell and Bob Toledo in his final seasons managed, so Bruin fans will need to decide if that is good enough, or do they insist on an upgrade in an effort reach a higher level that competes for conference championships. I wouldn't be surprised to see Mora replace his OC at the end of the season, and I think that's a necessary move for the team get past it's current ceiling, but unless there is some total collapse or scandal, I can't see Mora being fired anytime soon. The Athletic Director Dan Guerrero makes coaching moves on a glacial pace, and firing a third football coach would really put the spotlight (belatedly) on himself, and he won't want to do that.

9. Josh Rosen has seen his completion % drop and is starting to throw more picks, though overall his performances are still pretty strong. What are the freshman QB's biggest strengths and weaknesses?

Some of changes in completion percentage and interceptions is just try freshman QB stuff. Rosen had an incredible game in the opener against Virginia and expectations prematurely went through the roof. It does show what his potential is, but he's still going to have some growing pains against good defenses and clever defensive schemes. He has all the attributes to be a great passer: arm strength, size, accuracy, poise, and an ability to just move on to the next play, regardless of the outcome from the previous play. The things he needs are more experience against a variety of D-1 level defenses and a sense that he doesn't have to make plays to bail out the offense. Much of that latter part falls back on coaches and play calling.

10. What is going on with Ishmael Adams?

He's had an interesting season, hasn't he? The week before the season began, he was arrested for allegedly stealing a cell phone from an Uber driver just outside campus and was suspended at the time. The details were never made clear, but some have surmised the Uber driver was posting pictures of some underage teammates in the car who had been drinking, and Adams was trying to prevent that. When it was announced that felony charges were dropped, Adams was reinstated for the 4th game of the season. The LA City DA's office announced this week they would file one count of misdemeanor battery, and I don't know what sort of penalty that might entail, though Mora has said that Adams has already missed a quarter of the season and no further punishment from the team is expected.

11. UCLA has lost key players all over the defense: DL Eddie Vanderdoes, LB Myles Jack, and DB Fabian Moreau. How has that affected the defense?

Losing your best linebacker, best corner, and one of your two top defensive linemen has to have an effect. All three were likely all conference players or better, and now you have second teasers starting in their place. The defense is pretty deep, but it's never easy to replace that sort of talent. The defensive line and secondary have managed pretty well, but losing Myles Jack was really tough because of his unbelievable versatility and athleticism and the options that gave the defense. Myles was a leading tackler from his inside linebacker spot, he covered the slot receiver in nickel, and had also lined up as corner and covered receivers at times, which he does effectively - he shut down USC's excellent WR Nelson Aghalor in one on one coverage on multiple plays last season. Jack allowed the defense to play almost any formation without having to change personnel, and kept his linebacker skills on the field in passing situations and his pass defense skills on the field in running situations. That kept opposing offenses from targeting a specific defensive personnel package. The Bruins have had the 5'8 180# Adams in on nickel, so that allows offenses to audible to a run at his spot, and linebackers Isakko Savaiinaea and Jayon Brown playing his ILB spot which makes them more vulnerable to pass. A good example was last week against Stanford when the Cadinal converted two 3rd and 13s in the first half with passes to the tight end up the seam. Those plays don't work with Jack in the game. But in the end, every team suffers injuries, and it's something the Bruins have to overcome. If they don't have the players to do it, then it's an issue of depth and recruiting.

12. Whom do you most want to punch in the face, and why?

Ironically, I want to target the face of the referee crew in last Thursday's UCLA-Stanford game who called this play targeting, and then after getting the opportunity to review the replay, upheld the penalty and ejected Bruin WR Kenny Walker. Now UCLA hasn't earned any sort of benefit of the doubt with flags, but not in any conference official's sissified version of football is that targeting. That's a good block. The Pac-12 continues to have the worst referees in the country, and while the refs made plenty more bad calls besides this atrocity last Thursday, the zebras fortunately didn't decide that game. But they do decide games all the time and it has to stop. I don't want to see anyone, well, except maybe Southern Cal, get screwed by the refs. For the good of all of our teams in the conference, the Pac-12 has to have higher quality referees.