If you take a look at UCLA’s roster, many of the names are probably familiar and that is no coincidence. Cal and UCLA consistently battle for the same recruits and it feels that more often than not, Cal has come out on the losing end. In what may ultimately help the Bears this offseason, Cal has a legitimate chance to beat their baby brothers this Saturday on ESPN 2.
Jim Mora Jr has built a program with high expectations and consistently failed to meet those expectations in more spectacular ways each year. This season it was Josh Rosen, anointed as the chosen one in the Pac-12, who suddenly disappeared from the limelight and suffered a season ending injury. For what it’s worth, the UCLA defense has played fairly well, particularly in Pac-12 play. Before USC tore up the Bruin defense, UCLA had only one abysmal performance which came against Utah. Yet, as you look deeper, you find a team struggling to defend both the run and the pass.
UCLA was lit up for over 500 yards of offense against USC at home last week and will face one of the better offenses in the Pac-12 Saturday. Cal’s ability to score points early in the game will dictate their ability to upset the Bruins in the final game of the year. Let’s take a look at UCLA’s standout defensive units.
The hype before the season was about Eddie Vanderdoes, a former five star recruit who was coming off a season in which he recorded 41.5 tackles. Takkarist McKinley has stolen that spotlight. McKinley is pacing UCLA on the defensive line, leading the team with a ridiculous 18 tackles for loss to go along with 10 sacks. He is a force to be reckoned with and if you want to take a look at his pro prospects, look no further than the scout calling him the second coming of Demarcus Ware.
The rest of the UCLA line however has been rather pedestrian. Vanderdoes has enjoyed a productive season but hasn’t had the type of impact many people expected him to have coming into 2016. Former Cal recruiting target Boss Tagaloa has played a fair amount as a true freshman but hasn’t been able to break through yet.
UCLA dealt with the departure of all world linebacker Myles Jack last season and absolutely had the right to be concerned replacing his talent.
Get JACKED, @NFL.— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) April 5, 2016
Myles is coming for you. #NFLDraft #Pac12FBhttps://t.co/wVWWNVNbvV
However the Bruins have had two standout performances from their linebackers this year. Jayon Brown leads the team with 105 tackles with one game remaining. He plays all over the field and is excellent in coverage. As a linebacker, he has logged three interceptions and nine passes defended so far this season. To put that in perspective, Brown has more interceptions and passes defended than anyone on Cal’s entire defense.
Inside linebacker Kenny Young makes a strong case as the star player in the Bruin linebacking corps and is the second leading tackler on the entire Bruin defense. He plays well in coverage and has the ability to make plays behind the line. His best game of the season came against Arizona where he made 12 tackles including a sack and a pass deflection. Brown and Young makeup one of the best linebacking duo’s in the conference as UCLA is starting to build a reputation for developing linebackers at the next level.
The final familiar name on the Bruins defense may hit too close to home with Bears fans who suffered through the 2013 season. Jaleel Wadood is a stand out safety for the Bruins and was once committed to Berkeley.
The aforementioned Wadood is third on the team in total tackles and is a leader for the Bruins secondary. Senior Randall Goforth leads the Bruins in interceptions and has been solid in pass coverage all year along with corner Fabian Moreau. That being said the Bruins have been exposed by a few teams and will be licking their wounds after a tough loss at home last week.
Salute to all the bruin fans who are still bruin fans when it's all said and done. I know it's been a rough season but that's life.— Jaleel Wadood (@OGLeel_2) November 20, 2016
The Bears face perhaps their best matchup in the month of November against a defense that isn’t particularly great at stopping the run or the pass. If Cal can bring the offense we last saw in the first half against Washington against the Bruins, the Bears should have no problem breaking the thirty point threshold which is when UCLA loses a lot of its games.
The Bruins have a lot of standout players but simply haven’t been able to win the close games that would have turned their season around. Sonny and company have a great shot to get their first win against UCLA and the fate of the game will once again be in the hands of the Cal offense.