Who would have thought that we would be excited—dare I say thrilled—to play future NFL quarterback Josh Rosen to end the season? Welcome to the 2017 version of Cal football, where we have thrived against pass-heavy offenses and struggled at times against run-first teams. That enthusiasm could wane quickly should it turn out that Cal starting safety Jaylinn Hawkins is not a go on Friday (he was injured late in the Big Game), but for now this should be a match-up that most Cal fans are optimistic about.
The UCLA offense would have been easier to define just one week ago but the big news of the weekend was that head coach and my personal favorite Jim Mora Jr was let go. Mora Jr was supposed to lead the Bruins to the promised land with highly touted recruits and a massive sponsorship deal with Under Armour, but instead has yet again led the Bruins to another underwhelming season. This year has been the most enjoyable as the Bruins in Josh Rosen’s third season are on the verge of missing bowl eligibility, a thought that would only be imagined in the pettiest of Cal fans minds (a.k.a. mine) at the beginning of the year. Mora Jr will surely be missed.
The question is what team are the Bears going to play Friday. They could find themselves up against a fired-up Bruins team rallying behind an interim head coach, eager to end the season on a high note. Or potentially against a team that is looking forward to the offseason with players focusing on preparing for the NFL combine. Cal fans will hope they face the latter option and see the Bears can win a Pac-12 game on the road for the first time in over two years.
2017 Offensive Season in Review
The Bears face an upper-echelon offense on Friday and stopping the Bruin passing attack will be a significant challenge. The Bruins rank fourth in points per game in the Pac-12 and third in yards per game. Josh Rosen is an elite talent and figures to be donning an NFL jersey come this time next season. Simply put, this is not an offense you can afford to take lightly. Let’s take a quick look at his season to date below.
Josh Rosen, QB
3,515 Passing Yards, 3rd in the nation
24 Passing Touchdowns, 17th in the nation
8.1 Yards per Attempt, 28th in the nation
#1 Rated NFL quarterback in the 2018 class
Fun Facts: Rosen has passed for over 400 yards in THREE games this season, against Texas A&M, Memphis and Stanford. He has also thrown four touchdowns or more in three consecutive games this year.
UCLA’s worst games have come when Rosen was off the field. They suffered a loss against Washington after Rosen went down with a concussion and subsequently lost against Utah when he was still recovering. When Rosen is healthy, this offense is one of the best in the conference and the nation.
Introduction to Interim Head Coach Jedd Fisch
Just how different should this UCLA team look on Friday? Probably not a whole lot, particularly on offense. The Bruins have exceled all year on the offensive side of the football and Jedd Fisch takes over head coaching duties after serving as offensive coordinator. Prior to joining the Bruins, he served under Jim Harbaugh as Michigan’s quarterback and wide receiver coach as well as the passing game coordinator. Expect to see a dialed up version of the UCLA offense we have seen all year, leaning on the pass to move the ball downfield.
What to Expect Come Friday
A whole lot of passing. The good news for Cal fans is the Bears pass defense is a strength for this team. Freshmen Cameron Bynum and Elijah Hicks have been excellent at corner this season and the combination of Quentin Tartabull and Hawkins at safety has worked well. Tim DeRuyter hasn’t been afraid of throwing disguised coverages at Pac-12 quarterbacks and the Bears thrived against a pass-happy Washington State team just over a month ago.
The other good news for the Cal defense is that Rosen has shown more than one vulnerability this year. He is prone to turning over the football through the air, which will be a welcomed breath of fresh air after dealing with the near mistake-free Stanford offense. Rosen also has been sacked a fair amount this year and doesn’t have the speed of a Khalil Tate to throw an added wrinkle at the Cal defense. For the most part, the Bears will know what they are going to get on Friday.
The bad news is all of those positives don’t necessarily make the match-up any easier for the Bears. Cal is on the road in a stadium they used to dominate in, but haven’t had much recent success at all. The Bears are even more thin defensively than they were earlier this year when slowing down a slew of pass-heavy offenses and will need some serious production from their two deep in order to come out with a win.
Each team has bowl eligibility on the line come Friday and the outcome of the game will be determined by how well the Bears can slow down the high-powered UCLA offense. If the Bears can force a couple of mistakes early and get UCLA thinking of an early exit to their offseason, this could be the cherry on top of an impressive first year for Justin Wilcox.