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UCLA Defensive Preview

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How will both teams perform on a short week after rivalry games?

UCLA v USC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Mora Era in Westwood has come to a close as the Bears visit the Rose Bowl in a fight to secure bowl eligibility for both teams. Luckily, the UC Los Angeles marching band will be playing “The Big C” throughout the game in homage to their collegiate predecessor, so we should feel right at home. Let’s take a look at the Bruin defense for the final preview of the season!

2017 Defensive Highlights

Previous Opponents: Texas A&M (W, 45-44); Hawai’i (W, 56-23); Memphis (L, 45-48); Stanfurd (L, 34-58); Colorado (W, 27-23); Arizona (L, 30-47); Oregon (W, 31-14); Washington (L, 23-44); Utah (L, 17-48); ASU (W, 44-37); U$C (L, 23-28)

Total Yards Allowed: 5,407 (2,231 pass, 3,176 rush)

Opponent 3rd Down Efficiency: 38.9% (4th down - 42.9%)

Opponent Red Zone Scoring: 52-59 (88%)

Well, well, well...look who has finally usurped Cal as the most ineffective rush defense in the Pac-12. Under DC Tom Bradley, the Bruins have yielded a staggering 1,276 more yards on the ground than the Bears this year, overshadowing several truly heroic performances by Josh Rosen. When UCLA opponents are averaging 289 yards per game, you know something has seriously gone awry. If only I could find a gif of Takk McKinley shaking his head in disgust.

Given how well the UCLA defense has performed in the past few seasons, this year’s woes have been particularly quizzical. Though several contributors for the Bruin D have produced decent seasons, including LB Kenny Young (86 tackles, 7.0 TFL) and DB Jaleel Wadood (65 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF), the net effect has been troublesome. Even looking beyond the run, the Bruins are allowing over 200 yards per game in the air, and have only been able to sack opposing quarterbacks 18 times (compare to the Bears’ modest 24).

This Bruin defense just does not have the same feel as the last three or four years, and it’s time for the Bears to capitalize.

Keys to Cal’s Success

In the Big Game, Patrick Laird outplayed Bryce Love. Flat out (though I’ve heard plenty of Furd fans plead the shaky “Well if he was healthy...” defense of that argument). I say let’s continue that momentum and shove that pigskin into the hands of the San Luis Obispo Heartthrob. I might not have mentioned this previously, but the UCLA rush defense this year is bad. Following the logic: if we have a surging running back playing with a squad that has (let’s face it) an unexpected post-season berth on the line versus the defense of a pseudo-coachless team whose fanbase has all but dismissed this season, Cal is poised to reach the 6-win mark.

Ross Bowers will also need to play intelligent football. Though I would not attribute the Big Game loss wholly to his mid-fourth quarter poor decision leading to an interception, Bowers certainly put the Bears’ defense in a tough position. Granted, I have seen vast improvements from Ross throughout the season, we cannot have the same types of mistakes in Pasadena on Friday.

Finally, the Bears will need to execute in the red zone. One of my main gripes from the Big Game was Cal’s inability to convert efficient drives into touchdowns. My completely amateur analysis says the blame could be shared between the play calling and offensive execution, with both seeming iffy last Saturday on the Farm. However, as listed in the stats above, the Bruin defense is conceding points in the red zone almost 90% of the time. So hopefully Beau and friends were able to get some work in during practice this week at the 25 yard line in preparation.

Final Thoughts

In the Pac-12, rivalry games have a variety of names: The Big Game, Apple Cup, Civil War, and whatever the UCLA-USC bloodfest calls itself nowadays (“Fight for the 405”?). My petition is to rename the annual Cal-UCLA contest “The Sibling Rivalry.” Yes, I may be biased since my actual sibling is a recent graduate our sister school, but I still think it’s catchy. Now to some actual final thoughts...

My close friend and UCLA superfan, “Bruin Steve”, grimly puts it this way: “I mean, I have been a fan and season-ticket holder since the end of the Cade McNown years. Even during those years I never felt like we would get torched like this on every down.” As a Cal fan, let me be the first to welcome Steve and the rest of the UCLA fans to the “Getting Torched on Every Down” Club!

I don’t know about you, but I really am not ready to close the book on this season for the Bears. This Cal team has brought back an excitement and love for the game that we have not seen in Berkeley the past few years. A trip to a bowl in Wilcox’s first season would be only fitting of a pleasantly unexpected 2017 campaign.