For the second-straight game, it was Brandon McIlwain who got the starting nod at quarterback. Early in the first quarter, the Bears crossed midfield looking to score first, but a costly fumble by running back Patrick Laird was forced by UCLA cornerback Darnay Holmes and recovered by safety Adarius Pickett. The Bruins capitalized on some early momentum with an impressive touchdown drive fueled by their power running game. The weakest spot of this Cal defense is up front with its limited depth of run-stoppers and overall struggles getting after the quarterback. It was discouraging to see UCLA win the battle of the trenches given their struggles on the offensive line so far this season. This Bruins offense, however, has really turned a corner with center Boss Tagaloa returning from suspension along with the emergence of QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson and RB Joshua Kelley.
Cal’s offense sputtered throughout the first half with its inability to convert on critical downs in the passing game. UCLA led three consecutive drives ending in points (one aided by a 40-yard punt return by Pickett) to build a 13–0 lead. Late in the first half Cal got a stop and used a nice punt return of their own by Nikko Remigio to try gaining some momentum heading into the locker room. Cal’s offense started to click, but a costly decision by Cal WR Kanawai Noa to not get out of bounds after making a catch on the sideline left Cal with a field goal try. Bruins head coach Chip Kelly tried icing Cal kicker Greg Thomas using multiple timeouts and was successful with Thomas clanking the kick off the upright. 13–0 UCLA at half.
Cal got the ball to open the second half and was in desperate need of a spark. The Bears capitalized on an impressive drive led by Patrick Laird that ended with Laird rushing for a touchdown. It was 13–7 UCLA and there was some hope the second half would be a different story than the first. It was a different story, but this one was much worse for the Bears.
The Bruins led another impressive touchdown drive using their steady run game to set up big plays in the passing game. True-freshman QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson has vastly improved his ability to read the field in the past couple weeks and his talent is easy to see. He made some very impressive throws utilizing his stellar TE Caleb Wilson throughout the game and used his dynamic running ability when he had to. Getting points on this drive was critical for the Bruins and they did it with a much different style than Cal fans are used to seeing with Chip Kelly. The Bruins frequently ran power sets and slowed the game down eating time off the clock. 20–7 UCLA.
Cal answered with what looked like a promising drive but gave the ball back after failing to convert on 4th and 1. The Bears ran true-freshman running back Chris Brown twice up the middle and failed to get the tough yards. Situational football on offense has been a problem the last few weeks and was a problem again today. UCLA got a short field and led another impressive drive for another Joshua Kelley touchdown to put this one out of reach. Kelley was outstanding today has truly emerged breaking the century mark for the third-straight game. 27–7 UCLA.
Then it got ugly. The fourth quarter looked a lot like the loss in Tucson with the turnover machine up and running. McIlwain tried hitting Malik McMorris on a 4th-and-1 play-action, but did not put enough touch on the ball to get it over DE Keisean Lucier-South. The Bruin made a phenomenal effort tipping the ball to himself for an interception that ended the Cal drive in UCLA territory.
Cal forced a three-and-out and got the ball back. Third and long and McIlwain made a head-scratching decision with a very poor throw into coverage. LB Krys Barnes got the interception and the Bruins put three more points on the board on their ensuing possession. 30–7 UCLA.
Then came the play that we have seen for three straight weeks. UCLA OLB Odua Isobor got around RT Jake Curhan and McIlwain never felt him coming from his front side. The ball was lodged free and returned by Lucier-South for another UCLA touchdown. 37–7 UCLA.
McIlwain turned the ball over one more time, fumbling on the next possession to add to Cal’s obscene turnover total this season. UCLA wins 37–7.
There really were not any positives one can take from this performance. Just when Cal fans thought they have seen the worst from this team, they get blown out of their Homecoming game by their winless rival. As mentioned at the top, Bowers is likely unavailable for some time. That said, there has to be a change at the quarterback position. Even though the turnovers came when the game was already out of reach, Brandon McIlwain has had a rough go doing the little things to ignite this offense. His protection of the football, feel for the pocket, and diagnosis of the defense pre- and post-snap are things he needs to learn. I would expect a switch back to Chase Garbers, but really have no idea what this coaching staff is going to do. Speaking of which, much blame should be directed at the coaching staff—particularly the offensive guys. It is obvious the offense outside the quarterback position is far from elite. Explosive weapons are at a minimum and this power run game is not effective enough to live by. Either way, the product on the field is unacceptable on offense and there needs to be considerable change or there may be a staff overhaul in the offseason.
Defensively this was not the impressive showing we have come accustomed to. I was disappointed by Cal’s struggles in the trenches that let UCLA’s offense control the game. Kunaszyk had another monster game with 22 total tackles, but we saw the worst of this Cal defense today. It is hard to place a lot of blame here, however, given how well they have played this season covering up for an offense that continuously puts them at risk.
This season feels lost. By no means did I see this coming and the optimism surrounding the Wilcox hire no longer feels the same. The rest of the season will tell us a lot about this coaching staff and what direction this program is headed. And it looks like it will be another December where Cal stays home for the holidays.