I don't know whether to feel guilty or liberated. Normally, Cal football is must-see viewing for me, even though I live far away from my beloved California Golden Bears. Tonight, however, I confess that I will miss this game, at least in the live viewing sense. I have a previously scheduled engagement that was in place long before the Pac-12 and the Worldwide Leader decided to make this game a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. So this will be the first game I have missed watching either in person or on live television since Cal's last non-televised game.
Guilty? Yeah, I feel guilt. It's in my nature. But part of me feels a sense of liberation, cut loose from the shackles of suffering emotionally with this team as it battles through injuries and -- let's face it -- some poor play on the field. And then I feel guilty for feeling liberation. But I could go on and on like that all night.
To the matter at hand: Cal vs. UCLA. The Bears face an enormously difficult task in defeating the #11/13 Bruins, who are undefeated and seem to be a lock to win the Pac-12 South for the third time in four years. Cal has won only once against UCLA in Pasadena since 2000 and are surely facing an ornery UCLA bunch that is looking to avenge last year's 43-17 beating the Bears laid on them in Berkeley.
Highlights from Cal's last win at UCLA (2009)
It is no secret that Cal has had its troubles on the defensive side of the ball this season. Cal would have its work cut out for it today against the Bruins even if the Cal defense were healthy. The Cal defense, as we know, is far from healthy. In the latest blows to the Cal defense, Stefan McClure and Mustafa Jalil ware out for the season while Jalen Jefferson and Joel Willis will miss tonight's game due to the injuries they suffered last week against Washington State. Berkelium 97 previewed the UCLA offense earlier this week:
What have we learned? The Mazzone offense is a run-first offense that usually uses pre-snap movement to determine whether to run or pass. They rely heavily on screen passes and the run game is a mix of inside runs and inside zone read. The offensive line excels in run blocking while its pass protection is a work in progress. Barring sudden ineptitude from UCLA, the Cal defense will almost certainly be outmatched by another one of the nation's top-tier offenses.
Well, then, I'm rooting for sudden ineptitude!
As for the matchup of the Cal offense vs. UCLA defense, this is where conventional wisdom says Bear fans can have some optimism. (Or at least more optimism than the Cal defense vs. UCLA offense matchup.) Cal ranks fourth in the FBS in passing offense (402.6 ypg) and 17th in FBS in total offense (515.6 ypg). But big yardage has not necessarily led to big point totals in the scoreboard. Last week, for example, Cal shot itself in the foot with two red zone fumbles and managed only 22 points against Washington State despite racking up 585 yards of total offense. norcalnick previewed the UCLA defense and Cal's prospects of success against it:
If Cal can keep Cassius Marsh, Anthony Barr and everybody else that Lou Spanos throws at Jared Goff at bay, then it's not unreasonable to think that Cal's wide receivers can find space against a very young, inexperienced secondary. And it's worth noting that last year, Washington State's air raid passed for 457 yards and scored 36 points, so it's worth wondering if UCLA's scheme and talent in the secondary is capable of slowing down a well run air raid.
Having said that, the chances of Cal keeping Goff's jersey clean are pretty slim. Steven Moore and Chris Adcock are out and the rest of the line clearly struggled against a lesser pass rush at home against Washington State. It all adds up to the same thing we'll be saying every week for the rest of the year:
1. This offense will put up yards. Surely over 400, possibly over 500.
2. That isn't a guarantee of points, but hey, maybe this is the week Cal finds success in the red zone and doesn't turn the ball over a bunch?
3. Even if they do, it's going to be really, really hard to outscore UCLA.
So, the bottom line is, it will be really, really hard to beat UCLA today. But we all said the same thing last year. And that one turned out better than we thought.
Can lightning strike again, this time on the road? I hope so, because this Cal team needs a win. Badly.
This is your pregame open thread. Warm up for the game here and look for the link to the first quarter thread as kickoff draws near.