No one would argue that UCLA‘s biggest rival is the private school across town. But there is a growing sense that the Cal Golden Bears have emerged above the likes of Stanford and the Arizona schools to be UCLA Football’s secondary rival. Unlike with USC, the UCLA-Cal relationship isn’t one of hatred so much as sibling rivalry.
Even through the down seasons since those dominant Aaron Rodgers and Marshawn Lynch teams, Cal has continued to trade blows with UCLA. The series is tied 4-4 since 2006, and the Golden Bears are looking for a bounce-back year and hoping to fight their way to the top half of a thin Pac-12 North Division.
The California Golden Bears
Nov 9, 2013; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears coach Sonny Dykes reacts during the game against the Southern California Trojans at Memorial Stadium. USC defeated California 62-28. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Head Coach: Sonny Dykes, 3rd year
2014 Record: 5-7 overall, 3-6 Pac-12
Cal recovered from a truly awful 1-11 2013 campaign in Dykes’ first season. Most of this improvement, however, came at the expense of a weak non-conference schedule (with wins over Sacramento State and a regressing Northwestern) and feasting on the dregs of a suddenly weak North division.
In one mind-boggling, three-week stretch, the defense gave up 49, 56, and 59 points and won two of those games!
Quarterback Jared Goff improved in his second year, as did the rest of the offense with another year’s worth of familiarity with Sonny Dykes’ pass-happy, Mike Leach-esque ‘Bear Raid’ attack. Cal’s weakness was its defense, which gave up 40 points per game (!!!), good for sixth worst in the nation.
In one mind-boggling, three-week stretch, the defense gave up 49, 56, and 59 points and won two of those games! Unbelievably, this too was an improvement on 2013, when the Bears gave up a national second-worst 46 points per game.
The Cal Offense
The Bears return eight starters on offense, including Jared Goff, who some even see being drafted after his junior season. Cal’s deep WR corps, led by Kenny Lawler, and feature back Daniel Lasco provide Goff with an arsenal of weapons to challenge new UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley and his crew.
Nov 29, 2014; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff (16) passes the ball against the Brigham Young Cougars during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
The key to stopping the Bears will be to bottle up the rushing attack and force them to throw, throw, throw. Goff and his receivers are good, but even they can’t beat a talented defense without a run game to draw down coverage and relieve pressure from the pass rush.
The Cal Defense
The Bears return nine starters on defense, but that means fielding largely the same defense that gave up 40-per-game last year. The much-maligned secondary takes its share of the blame, as Cal’s primary defensive weakness is against the pass, but the pass rush is among the nation’s worst in generating pressure and making sacks.
Nov 29, 2014; Berkeley, CA, USA; Brigham Young Cougars running back Algernon Brown (24) carries the ball for a touchdown against California Golden Bears cornerback Darius White (6) and linebacker Hardy Nickerson (47) during the third quarter at Memorial Stadium. The Brigham Young Cougars defeated the California Golden Bears 42-35. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
With UCLA’s offensive line being ranked among the conference’s best (a notion I’m still getting used to after all these years of woeful pass protection), Paul Perkins and Nate Starks should be free to rack up the yards, and Josh Rosen should have all the time in the world to pick apart Cal’s woeful defensive backs. This has the potential to be a big day for the UCLA offense.
The Cal at UCLA Outlook
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Since 2000, UCLA is 1-7 against Cal in Berkeley and 6-1 against Cal at the Rose Bowl. Even when Cal was in the death throes of Jeff Tedford‘s 3-9 final year, a ranked UCLA team went in to Berkeley and laid an egg, losing 43-17 – the biggest ‘What the–?‘ of Jim Mora‘s first season. For this reason, I’m glad the game is at the Rose Bowl this year.
I’m hesitant to pick a huge blowout because that’s never been UCLA’s style, even when we were good (Rout 66 notwithstanding). That said, I don’t see Cal’s defense slowing down the Bruins’ offense, nor do this talented UCLA defense giving up 40-plus.
The Way-Too-Early Prediction
Cal 30 – UCLA 42