GJB: In the last nine meetings at Memorial Stadium, UCLA has only won once. Do you think the Bruins are cursed in Berkeley?
Attila LS Gero: If the Bruins are cursed in Berkeley, then this week might be the season they break that curse. Chip Kelly and his Bruins are in desperation mode starting winless after five weeks. Something always happens when you least expect it.
Joshua Morgan: I don’t think it is a curse; I think it is just bad timing and a home-field advantage. During those years that the Bruins have come to Berkeley, the Bears usually were either a better team (Tedford Era) or the teams were relatively even. For the years where they were even, we were supposed to win those games simply because we were at home.
Nick Kranz: No more so than Cal is cursed in Los Angeles, generally. Of those eight Cal wins, Cal was the better team anyway six times, so you’d expect them to win at home. I will grant that Cal’s wins in 2000 and 2012 were pretty weird and hilarious.
boomtho: Zach Mayanrd threw four touchdowns vs. UCLA at home, so clearly the answer is yes.
GJB: Washington LB Ben Burr-Kirven said that UCLA had the best offense they have seen all season. Is that a shock considering how poor the Bruins’ offense played in the previous four games?
Attila LS Gero: I would not say its a shock that Kelly is leading a team with an impressive offense. Obviously, the product on the field doesn’t seem like it would be complementary, but Kelly is a mad-scientist type when it comes to offensive plays.
Joshua Morgan: Yes and no. I mean technically, the Bruins did score the most points against Washington than any other team this season, but I simply find it hard to believe that they come even close to Auburn in reality—and are probably below Utah, Arizona State, and BYU as well.
Nick Kranz: Interesting. This comment has caused me to go back and look at the offenses UW has played and it’s true that they’re generally pretty bad. By S&P+, ASU is actually the only offense UW has faced ranked in the top half in the country. So I’m going to go ahead and say that UCLA’s offense played UW’s defense better than anybody else has, although I don’t think that one game makes the unit better on the whole than ASU or ahead of similar offenses like Utah. It is probably fair to say that UCLA might have more upside since they’re learning to play and execute a new scheme.
boomtho: It’s not a shock for me, but that’s because I’m explicitly weighting Chip Kelly’s history of offensive success higher than their struggles at times this year.
GJB: This game might come down to the defenses. What do you expect from both Ds on Saturday?
Attila LS Gero: I expect UCLA to run the ball effectively and for Cal to pass the ball effectively. Cal will have a strong pass rush against the Bruins feeble offensive line and UCLA could limit the outside receiver’s impact.
Joshua Morgan: I expect Cal’s defense to play well against a UCLA offense that I believe isn’t very good. I also expect UCLA’s defense to play well, but that might be more due to Cal’s bad offense than a good UCLA defense. I do think it will be a battle that comes down to the defenses, but it really is whether the Cal defense plays better than the Cal offense allows UCLA’s defense to play.
Nick Kranz: Cal’s defense has not allowed more than 10 non–garbage time points to any offense they have faced this season except for Oregon. Granted, all of the non-Oregon offenses that Cal has faced have been pretty bad. Unfortunately for Chip Kelly, I think his UCLA offense so far is much more similar to Arizona and North Carolina than it is to Oregon. If Cal’s defense doesn’t hold UCLA below 20 points I’ll be disappointed.
As for the UCLA defense, based on my glance at their stat profile, they appear to be running a relatively ineffective bend-but-don’t-break style, as they’re preventing big plays, but generally failing to be disruptive in any way (low sack rate, 111th in turnovers forced, 121st in overall havoc rate, etc.). For that reason, I’m inclined to think that Cal will be able to sustain drives with their running game and the short passing game often enough to get points and the main question will be whether or not UCLA can force (or Cal can avoid) catastrophic, game-changing turnovers. I’ll be very interested to see how Cal may or may not change their offensive strategy to address ball security considering what has happened in the last two games.
boomtho: Cal’s defense is very solid, but not explosive. To me, that means that Cal’s players are often in the right place, have been very solid tacklers, and have made good plays on balls in the air. However, Cal doesn’t really have any disruptive pass rushers (which can really help get opposing offenses behind the sticks) and Cal has taken away many fewer turnovers in recent games vs. the first two games of the season.