The Cal football team has two of the best receivers in the Pac-12; UCLA has two receivers, period.
Following a brawl in their last week, the Bruins will be short-handed when they host the Bears at 4 p.m. on Saturday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Six UCLA players, including four receivers, were suspended after the squad got into an altercation with Arizona near the end of the first half of the Bruins’ 48-12 loss last Thursday.
Going up against a squad with just two wide receivers with any experience — the remaining wide receivers on the roster have caught a total of zero passes this season — is of little importance to Cal (4-3, 1-3 in the Pac-12). In fact, the blowout loss on national TV might mark the turning point for the middling Bruins (3-4, 2-2), according to Bears defensive backs coach Ashley Ambrose.
“We gotta be ready because these guys didn’t have a great game on national TV, and they want to redeem themselves,” Ambrose said. “That’s the attitude. If you were a guy on that team, wouldn’t you want to feel that way?”
It has been an up-and-down season for UCLA — literally. The squad has won every other game, including a three-point victory over Washington State on Oct. 8. But no game was more monumental than last week’s matchup with the Wildcats.
Fresh off firing head coach Mike Stoops, Arizona was crushing the Bruins to the tune of 42-7 before the fight broke out and the steaming hot seat of UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel, in his fourth season and with an 18-26 record, boiled over.
Neither the incident nor the matchup’s outcome matters to the Bears.
“Games like that, sometimes it gets teams going — seriously, gets them really going,” Ambrose said. “They’re gonna come out, and they’re gonna try to destroy you, plain and simple.
“They’re all gonna try to break records that day, they’re working hard right now, because they don’t want to feel what they felt last week and the way it happened.”
Taylor Embree, who led UCLA in catches and receiving yards last season, is one of the four receivers who won’t be suiting up on Saturday. On the flip side, the Bears may only have two consistent receivers, but the duo is arguably the best in the country.
Senior Marvin Jones, who has led the team in catches and receiving yards the past two seasons, currently ranks fifth in the conference with an average of 85.6 yards per game. His counterpart, sophomore Keenan Allen, has been even more impressive, as he leads the nation with a rate of 129.4. Neuheisel has taken notice.
“I know we’ve played a lot of good players, maybe not one as physical as Keenan Allen, as big and fast and elusive and all of the different things he brings to the table,” Neuheisel said. “He’s a special player, no question about it. As is number one, Marvin Jones. Both those guys are specimens.”
So is Nelson Rosario. Fortunately for the Bruins, their top receiver is active for the Homecoming game. The 6-foot-5, 219-pound senior, who seems like he’s been in Westwood for six or seven years, has gained more than twice as many receiving yards as the next Bruin and more than three times as many as the next wide receiver. His 30 catches also doubles tight end Joseph Fauria’s tally, which ranks second on the roster.
Moreover, the fact that UCLA employs a pistol offense somewhat offsets the lack of wide receivers, as the scheme can utilize multiple tight ends. The Bruins are also much more of a running team; behind tailbacks Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman, they rank fourth in the conference with 172 yards per game on the ground.
“You got to gang tackle those guys, because they’ll run through arm tackles,” head coach Jeff Tedford said. “There’s no question a big part of what we need to do to be successful is to limit those guys.”