Still room for optimism

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It was all good just a week ago.

Jared Goff was dealing. Daniel Lasco became a big-play threat, adding a dynamic running game to the Bear Raid. Trevor Davis is a fast person. And the defense, although it gave up big numbers, had reasons to be optimistic. Griffin Piatt had three picks and led the team in tackles, and Brennan Scarlett has proven to be a tough cover one-on-one for opposing offensive tackles.

Then, Shaq Thompson happened. Taking the ball 100 yards from Cal’s end zone to Washington’s, Thompson and the rest of the Huskies slapped the Bears back into reality. Yeah, Cal was playing well, but this team still has a long way to go.

Against Washington, the dynamic offense didn’t look all that dynamic. Sure, Goff still threw for more than 300 yards while Lasco rushed for 71 yards and a score, but the Bears went from a team used to scoring more points than a high-school basketball team to managing to put up just seven.

To make matters worse, the defense, which actually didn’t play that bad against Washington, took some major hits. Piatt’s season is over from a torn ACL, while Scarlett is day-to-day with a sprained knee.

Things got bad quickly for Cal, but there is a bright side: UCLA’s currently going through some weird times.

Before the season started, UCLA appeared to be the real deal. They had stars on both sides of the field. Hundley was a favorite to compete for the Heisman. And polls had the Bruins ranked in the top 10.

But the season started pretty slowly for UCLA. The Bruins had an easy start to their schedule with Virginia, Memphis and Texas, yet they beat those opponents by an average of only six points.

But against Arizona State, a team that beat USC, the Bruins racked up 62 points on the Sun Devils and came away with a 62-27 blowout win. Hundley put up Goff-like numbers, throwing for 355 yards and four touchdowns and leading the offense to the point where the team would only have to punt three times all game. Finally, UCLA started looking like the dominant team many thought it could be.

All those hopes faded away quickly. In the next game, Utah, a team that lost to Washington State, took UCLA all the way to the fourth quarter until the Bruins’ Ka’imi Fairbairn missed the potential game-winning field-goal. 30-28, Utes.

UCLA needed to bounce back after that upset. The only problem: The next opponent on their schedule was then-No. 12 Oregon. All of a sudden, the Bruins are out of the top 25, and their record is identical to the Bears’ at 4-2.

Both teams are in a funk. But if you ask me, I think Cal’s in the better spot right now.

The Bears are already exceeding expectations, winning four games halfway into the season, whereas UCLA had hopes of possibly cracking into the top five.

This new-and-improved 2014 version of Goff is playing high-level football and will be around for at least one more year. Hundley, on the other hand, might sign with Roc-Nation as he gets ready for the NFL.

The Bears are also going to get some much-needed relief in the defense as Stefan McClure, Avery Sebastian and Michael Lowe are healing up and should return to the field soon. Putting in some extra bodies and beefing up that depleted defense to complement the rapid-fire offense could elevate Cal. There’s room for the Bears to get better. UCLA is on the verge of a minimeltdown. For the Bruins, Saturday is almost a must win.

UCLA also hasn’t won in Berkeley since 1998, if you’re into superstitious stuff like that.

I’m not saying Cal’s going to be the favorite to win this. But at the same time, UCLA doesn’t look like all that either. Honestly, I don’t know what to expect watching football anymore. But it looks like something odd is brewing up in the Bruins. And if the Bears win Saturday, UCLA’s going to be left wondering how things went wrong so quickly while Cal will be able to rest easy knowing somebody else is in a stickier situation.

Contact Ritchie Lee at [email protected].