Despite already winning four games, including two Pac-12 contests, the Cal football team still has one sizeable knock against its 4-2 record: It has yet to beat a good team. The Bears’ three FBS wins have come against teams with a combined 7-12 record.
On Saturday, Cal will have a chance at flipping that script when UCLA (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) pays a visit to Memorial Stadium. While the Bruins are no longer ranked — they dropped out of the top 25 this week — they’re a team many considered at the onset of the season to be a legitimate contender for the first college football playoff. UCLA, however, is in a two-game losing streak.
Like UCLA, the Bears are also hoping for a rebound performance. Last week against Washington, Cal was thumped, losing 31-7 at home to the Huskies.
“I think we all have a bad taste in our mouth about the way we prepared and played and everything in regards to that game,” said head coach Sonny Dykes about his team’s loss to Washington. “We just got to … make sure we don’t let something like that happen again, because that was a pretty poor performance.”
The main culprit for the Bears last weekend was a lack of offense. Not only did Cal turn it over three times, but its longest play was only 25 yards. Despite averaging nearly 43 points per game, the Bears only scored seven against the Huskies’ 37th-ranked scoring defense.
UCLA comes into this game with a defense that gives up 28.5 points per game. Last week, No. 12 Oregon torched the Bruins for 42 points. Despite this, quarterback Jared Goff called UCLA’s defense a challenging one.
“They’ve got really good athletes on that side of the ball. … They make plays. … They have a lot of defensive touchdowns,” Goff said. “Fast, athletic at almost every level. They’re big upfront.”
While the Bears’ offense didn’t manage to be effective last weekend, the defense played its most complete game of the season. In order to build off that performance against UCLA, Cal will need to pressure UCLA’s quarterback, Brett Hundley.
The Bruins have given up 24 sacks in six games, but the Bears are only ranked No. 91 in bringing down opposing quarterbacks, averaging fewer than two sacks per game.
“We’re going to need to do a good job inside, getting a little bit more push than we have got,” Dykes said. “Obviously, we’re going to need to have some good, effective blitz packages and be able to eat the quarterback up.”
One challenge for the Bears’ defense will be slowing down UCLA’s rushing attack, which averages nearly 200 yards per game. Leading the Bruins’ ground assault is Paul Perkins. The sophomore running back has received the bulk of the carries thus far and has consistently made the most of his 116 rushing attempts, averaging more than six yards per carry.
“That’s the thing that’s a little bit unique about what they do,” Dykes said of UCLA’s run game. “Obviously, their back’s been a very effective player, getting a lot of yards for them.”
The Bears are expecting their offense to rebound from their first disappointing outing of the season — it’s clear the players and coaches think it’s an aberration and not a sign of things to come — but whether or not the defense can sustain its level of play from a week ago against a UCLA team that averages 35 points per game remains the biggest mystery in Berkeley.
“They execute well, they’re always going to have a wrinkle or two every single week,” Dykes said. “They’re completing a high percentage of their passes, which means they’re an efficient offense. They do a good job of stretching you horizontally … make you cover the entire field.”