It has been nearly two weeks since No. 20 Cal football has last seen the field. During Cal’s bye week, the Bears’ ranking jumped up three spots because of several losses from top 25 teams last week — one of which includes Cal’s next opponent, UCLA.
With the time off to correct the numerous mistakes they made against Utah, the Bears hope to maintain their hunt to staying near the top of the Pac-12 North standings as well as earning a better national ranking.
Throughout all of Cal’s past wins this year, there have been times where parts of the team have excelled but others have underperformed. Sometimes, the defense gave up big plays and other times, the offense failed to produce positive results.
Although the Bears won’t be playing another team as highly ranked as Utah, the second half of their schedule still presents many new challenges and the teams will likely be higher quality opponents than the ones Cal faced earlier. In order for the Bears to keep their strong season going, they need to clean up their play and execute more consistently on all phases of their game.
“I don’t feel like we’ve played a complete game where we’ve put it all together offense and defense and special teams this year,” said Cal head coach Sonny Dykes. “We better start doing it pretty soon.”
Entering Thursday’s game with a No. 18 ranking, the Bruins took on Stanford and was subsequently blown out 56-35. Now, UCLA will try to avoid consecutive Thursday losses with the Bears flying down to southern California for the weekday contest.
Facing a Bruins defense that gave up 56 points to the Cardinal, Cal will probably have a better time finding ways to move the ball than it did against Utah, which has one of the most physical defensive lines and aggressive secondaries in the country.
The matchup to look for will be the quarterbacks battle. The Bears have arguably one of the most fundamentally sound and accurate quarterbacks in the country with Jared Goff while the Bruins have a player very similar to how Goff played two years ago as a true freshman.
Standing at 6 feet, 4 inches and a little over 200 pounds, true freshman Josh Rosen is nearly the same size as Goff is right now. Halfway through the season, Rosen is on pace to finish the year with 24 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and currently has a 134.0 passer efficiency rating, which would be a little better than Goff’s numbers as a true freshman when he threw for 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a 123.2 rating.
In preparation for the game, both quarterbacks are coming off disappointing performances and will be looking to bounce back. Goff will be looking to make critics forget about his five-interception performance while Rosen is also coming off a losing effort against Stanford where he threw two picks, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Alijah Holder for Stanford’s first score of the game.
For most of the year, both quarterbacks have received high praises and have handled the spotlight well. But this will be a time when both are experiencing a more rocky part of the season and Thursday will show who will respond stronger.
“They’re both kids that are mature,” Dykes said. “Both can make all the throws.”
This season, Cal has shown a significant improvement from last year. Although the Bears are no longer undefeated, they went toe to toe with one of the country’s best teams and nearly came away with the upset against Utah.
The game against the Utes showed that as far as talent goes, there isn’t a significant dropoff between Cal and any other team in the country. If the Bears can maintain their play and improve against UCLA and and their future opponents, they are a threat to win anytime they take the field.
Ritchie Lee covers football. Contact him at [email protected]