Friday, November 03, 2006

Cal vs UCLA Preview

The bye week is over and Cal is playing again this Saturday (finally). UCLA is coming off two tough losses. One, a last second heartbreaker to Notre Dame and a big loss to Washington St. Cal is coming off a week of rest and should be healthier than it has been all season. Most pundits are picking Cal to win handily and I would have to agree.

Cal Offense vs UCLA Defense
Cal's offense sputtered the last two games against the Washington schools. After averaging over 40 points a game, the Cal offense was relatively quiet in recent weeks. But, the Bears have looked sharp in their week off in practice and should come out gunning. Marshawn Lynch has carried this team of late, running for over 150 yards in the last two contests. Both his ankles should be ready after an extra week of rest. Expect Marshawn to break the 150 mark against UCLA.
More importantly, the passing game should be able to put move the ball well against UCLA. WSU QB Alex Brink was able to pass for over 400 yards against the Bruins and expectations for Nate Longshore should be similar. Also, Nate has not passed for a touchdown in two games, so expect him to be ready to go deep. The receiving corps also has been struggling recently. Mostly, it has been a case of the drops, which should have been corrected in practice. Expect Jackson and Hawkins to both have solid games.
There appear to be two faces to the UCLA defense. The one that showed up for 59 minutes of the Notre Dame game and the one that showed up in the last minute of that game and reappeared at WSU. The Bruins only allow 18.6 points a game and leads the conference in rushing defense. But, the pass defense is weak and some true freshmen will see time against Cal.
Also, two Bruins lead the league in sacks. Applying pressure to Longshore can rattle him and force some bad throws. But the Cal offensive line has really come together since the opener. ASU and WSU led the nation in sacks prior to facing the Bears and both did not come close to pressuring Longshore. The balanced Cal attack should be able to exploit the Bruins defense and put points on the board. The Bruins don't have the speed or experience on defense to keep up with the Bears.

UCLA Offense vs Cal Defense
Patrick Cowen has been playing for the injured Ben Olsen at the QB spot. Much has been made of the injury, but Cowen is putting up similar numbers to Olsen in relief. Alas, neither has done a great job of moving the offense. It will be more difficult to pass against Cal with Hughes shutting down his half of the field. Word to the wise: Don't thrown on Hughes, he will pick it off. Cal's other corner, Syd Thompson is playing much better and is a solid tackler.
The Bruins like to use short and intermediate passes in their offense. This works well against teams with slow linebackers. Problem is that Cal's linebackers are both fast and athletic. It will be hard for UCLA's receivers and backs to get yards after the catch on these shorter routes.
UCLA is moving to a running back by committee approach after not finding much success with Chris Markey. Regardless of who is running the ball, the Cal defensive line should be able to control the line of scrimmage. While the defense has been a "bend but don't break" unit, the defensive line has been able to consistently stop the run and get pressure on the QB. Also, Follet and Pimentel coming off the edges on blitzes should be able to rattle Cowen.

Cal should be able to move the ball easily against the Bruins especially after resting some of its skill players in the bye week. To keep up, UCLA will need to put up points on the board. But the Cal defense, which has become a dominant unit, will prevent this game from becoming a shoot out. Expect Cal to come out fast at home and avenge last year's heartbreaking loss to the Bruins.

Final Score Prediction:

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