After getting a bye week to consider what went wrong in an ugly first defeat, California has moved up three spots to its highest ranking in the Top 25 in six years.
Perhaps voters figure it isn’t likely that Jared Goff is going to throw five interceptions again.
The star quarterback will try to get the 20th-ranked Bears back on track Thursday night when they look to deal banged-up host UCLA its first three-game regular-season skid since 2010.
Goff became a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate by completing 70.2 percent of his passes for 1,630 yards, 15 touchdowns and four interceptions as Cal opened 5-0, its best start since 2007.
The junior, however, had that run come to a disastrous end when he matched the interception total from his first five games in the first half alone in a 30-24 loss at then-No. 5 Utah on Oct. 10. Goff, whose five picks were a career worst, hadn’t thrown more than two over his previous 28 starts with the Bears since to a three-interception debut in August 2013.
”It’s going to have to be something I’m going to have to get better at and learn from," Goff said, describing the performance as "the worst game of his life."
Despite all the mistakes and six total turnovers, Cal was in position for a go-ahead score after driving to the Utah 21-yard line on its last possession before the drive stalled.
Goff, who threw for 340 yards and two touchdowns, wasn’t the only one to blame. He was under constant pressure behind an offensive line that has allowed 11 sacks in the past three games.
The frustrating defeat, though, didn’t keep Cal (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) from achieving its highest ranking since 2009 as it prepared to bounce back following its week off.
The Bears can become bowl eligible for the first time since 2011 if they can pull out just their second win in their last eight road games against UCLA.
”There’s a lot of reasons we want this game and becoming bowl eligible is one of them,” safety Stefan McClure said. ”There’s stuff riding on this game. Getting a sixth win, beating UCLA, which we haven’t down there in a few years.”
Sonny Dykes’ 2015 squad appears to be catching UCLA (4-2, 1-2) at an opportune time. The Bruins fell from the poll following a 56-35 loss at then-No. 15 Stanford last Thursday and are on the verge of their first three-game conference slide since 2010.
They gave up their highest point total since a 60-13 loss at Oregon on Oct. 21, 2010. UCLA is allowing 41.3 points and 285.0 rushing yards per game in Pac-12 action after the Cardinal ran for 310.
Tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, linebacker Myles Jack and cornerback Fabian Moreau are among those sidelined on UCLA’s short-handed defense.
Cal hasn’t been much of a threat on the ground, averaging 115.0 rushing yards and 3.2 per carry over its last three games. But it ranks second in the Pac-12 with 40.2 points a contest.
Junior wideout Kenny Lawler leads the Bears with 34 catches, 465 yards and eight touchdowns. His 23-yard TD grab gave Cal a fourth-quarter lead before Brett Hundley led the Bruins to the go-ahead field goal with 3:40 left in a 36-34 road win in the most recent matchup last Oct. 18.
”For us to beat them, we’re going to have to come out and be mistake-free,” UCLA receiver Jordan Payton said. ”It’s no rocket science. Penalty-free, turnover-free, and score touchdowns.”
The Bruins are averaging 7.8 penalties for 75 yards per game after committing a season-high 10 for 93 against the Cardinal. That’s made things tougher on freshman Josh Rosen, who’s thrown 82 passes and been sacked five times in the past two games.
They could try to get the running game going after Cal allowed 265 yards and 5.2 per carry against the Utes. Paul Perkins, who leads UCLA with 681 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, had 161 total yards and two scores in last year’s meeting.
The Bruins have won the last two home matchups with the Bears by a combined 44 points. They’ve also taken their last three at home against ranked opponents after a 24-23 victory over then-No. 19 BYU on Sept. 19.