No. 20 Cal hopes to flip the script on struggling UCLA
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) UCLA has yielded 124 points in its last three games with a defense battered by injuries and frustrated by its ineffectiveness.
And now Jared Goff is headed to the Rose Bowl to try to make things even worse.
The annual UC rivalry game will do a reverse from its recent history when the schools meet again Thursday night. No. 20 California (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) has the national ranking and conference title hopes, while unranked UCLA (4-2, 1-2) is reeling from two straight losses and clinging to its Pac-12 dreams.
The Bruins have never lost three straight regular-season games in the mostly successful four-year tenure of coach Jim Mora, who revitalized a mediocre program and turned UCLA into a contender. Yet the longtime NFL defensive coordinator has never had this many problems with his defense, which wasn’t able to prevent consecutive Pac-12 losses in October for the third straight season.
”The important thing is that you don’t rush to the other side of the boat and start taking on water,” Mora said. ”If you believe in what you are doing, you do it and keep trying to do it better and make improvements.”
While Mora’s team is in its October stall, Cal coach Sonny Dykes’ rebuilding project is right on schedule, even with a narrow loss at No. 3 Utah in the Golden Bears’ last game. With a potent offense led by Goff’s powerful arm, the Bears’ next win will make them bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011.
Cal has its highest ranking in six years and ample optimism about its trip to the Rose Bowl, where the Bears have won just once since 1999.
”Part of our maturation as a football program is believing that we’re good enough to win against good football teams on the road, and especially when we don’t play well,” Dykes said.
Here are some more things to watch in the schools’ 86th meeting:
GOFF’S REBOUND: Cal’s stellar starting quarterback threw five interceptions in the loss at Utah, but his response to adversity has impressed coaches on both sidelines. ”Goff, he’s pretty darn special,” Mora said. ”I watched (the Utah game) on TV, so you see his facial expressions. He’s thrown (five) interceptions and you would have never known it. As an observer of football, it’s been fun to watch him mature. As someone that has to play him on (Thursday), it’s not that fun.”
CHASING ROSEN: Cal’s opportunistic defense leads the nation in takeaways, and UCLA freshman quarterback Josh Rosen is still adjusting to the pressures of Pac-12 football. The combination seems ripe for more opportunities for the Golden Bears, but Dykes is wary. ”The thing that has set (Rosen) apart and given him the ability to play as a freshman is his confidence,” Dykes said. ”He doesn’t get rattled very easily. He seems to have gotten through the tough stretches he has had and improved.”
DAY AND NIGHT: As if UCLA’s injuries weren’t enough of a challenge, the Bruins’ defense now must make a one-game transition from Stanford’s straightforward, punishing offense to Cal’s passing game. The Cardinal ran the ball mercilessly on UCLA, and Cal likely will attempt to throw against a defense missing Myles Jack and top cover cornerback Fabian Moreau. ”In terms of two different styles of offense, I don’t think you can get any more radical than these two,” Mora said.
PERKINS PREPARATION: UCLA tailback Paul Perkins is among the Pac-12’s best ball-carriers, and the Bears’ run defense is eager for redemption after yielding 222 yards and two TDs to Utah’s Devontae Booker. ”Playing that game has really prepared us for this game, playing two exceptional good backs in back-to-back weeks,” Cal safety Stefan McClure said. ”Both of them are kind of similar as far as they run hard. They’re fast. Perkins gets to the second level and makes guys miss.”
SUCCESS IN SIGHT: Cal is beginning a three-game stretch against UCLA, Southern California and Oregon – three expected Pac-12 powers all fallen on hard times this season. Dykes is hopeful that the Bears have the tenacity to cement themselves as a Pac-12 North contender, but understands the difficulties in this stretch are as much mental as physical. ”Respect is earned, and I don’t think it’s easily earned, at least the kind of respect that you want,” Dykes said. ”To me, we need to continue to play well to earn people’s respect, and I don’t have any problem with that at all.”