No. 25 Bruins not overlooking 1-4 Cal

At first glance, California is looking a little more like Colorado than the Pac-12 power the Golden Bears were expected to be this season.

By the numbers, Cal is one of the least efficient defensive teams. Just 1-4 so far this season and 0-2 in the Pac-12, Cal is allowing 30.2 points per game, good enough for only 10th-best in the conference, and is dead last in the Pac-12 in both rushing defense and total defense.
 
But football isn’t about the numbers, and No. 25 UCLA head coach Jim Mora insists that the Golden Bears defense is better than it looks on paper. So much better, in fact, that after Tuesday’s practice Mora told the media that even his wife is worried.

“I woke up this morning at 3 a.m., and my wife, Shannon, was sitting up watching ‘Huddle’, we have this thing called ‘Huddle’ for game film,” Mora said. “I’m not kidding, she was watching Cal’s defense. She couldn’t sleep. She said, ‘God, these guys are playing hard.”
 
The goal will be simple: Keep the Bears guessing. So far this season, the Bruins (4-1, 1-1) have used 14 receivers in a spread attack that literally does spread the opportunities around. A feature back in senior running back Johnathan Franklin as well as a quarterback with wheels in Brett Hundley has also been advantageous: UCLA has become one of the most prolific offensive teams in the country this season, currently sitting at No. 4 in Division I with 588.40 total yards per game.
 
While No. 8 West Virginia and Baylor may have skewed the numbers a bit with their basketball game on a football field last week, the Bruins’ offense is up there with the best of them, largely due to the offense’s ability to control the pace of play.

“You want to try to go fast,” Mora said. “When you’re going fast, we’re going at the tempo that we like to go at and we have to have a lot of players play just to spell each other a little bit. We get 8,10, 11 guys every week and we’ve got to be able to do that, spread it around.
 
“And that way everyone can play fast.”

The ground speed will obviously start with Franklin, the country’s fourth-leading rusher. Establishing the rush will be important against a big, physical defensive line and a secondary that “flies around”, according to Mora.
 
“Even though we’re a team that likes to spread it out and throw it, my belief in terms of just general philosophy of football is that you have to be able to run the football,” Mora said. “Johnathan Franklin is the guy that’s making the most noise out there, and it’s hard to scheme for a running back. You’ve just got to play good, solid, sound gap-control defense and tackle well.”

But UCLA that may end up with some confusion as well.
 
Every week, the question of which Cal team will show up on the field is posed. Will it be the team that showed explosiveness against a 12th-ranked Ohio State team or the sloppy team that fell to Nevada in its opener?

Cal’s weapons are too great to ignore but which ones, and how they will be utilized by head coach Jeff Tedford also unknown.

Receiver Keenan Allen is fast becoming one of the top receivers in the Pac-12. In baseball terms, Allen might be described as “toolsy”, possessing above-average speed, athleticism and great field vision. He’s as difficult to take down as he is to catch. Struggling quarterback Zach Maynard gets help from him in the form of acrobatic catches in heavy traffic and the only way to eliminate the threat is to make him miss.

“But Keenan is a guy that you had better have an answer for. He’s a special player. You’ve got to go into the game and try to find a way to, as best you can, try to eliminate him on certain plays,” Mora said. “And you can’t double the guy, it’s just impossible to do, given that they run the ball and can catch it.”

Isi Sofele is the Golden Bears’ go-to back and is coming off a very good game against Arizona State, rushing for 105 yards and a touchdown, it’s Brendan Bigelow that may be even tougher to plan for. The sophomore has made a big play nearly every time he has touched the ball, rushing for 81 yards in Columbus the first time he was handed the ball. In just 10 carries, Bigelow has amassed 206 yards for an average of more than 20 yards per carry.

But the tailback that has been described as electric, dazzling and dominant didn’t even see the ball against Arizona State. Only two carries per game is puzzling, although Tedford did say he plans to use Bigelow more this week.
 
The only way to prepare for the confusion, Mora said, is to scheme.

“Sometimes you’re preparing for a scheme, sometimes you’re preparing for a scheme and you’re preparing for a certain player within that scheme,” Mora said. “I would imagine that most teams prepare for us like we prepare for most people, which is the scheme first and individual players second.”