Homecoming is usually a time of celebration for schools. Alumni come out in droves and pack the stadium for the annual game, bringing with them a party atmosphere and reasons to cheer beyond just football. This year’s homecoming game for the University of California should mean even more, too; after a year of lackluster attendance at AT&T Park, the team has returned to its newly renovated Memorial Stadium to enjoy the event.
But this weekend’s homecoming game will be all business for the Bears. Now at 1-4 (0-2 in Pac-12 play), Cal will be desperate for a victory and they’ll have to get it by overcoming the UCLA Bruins, currently the No. 25 team in the AP poll.
Although quarterback Zach Maynard eclipsed the 1,000 yard passing mark, he threw out perhaps his worst performance of the season against Arizona State last week. Maynard went 9-for-28 (32.1%) for 126 yards and a touchdown in their 27-17 defeat. The Sun Devils’ pass rush was a primary reason for the team’s ineptitude – Maynard was sacked seven times and pressured into incompletions on several more.
Bad news Bruins
Under new head coach Jim Mora, UCLA (4-1, 1-1) has surprised the college football world. After a 3-0 start, they stumbled in a 27-20 defeat against this year’s most surprising Pac-12 team, Oregon State. Last week the Bruins crushed Colorado, 42-14.
UCLA has been led by redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley (1,480 yards, 11 TD, 3 INT, 66.1 CMP%), who has been perhaps the best passer in the Pac-12. He’s been a threat to run the ball too, with 165 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns.
The Bruins aren’t one-dimensional either, as senior running back Johnathan Franklin’s 139.4 rushing yards per game ranks fourth in the NCAA. Franklin also averages a ridiculous 7.5 yards per carry.
On defense, linebackers Anthony Barr and Damien Holmes have combined for 10 of UCLA’s 17 sacks this season; that number puts the Bruins at second in the Pac-12 in that category (Arizona State has 21). The Golden Bears’ offensive line will have to make serious adjustments to protect Maynard, who has been sacked an FBS-high 25 times this season.
A bear trap?
These are two teams that seem to be headed in opposite directions: while Cal’s season continues to spiral toward what could be the worst in Jeff Tedford’s 11-year tenure, UCLA is surging in its first season with Jim Mora at the helm. This would seem the ideal time for UCLA – a young team that has already fallen victim to Oregon State – to overlook Cal. Mora, however, doesn’t believe that their loss to the Beavers was indicative.
“Our guys weren’t riding high on the hog,” Mora said. “They weren’t thinking they were all that so it’s not like they needed to be brought back down to earth. What it was was an opportunity to learn how to handle some adversity.”
— For the Bears to win, they’ll have to find a way to get their offense going. Despite admirable defensive performances against some tough teams like Ohio State and USC, Cal is giving up 30.2 ppg and has shown difficulty handling dual-threat quarterbacks. The Bears’ offense will have to move the ball and finish with scores, which will be difficult but not impossible. The Bruins are allowing nearly 250 passing yards per game and over 150 yards per game on the ground.
— Remember last week when I prognosticated that Brendan Bigelow would get more playing time? Let’s try that again – Tedford told reporters this week that Bigelow would see some action this week. “He’s improving. You’ll see him more this week,” the coach said. What’s the catch? “It’s hard to get all three backs in the flow.” Sounds like a limited role for Bigelow, but a role is a role.
— According to John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle, wide receiver Keenan Allen was seen “leaving practice Tuesday with one bare foot.” Tedford dispelled any rumors of a serious injury by saying “He’s got some soreness in his ankle. He’s fine.”
— Matt Summers-Gavin reportedly has soreness in his right knee but is expected to play as well.