Now the real season begins.
Somehow, a blowout win over Colorado was enough to remove any negative feelings surrounding the program after a loss to Oregon State. Of course, that might have something to do with the Beavers actually looking like their for real as well, but now, its time to show what all the fuss was about.
For however much better UCLA has looked thus far, it'll all be for naught if the Bruins lose this one. Remember, Neuheisel's biggest flaw was his absolute inability to beat a single conference opponent with half a pulse on the road. Two years ago, the Bruins throttled Texas, beat Washington State, and then got blitzed at Cal, a game that looked like a potential turning point for the program. Cal might be 1-4, but it probably should have beaten Ohio State, and it nearly beat a really good Nevada team. The other two losses weren't anything to sulk over. About 100 other teams would probably lose to USC by more than 18 points, while Arizona State looks to be a solid squad that'll finish with a winning record.
Both these two programs seem to be on opposite trends. UCLA has a new head coach that at the moment appears to be bringing the team back, while Cal is 1-4 in what might be the beginning of the end for Jeff Tedford. That's exactly why so much is at stake for both teams. For UCLA, this might be an elimination game in the south race with USC, Stanford, and Arizona State still to come, while for Cal, this game is all but a must win for postseason considerations.To add to the fire, UCLA hasn't won in Berkeley in over a decade.
Why to be excited?
The Bears don't seem to be blocking anyone. For as much skill position talent that Cal seems to have, it hasn't shown largely because the line is last in the country in sacks allowed. That's great news for a reborn UCLA front seven that should spend much of the evening putting Zach Maynard on his backside. The Bruins rank sixth nationally in sacks, and ninth in tackles for loss.
The problems don't just end there for Cal. The Golden Bears' squishy goo run defense will now get treated to a solid dose of Johnathan Franklin. UCLA should have no issues running the ball, controlling the clock, and then using Hundley and the passing game to really stretch the field and put the game out of hand.
Why to be grouchy?
As long as Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price are on the field, Keenan Allen and the Golden Bear receivers will have opportunities to score. The Cal skill position players are fast, explosive, and are game changers. Any time Allen, Bryce Treggs, Chris Harper, Ise Sofele, and Branden Bigelow get the ball in some space, they have a chance to take it home. The Bruins have come a long way in terms of tackling in space, but will really be put to the test this Saturday.
What to watch for:
-It's Hundley's first true road test. Yes, Rice and Colorado don't count, Hundley might have played in tougher environments in High School. This will be a hostile environment in a rivalry game, and his poise will show a lot about what will be coming this season for the Bruins.
-The Heisman race is so wide open right now, with Geno Smith holding the lead. However, a big time performance from Franklin could vault him back into the conversation. The most important thing to the Franklin campaign will be UCLA continuing to do well, but he can't be part of the conversation if he isn't getting into the endzone and showing that gamechanging ability.
-Kai'mi Fairbairns isn't as bad as people might think. He has the leg, and his technique has come a long way since the first week, but that doesn't do much good when the Bruins need him to kick a big 40 yard field goal. The Bruin offense has had trouble finishing drives, so all the more pressure is on Fairbairns to grow up fast.
The Bears wan't this one badly, but so does UCLA.
Cal will come out with a sense of purpose on offense, with big plays from Allen and Harper. The ground game however will be all but absent. Meanwhile, Franklin will have another big day, and Hundley will keep the chains moving, keeping the ball away from Maynard and co. A couple of late stops will give the Bruins a chance to put the game away. They'll squander a couple chances before capitalizing on a Cal turnover to end this one for good.
UCLA 30, California 21