By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Two teams that have opened the season headed in different directions from the Golden State will square off at Memorial Stadium Saturday when the No. 25 UCLA Bruins face the California Golden Bears.
UCLA is back in the top-25 after dropping out with a loss to Oregon State two weeks ago. The Bruins dominated Colorado on the road with a 42-14 win this past weekend moving the squad to 4-1 and an even 1-1 in Pac-12 play. The Bruins, who got into the top-25 after a 3-0 start earlier this season, had not been in the national rankings since being ranked No. 23 after week one of the 2008 season
Things have not been so bright in Berkeley for the Golden Bears. California is just 1-4 this season and 0-2 in Pac-12 play. In fact California has yet to defeat a FBS school this season with the only victory coming against Southern Utah. The poor start is surprising for a team that has talent, especially on offense, and is coming off a 7-6 season. Since the win over Southern Utah, California has lost three straight games, including a 27-17 setback against Arizona State last weekend.
With a win against California last season UCLA increased its all-time lead in the series to 50-31-1. Under current head coach Jeff Tedford, the Golden Bears are 5-0 against UCLA at Memorial stadium and overall California has not lost at home to UCLA since 1998.
Jim Mora has pulled UCLA back into national contention with one of the most explosive and productive offensive attacks in the nation. UCLA is fourth nationally in total offense (560.4 ypg). That feat has been accomplished through a balanced attack, with the passing game amassing 1,585 yards, while the ground game is second in the Pac-12 with 1,217 yards.
Even more impressive about the Bruins' offensive efforts has been the man under center leading the unit. Although just a true freshman, Brett Hundley has excelled in his early career, completing 66.1 percent of his passes for 1,480 yards and 11 touchdowns with only three interceptions. Hundley has also been able to get involved on the ground, carrying the ball 49 times, second most on the team, for 165 yards this season.
"He keeps getting better and better every week," Mora said about Hundley while still urging the importance of keeping up the offensive pressure, "We just need to remember the good things we did and keep doing them and improve on the things we need to improve on. "
Hundley's success has been paralleled by the explosive play of running back Johnathan Franklin, who has compiled 697 yards on the ground along with three touchdowns. Franklin's efforts currently have him ranked fourth in the nation in rushing and at the top of the Pac-12.
No receiver has stepped up as Hundley's favored target with eight different receivers recording at least 10 catches this season, none more than Steven Manfro (19). Shaquelle Evans has been the closest thing to a deep threat with a team-high 254 receiving yards, while Joseph Fauria has been the most looked for target in the red zone (four touchdowns).
UCLA's defense, while not as productive as the offense, has been solid. The Bruins are allowing 399.0 yards per game but with the type of pace the offense plays at, more yards allowed on defense can be expected. What has been most impressive about the Bruins is their ability to come up with big stops. Teams are only scoring 20.2 points per game and converting 28 percent of their third down attempts this season.
Eric Kendricks has been the leader of the defense with 36 total tackles, but it has been the pressure created by Anthony Barr (six sacks, nine tackles for loss) and Damien Holmes (four sacks, six tackles for loss) that has really powered the unit.
Its record would indicate that California would be at the bottom of the conference offensively but that is not true. The Golden Bears are somewhere closer to the middle, averaging 385.8 yards of total offense per game. The team has also been much closer in its games than a 1-4 record would imply. The Golden Bears have been within a score of winning in the fourth quarter in each of the four losses. In fact, California has outscored its opponents in every quarter but the first where it has suffered from a 44-7 deficit.
Zach Maynard has been inconsistent at quarterback for California this season. He has thrown for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns and completing 57.6 percent of his pass attempts. However, his four interceptions are a concern. Much of Maynard's struggles have come from the constant pressure he is under as he has taken 25 sacks this season which is the most in the Pac-12. That type of pressure has not gone unnoticed by Tedford.
"We got physically beat up front. We didn't really have much time to throw the football," Tedford said after Maynard was sacked seven times against Arizona State. "We got a little bit going in the run game, but in the pass game we got beat by a more physical team."
Isis Sofele has rushed for 33 yards and a pair of scores as the primary back, while Brendan Bigelow (20.6 yards-per-carry) has been an explosive alternate.
Wideout Keenan Allen (33 receptions, 388 yards, 2 TDs) is unquestionably the most talented player on offense for the Golden Bears.
In terms of defense, California is certainly not a powerhouse, surrendering 30.2 points and 426.0 yards per game, which are both near the bottom of the Pac-12. The Golden Bears have also allowed a rather high (76 percent) conversion rate in the red zone.
Josh Hill leads the unit in tackles (38), but is one of five players to have at least 30 tackles this season. Todd Barr has been the top pass rusher with a team-high 2.5 sacks, while Marc Anthony has gotten into the backfield on a number of occasions, with 5.5 tackles for loss.
California has the skill to compete in the Pac-12 but has made a number of mistakes and dug itself into too many early holes this season. That is a pattern the Golden Bears will struggle to break against a fast-strike offense like UCLA.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UCLA 32, California 28
10/03 10:40:07 ET
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