How big is Cal’s game Saturday night against UCLA?
“This is the biggest game of the year,” offensive tackle Matt Summers-Gavin said.
Actually, it may be bigger than that.
It’s big for Jeff Tedford. Big for the future of the football program. Even big for the well-being of the athletic department, given the financial ramifications if the team performs poorly and ticket sales/ESP sales fall off the cliff.
No. 25 UCLA won’t be easy. Under new coach Jim Mora Jr., the Bruins appear stronger than Arizona State, which came into Berkeley last weekend and beat the Bears by 10 points. They have an experienced secondary. An aggressive defensive line. A dynamite running back. A better-than-anyone imagined redshirt freshman quarterback.
And the motivation to end a long drought in Berkeley.
Let’s face it, the Pac-12 South is strong, but up for grabs because USC has a loss and it’s hard to imagine ASU will run the table in conference play. So the Bruins are thinking they can play Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game. And maybe they can.
I have no good feel for how the Bears will respond Saturday. I thought they’d rise up and beat ASU, and they played perhaps their poorest game of the season.
Tedford told us the team had a good week of practice, and I believe him. But I recall him saying much the same thing a week ago.
Here’s what I do know: The Bears cannot win if they follow this script:
— Allow six sacks
— Let UCLA run 94 plays
— Total 119 yards on 12 penalties
— Convert only 4 of 15 third-down chances
Those numbers come directly from Cal’s loss to ASU, and they were ghastly.
Ghastly won’t work against UCLA. Or probably anyone else left on the schedule.
Here is my story that will appear in Saturday’s edition, with reaction from Brendan Bigelow on the news that he will (we’re told) carry the ball on Saturday.
CAL VS. UCLA
RECORDS: Cal 1-4, 0-2 in Pac-12; UCLA 4-1, 1-1
KICKOFF: 7 p.m., Memorial Stadium
TV: Pac-12 Networks
SERIES HISTORY: UCLA leads 50-31-1. Cal has won the past six meetings at Berkeley, but lost 31-14 last season at the Rose Bowl.
STORYLINES: The Bears are desperate for a victory to halt a three-game losing streak and breathe some life into a disappointing season. The Bears have never lost four games in a row under coach Jeff Tedford. Cal has yet to defeat a FBS opponent in 2012 . . . Cal’s defense will take its best shot against its fourth opponent to play some variation of the spread offense, although the Bruins no longer are employing the Pistol formation under new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. QB Brett Hundley has thrown 11 touchdowns — tied for most by any freshman in the nation. Senior RB Johnathan Franklin is No. 4 nationally at 139.4 rushing yards per game and gets 7.5 yards per carry.
INJURY UPDATE: Cal — TE Spencer Hagan (knee), ILB David Wilkerson (ankle), ILB Khairi Fortt (knee), OG Dominic Galas (shoulder), CB Stefan McClure (knee) are out. UCLA — LB Jordan Zumwalt (motor-scooter accident) is probable.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Cal’s offensive line vs. UCLA’s defensive front. The Bears are last in the nation in sacks allowed (25) and surrendering tackles for loss (43). UCLA plays fast and aggressive and is tied for fourth nationally with 41 TFL and second in the Pac-12 with 18 sacks. The Bruins also have choked 14 turnovers out of their first five opponents. The Bears’ line will need to better protect QB Zach Maynard to minimize sacks and giveaways.
STATS THAT MATTER: Cal’s four losses have come to teams with a combined record of 17-3 . . . The Bears have started 1-5 (or worse) eight times in school history (all since 1957) and only one of those teams finished with as many as three victories . . . UCLA ranks No. 2 in the Pac-12 in rushing (243.4 ypg) and Cal is No. 12 against the rush (174.8).