Tomorrow night, Cal rolls into Pasadena to take on 11th-ranked UCLA. UCLA will look to win their fifth straight game and move to 5-0 on the season in front of a sold out Rose Bowl crowd. Cal, who will be without Stefan McClure or Joel Willis (amongst at least about eight other players), will be going up against their fourth ranked opponent in six games this season. This game is probably going to go the way of the others and be an ugly, mostly one-sided affair that leaves the Cal faithful counting down the remaining 21 days until the basketball season begins.
UCLA is talented. They are one of the more complete teams in the conference. They know who they are, what they do well and what they do poorly. They feature two top-ten prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft and more than a few guys who will be playing on Sundays eventually. They are also deep. They’ve got players on the bench who would be upgrades over guys starting in Berkeley. UCLA right now is just on another plain than Cal. UCLA is in the top-tier of the Pac-12 right now (along with Oregon, Stanford and Washington), and could be playing in a Rose Bowl this season.
Meanwhile, Cal is at the bottom of the barrel in a very deep Pac-12. We knew this season would probably be bad, but this may be worse than anyone expected. Much of it is not on anyone (injuries are always tough to deal with), but this doesn’t excuse the fact that this team is in a very bad place right now. They are without over ten players at this point and have looked towards moving players around in order to fill a full starting eleven on the defensive side of the ball. It looks grim right now. But, sometimes you have to go through hell to make it to heaven. Right now, Cal is in hell.
There is not a high probability rate that this game will end up with some season-changing upset at the hands of Cal, but that doesn’t mean I can’t tell you what would need to happen for Cal to win the game. I mean, we can all dream, right?
Cal would need to have their running game work, finally. I know, I write that nearly every week, but I write it because it’s true. Cal needs for Brendan Bigelow and Daniel Lasco to step up and play up to potential and expectation. We know the tandem has talent, and without Khaifani Muhammad, they aren’t going to get yanked. However, they have to get on their game. Specifically, Bigelow has to step up his game. He is known for being a spark plug kind of player, but he would need to be more than that to ensure a Cal win. He hasn’t really done much this year, including being the dynamic star running back he was hyped to be entering this season.
Cal would also need to have a strong showing against UCLA’s high powered offense. UCLA may have the best offense they’ve had in about a decade. They have a great running game, a good receiving corps and a sure-fire NFL 1st round Draft pick at quarterback. This team also has a solid offensive line that is taller, bigger and stronger than the defensive linemen who Cal will start this weekend. The defense would need to limit the kind of damage that this UCLA offense an cause.
The final thing Cal would need is a solid showing from the offensive line. We all know Jared Goff is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation who can consistently go over 400 yards, but he will need the kind of time to lock onto his receivers to make the offense purr. UCLA, meanwhile, has a gross front seven that includes Anthony Barr, Cassius Marsh and Myles Jack. They can get pressure as often as they please. The offensive line would need to put a stop to that in order to have a shot at winning.
The thing is, I don’t see that happening. I see this game going like so many other game this season for UCLA, which is: really slow start out of the gate, but an eventual blow out in favor of UCLA.
What we have to remember is that UCLA is a team with a shot at a New Year’s Day bowl and an outside shot at a Pac-12 Championship. That level is completely different from where Cal is at, where the best they can hope for (at least for the next season or two) is a .500 record and maybe a low-end bowl game. UCLA can be a Rose Bowl team, Cal hopes were to play at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. See, different places all together. And thing thing is, it’s okay that the two schools are at different levels. But this game will be rough for the Cal faithful and for those who really think this game has even a remote shot at going against the Bruins. Look for a lopsided game that is done at the beginning of the third quarter.