Cal's defense has played well in three of its first four games, and it responded admirably after yielding 52 points in its 52-31 loss to Nevada on Sept. 17. The Bears showed again that their pass defense is much more effective against a pocket passer like Arizona quarterback Nick Foles than against a dual-threat quarterback like Nevada's Colin Kaepernick.
UCLA's Kevin Prince is not the running threat Kaepernick is, but he's more mobile and more likely to run than Foles, so it will be interesting to see how well the Bears' defense stands up against the Bruins' improved pistol offense, which is the same attack Nevada used so effectively.
It may not matter if the Bears do not get more production out of their offense. Cal quarterback Kevin Riley was just 13-for-26 with no touchdown passes and an interception against Arizona's tough defense, and again Riley was unable to come up with the big play when the Bears needed it most.
Cal could have clinched the game if kicker Giorgio Tavecchio had made either of his final two field goal attempts, the second a miss from 40 yards that would have given Cal a 12-3 lead with 2:37 to go.
However, Foles was able to do what Riley could not. He drove the Wildcats 77 yards, with a big chunk coming on a 51-yard pass to Juron Criner. Foles hit Criner again on a 3-yard scoring pass to put the Wildcats ahead for the first time with 1:11 to go.
Needing only a field goal to win, Cal and Riley could not manufacture a winning drive, which ended on an interception, although this one was not entirely Riley's fault. The ball went off the hands of receiver Marvin Jones and was picked off by Arizona's Joseph Perkins.
It was Cal's best defensive performance of the season. The return of linebacker Mike Mohamed, who had missed the Nevada game with a toe injury, probably had something to do with it. But it seemed to have more to do with the style of the opponent's offense. Not concerned with Foles as a running threat, the Bears were able to apply pressure often. Few teams have been able to hurry Foles, but the Bears have done it both times they've faced him. Last year, Cal beat the Wildcats; this time they fell just short.
The Bears, who used five defensive backs much of the game, forced Foles into a fumble in the first half that led to the Bears' second field goal. However, the Bears were unable to get the ball into the end zone when they had the chance, which is something that continues to haunt the Cal offense and Riley.
NOTES & QUOTES
GAME BALL GOES TO: LB Mychal Kendricks -- The Bears' explosive outside linebacker had two sacks and a fumble recovery that led to a Cal field goal. He was one of the main ingredients in the Bears' strong defensive effort. Kendricks barely beat out S Chris Conte, who had eight tackles and a nifty interception late in the first half to thwart an Arizona scoring bid.
KEEP AN EYE ON: CB Bryant Nnabuife -- He had two tackles for losses on similar plays when he read a pass to a running back and shot through to make a play. He covered receivers well, preventing any big plays from being made in his area. Nnabuife is not typically a member of the starting lineup but he played nickel back much of the game as the Bears went with five defensive backs most of the time. All the Cal defensive backs played well, including Darian Hagan, even though he was called for interference on one play and Juron Criner caught the pivotal 51-yard pass over him.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I hate to sit on this for two weeks, but it will make us better." -- Cal DE Cameron Jordan, to the San Francisco Chronicle, after the 10-9 loss to Arizona, regarding having a bye before facing UCLA on Oct. 9.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The Cal pass defense -- Although Arizona QB Nick Foles was 25-for-39, he totaled just 153 passing yards before producing the late game-winning scoring drive. A strong pass rush prevented Foles from gaining much continuity, and the Bears defensive backs covered well. Cal forced Foles into a fumble in the first quarter, and an interception by Chris Conte thwarted an Arizona scoring threat late in the first half. Even on the 51-yard completion that was the key play of the Wildcats' late touchdown drive, Darian Hagan had good coverage on the play. Juron Criner just made a great play by getting up high and outfighting Hagan for the ball. Cal's pass defense was its biggest weakness last season, and it has improved dramatically.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Cal's passing game -- Cal QB Kevin Riley has been unable to produce the big play when needed most. He was under pressure from Arizona, which has a strong pass defense, but you never got the feeling Riley could put together a series of completions. Shane Vereen provided enough of a running threat, but Cal was able to produce only 116 yards passing. Cal had a final chance with a minute left, needing only a field goal to win, but an interception on the third play ended the Bears' hopes. Riley is effective when he has time to throw, but he seldom provides a consistent passing threat when he faces any pressure.