The only time the Bears have lost three straight under Jeff Tedford was in 2007, when Cal was ranked No. 2 in the country then spiraled downward with losses in six of its final seven regular-season games.
The Bears must stop the bleeding against UCLA (3-2, 1-1) to stay in the Pac-10 race. Two conference losses would virtually eliminate any thoughts of a conference title, and would begin to threaten the Bears' streak of seven straight bowl berths. A loss to the Bruins could set the stage for a losing record, and Tedford certainly does not want to hear the reaction to that.
To beat UCLA, Cal will have to handle the Bruins' running game, which churned out 437 yards on the ground against Washington State in a 42-28 win over the Cougars on Oct. 2. The Bruins two tailbacks, Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman, combined for 401 rushing yards. Even against Washington State's lousy defense that's quite an accomplishment.
Franklin had 216 yards and now averages 125.0 yards per game, 10th in the nation through Oct. 2.
The key to the pistol attack, however, is the quarterback. Richard Brehaut played the position for UCLA against Washington State because Kevin Prince injured his knee in practice two days before the Washington State game. Prince is expected to play against Cal, and he is a better runner than Brehaut.
Prince is not the running threat that Nevada's Colin Kaepernick is, though, and it was Kaepernick's success running the ball on the option that ruined the Bears in that game.
But the Bruins seem to be getting better at running the pistol. This is their first season in the new offense, and they struggled with it the first two games. They have won three straight coming into the Cal game, however, and scored more than 30 points in all three.
Cal's defense played well in its most recent game, a 10-9 loss to Arizona on Sept. 25, and if it has the same kind of success against the Bruins, the Bears should be able to score enough points to win and point the season in the right direction again.
As always, though, Cal's chances hinge on the performance of quarterback Kevin Riley. When he plays well, the Bears win.
NOTES & QUOTES
SERIES HISTORY: UCLA leads 49-30-1 (last meeting 2009, 45-26 Cal).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Cal's running game has been effective, but its passing game has not been good enough. TB Shane Vereen gained 300 yards rushing in his last two games, and that includes 102 against Arizona's tough defense. QB Kevin Riley is following the same pattern as the past two seasons: He looks good at times, but seems to make a game-changing mistake at a pivotal moment. Sometimes he throws when he should run or vice versa, and sometimes he throws an ill-advised pass into traffic and is intercepted. UCLA has forced 11 turnovers, so turnovers will be an issue.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Cal's defense was outstanding against Arizona, which featured a pocket passer (Nick Foles), but it was terrible against Nevada, which depends on an option attack and a dual-threat quarterback (Colin Kaepernick). UCLA's offense is somewhere between the two. It has an option game, but its quarterback (Kevin Prince) is not nearly the runner Kaepernick is. Cal's cornerbacks are much better in pass coverage than they were last season, although they did not provide adequate run support against the option. DE Cameron Jordan and OLB Mychal Kendricks have consistently applied pressure to the quarterback, and the Bears in general have had a better pass rush under new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The pistol was a big reason." -- Cal coach Jeff Tedford, on why the Bears began game preparation for its next opponent, UCLA, during its bye week, something it has not typically done in the past. Cal did not handle the pistol offense run by Nevada, and the Bruins run the same offense.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: UCLA at Cal, Oct. 9 -- Cal has won both games against UCLA since Rick Neuheisel became the Bruins head coach, but the Bruins are the hotter team this season. UCLA lost its first two games, but has won three in row coming into the Cal game, while Cal has been just the opposite, winning its first two games, but losing its past two games before facing UCLA. Cal is coming off a bye, but the off week has not been particularly beneficial for the Bears, who have gone 3-4 after a bye week the past three seasons. Cal has won three straight home games dating back to last season. UCLA runs the pistol offense, which gave Cal so much trouble against Nevada, but UCLA QB Kevin Prince is not the runner Nevada's Colin Kaepernick is.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Cal's defense must control UCLA's pistol offense, specifically its option. Nevada ran rampant over Cal with its option out of its pistol offense. The Bruins don't run the option as often or as well as Nevada, but they may use it more against the Bears. The Bears must prevent QB Kevin Prince (assuming he plays despite a knee injury) from getting running room on the outside while still preventing Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman from making consistent gains up the middle. If the Bears control UCLA's ground game, Prince should not be able to generate enough offense through the air to beat the Bears. On offense, QB Kevin Riley must avoid turnovers against a UCLA defense that is good at forcing turnovers. If Riley does not throw any interceptions and does not fumble the ball away, the Bears' chance of winning rises significantly.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
TB Shane Vereen -- He had 198 rushing yards against Nevada and 102 against Arizona's strong run defense. He does everything you need in a running back -- run inside with power, run outside with speed, catch passes out of the backfield and pass block effectively. He had excellent games against Nevada and Arizona, yet Cal lost both.
DE Cameron Jordan -- Jordan has pro potential and he is Cal's best defensive lineman. He is the key to Cal stopping UCLA's option attack out of the pistol, and is capable of making game-changing plays. Jordan is an excellent pass rusher, and he might get a sack or two on UCLA QB Kevin Prince.
WR Marvin Jones -- Jones has 25 receptions. No one else on the team has more than 11. He is the Bears' most reliable receiver, and Kevin Riley goes to Jones in critical situations. Jones is a big receiver who has the ability to outmuscle some defensive backs, but he is also capable of making acrobatic catches.