Can Cal's D stand up to UCLA's O?

If Cal's D can do the job, Cal's O will win.

Posted Oct 18, 2002


Other than some intangible factors that align with Cal, the player matchups strongly favor UCLA in Saturday's tilt. Cal's offensive strength is its passing attack under the orchestration of Jeff Tedford. UCLA's defensive strength is their pass defense. The way to beat the Bruins "D" is to run the football like Colorado did.


But Cal chooses not to run the football often and is ranked #8 in the Pac 10 and #94 nationally (out of 117 schools) in rushing offense. UCLA is #3 in the Pac 10 and #16 nationally in total offense. Cal is last in the Pac 10 and #80 in the nation in total defense. Yet, amazingly, Cal has a whacky formula for success this season that if properly executed, leads to victories.

Cal's Offense vs. UCLA's Defense

One intangible that is not often mentioned is that Kyle Boller is 2-0 against UCLA. He originally wanted to play for the Bruins so he'll definitely be motivated to finish his career undefeated. He did not participate in last season's blowout due to injury. Also, do any Cal fans remember the Bear's winning percentage when they run for 155 yards in a game? The UCLA defense is giving up that magic number on average per game this season...

**Offensive Line vs. Defensive Line**

Cal's offensive line has continued to serve as a barometer of the overall success of Jeff Tedford's new offense. Cal's running game was stuffed by USC, limiting Joe Igber to 42 yards rushing. This made the Bear's offense, in essence, one-dimensional, allowing the stout Trojan defense to put more pressure on Kyle Boller than any time this season. Boller was sacked three times for another "high water" mark but the number of sacks was somewhat misleading. On two occasions, Boller sensed pressure by blitzing linebackers and pulled the ball down, scrambling for yardage. On both plays, the Bear quarterback was tackled just short of the line of scrimmage. Cal has now fallen to second in Pac 10 pass protection as measured by sacks (11 sacks in 7 games) behind Washington State (10 sacks in 7 games) but actually leads in least sack yardage (66 yards for Cal to 68 yards for WSU). Cal's OL actually fared quite well against the heralded front four of the Trojans. Former Oakland prep star, Omar Nazel, beat Cal's Mark Wilson for a sack late in the game. I believe that is the first sack allowed by Wilson this season.

As mentioned, the prescribed strategy to beat UCLA is to run the ball. The Bruins are #9 in the Pac 10 and #69 nationally in rushing defense based upon allowed yardage per game (156). However, UCLA is dead last by a large margin in average yards per carry (4.3) . Cal, by way of contrast, is #8 in the conference in rushing defense (135 ypg) but gives up only 3.4 ypc! The Cal offensive line needs to demonstrate this week that they are multi-faceted by playing smashmouth football. The Bears must attempt to avail themselves of some of that 4.3 ypc especially with Bruin first team all-Pac 10 defensive tackle, Rodney Leisle, is out injured. Cal should be able to provide solid pass protection against the Bruin front four even though they zone blitz a lot. The linebackers and cornerbacks have accounted for 5 of the team's 16 sacks in six games UCLA's defensive coordinator, Phil Snow, loves to send his speedy, physical dbs, Ricky Manning and Matt Ware, off the corner several times per game.

Cal's LT Mark Wilson will face BOTH of the Bruins top sack men. Starter Dave Ball (6'6" 279) leads the team with 4 sacks followed by his backup, Asi Faoa(6'4" 270), with 2. LG Scott Tercero shut out USC's "baby Sapp", Mike Patterson, right off of the stat sheet last week. This week he'll draw ex-Cal recruit, Ryan Boschetti (1 sack), from Carlmont High School and College of San Mateo. He was rated by one recruiting service as the top juco DL in the country. Either Jon Giesel or David Hays will man the strong side guard position lined up opposite UCLA's Steve Morgan (1 sack). RT Chris Murphy matches up versus Bruin three-year starter, Rusty Williams (6'4" 267), no sacks. The other Ball twin, Mat, shares the left DE spot and has one sack.
Advantage: CAL

**Running Backs vs. Linebackers**

The top three tacklers for the UCLA "D" are its starting linebackers. The case could be made that redshirt freshman, ex-Cal recruit Spencer Havner (6'4" 232), the weakside LB, is the defensive MVP so far this season. In six games, he's #2 in tackles (38), tied for the team lead in TFLs with 5, tied for #2 in sacks, tied for the most interceptions (2) and leads the team in passes defensed with 5! I think that this guy is a football player and that Kyle Boller needs to account for him especially on short passes. The team's leading tackler is ex-Cal recruit and former San Jose phenom, Marcus Reese, with 45. He's extremely athletic and fast. He savors the QB blitz because he used to play standup DE in high school, registering a bushel full of sacks. The strong side backer is Brandon Chillar (6'3" 234) who has made 32 stops.

Cal's Joe Igber had one of his greatest games against UCLA during the 2000 season, scoring three touchdowns in the triple OT triumph. The Bruins have for some years NOT been good tacklers. Cal may be able to manipulate UCLA's linebackers into over-pursuit. UCLA also will be playing safeties that have never faced Ziggy Iggy before. Hopefully, Mr Igber can pass along some lessons on how not to tackle properly... Terrell Williams may see more PT this week because he could be effective pounding between the tackles against this defense. Chris Manderino and Pana Faumina will split the fullback job this week and could be instrumental in blocking out these linebackers for the tailback as well as picking up the Bruin blitz packages.

Advantage: EVEN

**Wide Receivers/Tight Ends vs.Secondary**

Cal must have leading wide receiver, Geoff McArthur, back this week if they realistically expect to outscore their counterparts from the south. McArthur averaged 6 receptions per game in the five games that he started. He has missed the last two critical games due to a hamstring injury. Tedford's offense is predicated on three good wide receivers. Vincent Strang is an excellent #4 receiver but the Bears need McArthur back for an emotional lift for the offense. UCLA has all-Pac 10 talent at both cornerbacks, Ricky Manning and Matt Ware, but is inexperienced at the two safety spots.

Cal is number six in the Pac 10 but #28 nationally in pass offense. UCLA allows a low completion percentage (49%) but gives up the big play. Guess what-Cal has made a ton of big plays over 50 yards in 2002 so this COULD BE HOW CAL SCORES SOME POINTS! The Bruins rank #4 in the Pac 10 but only #59 in the nation in pass defense. UCLA primarily plays a combination of man and zone pass defense. It's kind of equivalent to a "matchup zone" in basketball. Basically, the defensive back plays man-to-man "D" while the receiver is in his zone. Ricky Manning is their best cover cornerback. Cal's fastest WR, LaShaun Ward, should face Bruin corner, Matt Ware, who has been susceptible to getting beat deep lately (like against Oregon's Keenan Howry last Saturday). McArthur will oppose Mr. Manning of UCLA. Cal might want to consider focusing on the Bruin's #3 cornerback, Joe Hunter, with slotback Jonathan Makonnen. The Bears could also continue to exploit the rookie safeties with its tightend, Tom Swoboda. Oregon did that, too. On one play, true freshman strong safety, Jarrad Page, from San Leandro High, endeavored to cut in front of Duck TE George Wrighster for the interception but missed it. If Wrightster had held onto that pass, it would have resulted in a long scoring play. Page is learning quickly and has 4 passes defensed already! Two years ago, the play-action pass worked to perfection on two TDs to Joe Igber isolated in the flat against Bruin linebackers. Perhaps Coach Tedford will also try to exploit this mismatch with screens, shuffle passes and wheel routes (out and up patterns) out of the backfield. Tedford probably has been saving up a trick play or two for the Bruins to at least counter UCLA's predictable gadget plays this Saturday.

Advantage: EVEN

Cal's Defense vs. UCLA's Offense

A couple of recent "trends" could portend frightening results. First, USC provided a blueprint to UCLA on how to beat Cal last Saturday. Cal could not stop the Trojan running game combined with a West Coast-style short passing game, resulting in SC controlling the ball for 38+ minutes of the game. UCLA has a superior offensive line (to USC) and they're #2 in the Pac 10 in rushing (161 ypg). It doesn't take a genius to figure that Bob Toledo will instruct his troops to exploit this weakness if possible. Secondly, two Bruin receivers' careers have "taken off" in the last three games. Both were prep DreamTeamers that had never lived up to their respective press clippings until now. Senior TE Mike Seidman (6'5" 254) had the game of his life against Oregon State after catching 5 passes the prior week vs San Diego State. He even took a tightend screen pass the distance "untouched" against the speedy Beaver defense.

Junior WR Tab Perry has also gone wild the last two games with huge, breakout numbers. UCLA's offense is on fire right now (like Washington QB Cody Pickett was when Cal visited Seattle). They demolished Oregon State's tough defense for 650 yards and 45 points on the road. The Bruins offense piled up 477 yards against Oregon last week but lost a heartbreaker when a potential winning field goal was missed. UCLA's offense has now scored at least 30 points in 5 of its 6 games in 2002.

Some mitigating circumstances that could work in Cal's favor are that Bruin quarterback, Cory Paus, has a habit of forcing the ball to his primary targets, resulting in crucial turnovers. Last week, after some early success throwing the ball deep, he continued to pursue such plays even when the receivers were blanketed. Paus ended the game with nice stats but threw 3 interceptions. The matchup of Tedford vs Toledo could also pay dividends to Cal. Toledo often makes errors in judgement like last week on a failed fake punt at a critical juncture of the game. Finally, Cal plays UCLA really tough especially in Berkeley. It's probably due to the fact that 48 Bear players hail from Southern California and were oftened slighted by the Bruins during recruiting like in Kyle Boller's case...This game is on national television and it's Homecoming, too.

**Defensive Line vs. Offensive Line**

UCLA and Oregon probably have the best two offensive lines in the Pac 10. These teams are one and two in rushing offense. Strong side tackle, Mike Saffer (6'5" 304) is first team all-league and is one mean dude. The bookend tackle, Bryce Bohlander (6'6" 295), is also very good. The middle of the line has powerful guards, Eyoseph Efseaff (6'3" 301) and Steven Vieira (6'6" 302). Vieira leads the line in pancake blocks this season. The center is Mike McCloskey. UCLA's OL has a reputation as better run blockers than pass blockers. QB Cory Paus's lack of mobility certainly facilitates these sack totals. They've yielded 15 sacks in 6 games and gave up 32 sacks last year for an average of 2.9 per game. Daniel Nwangwu had a career three sack game and Lorenzo Alexander had a sack against the middle of the Bruin line in 2001.

Tully Banta-Cain (7 sacks) will match wits and strength with Bohlander on the weakside. Reserve Tom Canada has 4 sacks in 4 games and will move inside to tackle in obvious passing situations. Weakside tackle, Josh Beckham (2 sacks) will meet the Bruin's strongest player, Efseaff. Hopefully, he and Alexander can get around him. Strongside DT Daniel Nwangwu and Tom Sverchek will ply their trade against Steve Vieira. The animal, Saffer, will attempt to maul Gustaveson (1.5 sacks) and Cherry (2.5 sacks).

Cal will have to control the Bruin running game with Tyler Ebell (5.4 ypc) or it'll be a long day. The Bear offense will have to do its part to keep its defense off the field for 38+ minutes. Most any defense will wear down in that scenario. Hopefully, the team has been working on tackling fundamentals this week, too. USC is the first team this season to run on the Bears in a conventional manner. Undefeated Air Force ran the triple option successfully against Cal. The Bears defensive line needs to pressure Paus and sack him 5 times! If this happens, Paus tends to lose his poise and turnovers happen!

Advantage: UCLA

**Linebackers vs. Running Backs**

The Bruins stockpile prep AA tailbacks such as Tyler Ebell, Akil Harris, Manuel White (injured), Wendell Mathis and Jason Harrison. Cal recruited all of them at one time or another. The fullback is JD Groves, a freshman from Oregon. Ebell burst upon the scene with a 200+ yard rushing effort against the Beavers in Corvalis. Cal's linebackers need to step up this week to meet this challenge or else. Weakside backers Nixon and Hunter have been making plays but must secure their tackles. Same goes for the MLBs, Daniels and Tremblay. The strongside LB combo of Ugenti and Hosey, ditto.

Advantage: UCLA

**Secondary vs Wide Receivers/Tight Ends**

Nmamdi Asomugha and Jameel Powell each intercepted two passes in the Cal upset of UCLA in Berkeley two years ago against the same Cory Paus. The Cal coaches should show the tape of that game on Friday night at the Claremont Hotel if they want to rev the motors of the players. For Cal to win, several big plays will have to be made, again.

The Bruins have three superstar receivers (all average between 17-18 ypc) and the Bears have two bigtime defensive backs right now. There's two approaches that the Cal coaches might employ:

#1 strategy - assign Asomugha (6'2") vs Tab Perry (6'3") and Powell vs speedster Craig Bragg. This leaves the tightend Seidman to have a field day.

#2 strategy - assign Asomugha to TE Seidman, Powell to Bragg and Bethea to Perry.

The Bears defense will have to watch for trick plays too.  If WR #85, Dubravac, enters the game as a wide receiver or is lined up in the backfield, Bear players should holler "gadget play." He has not caught a pass this season but has thrown two long touchdown passes (one lined up as the tailback on a direct snap and the other on a flanker reverse). The Bruins also love double reverse passes...

Last year in LA, the initial UCLA TD was a double reverse run to their fastest player, WR Craig Bragg, who got outside Cal's contain for an easy TD sprint. How much do you want to bet that THAT play is not in the gameplan this week?  Toledo uses the short crossing patterns to free up his speedy receivers. In 2000, they dumped a pass to Freddie Mitchell barely beyond the line of scrimmage and he beat Cal to the outside for a long scoring play. They also threw a screen that Beckham sniffed out but missed the tackle on Akil Harris and he scored in a blur down the sideline....  If Asomugha plays cornerback, then frosh Donnie McCleskey will have a major role as rover to corral the speed of the running backs.

Advantage: UCLA

BOTTOM LINE:

Cal's now-standard formula for success entails the following:

  • a fast start and a lead at halftime (7 straight games)

  • Cal wins the turnover battle (have not lost it in seven games)

  • efficient redzone scoring (97%) and

  • superior special teams.

**These four factors help equalize the scoring offense and scoring defense**

Cal is #1 in the Pac 10 and #12 in the USA in scoring offense, averaging 38.7 ppg. UCLA (33.5 ppg) is #6 in the prolific Pac 10 yet #28 in the nation. In scoring defense, the teams are nearly equal with UCLA and Cal yielding 24.5 and 26.4 ppg, respectively. [Actually, both teams are vulnerable on the defensive side of the ball despite UCLA's propaganda. UCLA is #7 and Cal #10 to total defense coughing up 366 ypg and 412 ypg, respectively. The Bruins give up 5.3 yards per play to Cal's 5.4.]

Tip: keep an eye on the special teams because UCLA gave up both kickoff and punt return TDs last week against Oregon (but only one officially counted due to a penalty). The Bruin's net punting is 5 yards better than Cal per try. Cal's place-kicking is vastly superior based upon season performance to date. Cal's kickoff coverage is excellent but its punt coverage has been weak since the inception of conference play. The Bears and Bruins have potential game-breaking return specialists.

Final wildcards: UCLA's best quarter and Cal's worst quarter for the 2002 season is the third quarter. UCLA starts and finishes slowly, only tying their opponents in the fourth quarter. The lucky Bruins have fumbled 11 times but only lost two in six games! Remember, the ball bounces funny in Berkeley...

PREDICTION: UCLA 38, Cal 27.

Good luck to all Northern California teams this weekend. GO BEARS!

===========

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= GreyBear, Webmaster



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