After a week off, the No. 20-ranked California Golden Bears look to rebound from their first loss of the season when they travel to the Rose Bowl on Thursday night to take on the UCLA Bruins.
Cal opened the season with a 5-0 record, its best start since 2007, behind a breakout campaign from quarterback Jared Goff. Through California’s first five games, the junior completed 70.2 percent of his throws for 1,630 yards, 15 touchdowns and four interceptions, to prompt some Heisman Trophy consideration. But the Golden Bears would fall on the road to streaking Utah, with Goff completing just 53.2 percent of his passes to go along with five first-half interceptions.
"This is probably the worst game of my life," Goff said. "But it's going to have to be something I'm going to have to get better at and learn from."
Despite six turnovers, Cal kept things close with the Utes before eventually losing, 30-24. Like Goff, head coach Sonny Dykes expressed hope that the team can overcome the setback, as they look towards a nationally televised game. He said Goff and the team are much more at ease.
“I think that was the first time, really quite frankly since I’ve been here, that our program has had that kind of exposure,” Dykes said. “I don't think we responded particularly well to it, as a football team. I just don't think we played our best against Utah."
Despite the loss Dykes' squad heads to Pasadena with an offense that scores a lot of points. The Bears are currently No. 10 in the conference with 162.3 rush yards per game but are No. 2 with 40.2 points scored per game. Goff’s favorite target has been Kenny Lawler, who ranks fifth in the Pac-12 with 34 receptions and has found the end zone eight times. On the ground, bulky running back Vic Enwere has five touchdowns and lead the team with 63 carries. Khalfani Muhammad, who torched the Texas Longhorns with an electric 74-yard touchdown run, is the team’s leading rusher, averaging 8.7 yards per carry.
Cal’s offense could be catching UCLA’s defense at the right time. After beginning the season 4-0 the Bruins have lost two straight games, surrendering 94 points and 502 rushing yards in the process. The Bruins’ defense is banged up, with defensive lineman Eddie Vanderoes and cornerback Fabian Moreau out for the season. Meanwhile, star linebacker Myles Jack left the program and reportedly signed with an agent.
UCLA may see some vulnerability in Cal's rush defense after the Bears allowed 265 yards on the ground to Utah. Paul Perkins leads the Bruins’ ground attack with eight touchdowns and 681 yards, the fifth most in the conference. Perkins totaled 161 yards and two scores in last year’s meeting, a 36-34 win for UCLA.
Freshman quarterback Josh Rosen began the season with a great deal of promise, but has had his share of poor stretches, such as a three-interception performance against BYU on Sept. 19. Against Stanford on Saturday, Rosen conceded a pick-six in the first quarter and his second-quarter interception was deep in Cardinal territory. The Bruins will probably need a less error-prone effort from their talented signal caller against Cal.
Senior receiver Jordan Payton, who ranks sixth in the Pac-12 with 486 receiving yards, leads the Bruins receivers. Thomas Duarte isn’t far behind with 23 catches and 348 yards of his own. Meanwhile, third-year sophomore Darren Andrews is capable of flying past cornerbacks, and had a particularly impressive performance against Stanford, with four receptions for 100 yards.
“He’s a burner,” Payton said about Andrews, according to the Orange County Register. “He can roll.”
Head coach Jim Mora Jr. isn’t worried about the team’s recent slide and says the key is to not panic.
“If you believe in what you're doing, you get better. You try to put your players in the best position and don't panic,” Mora told reporters. "It’s about having a positive attitude and being a part of the solution and not the problem."
The Bruins have won their last two home matchups to Cal by a combined 44 points. The Bears are playing their fourth road game out of five before they return home to play USC next week.
Point Spread: UCLA -3.5 (BetOnline.ag)
Over/Under: 66.5 points
Prediction : The injury bug has bitten UCLA defense and the Golden Bears have the ability to score a ton of points. For what it’s worth, Cal has covered the spread five out of their last seven games versus UCLA. With eleven days to prepare, Goff and the California offense get back on track at the Rose Bowl despite being a ranked underdog.
Predicted Score: Cal wins, 38-31.