Let's get back to football and talk a little bit more about the game this Saturday. If you haven't done it yet make sure to listen to ryebreadraz and ucla13_usc9 talking about Bears-Bruins match up with Ragnarok from California Golden Blogs. The nugget I found most interesting was the discussion about the special teams. Now special teams have been a huge topic of discussion (or shall I say consternation) here on BN. I didn't know that it was such an issue for the Bears as well. Ragnarok pointed to a post from Jon Wilner that at least on surface points to a UCLA advantage for UCLA specials teams (don't LOL) on Saturday. I thought the numbers on punt and kick returns were especially surprising:
UCLA’s Terrence Austin averages 10.5 yards per return with a long of 45.
Cal’s Syd’Quan Thompson averages 5.6 ypr with a long of 12.
Austin averages 24.8 ypr.
Cal’s Shane Vereen averages 25.6 ypr.
It’s about even on kicks, although UCLA has 10 touchbacks and Cal has one.
UCLA has a huge edge in net punting, with a 41.3 average (first place) vs. Cal’s 33.9 net (last place). The Bears have also allowed one touchdown, the 66-yarder by USC’s Damian Williams.
UCLA, by a substantial margin.
Again, I am not sure if we can get too comfortable looking at those numbers. In fact looking at those numbers it worries me even more for what could happen this Saturday. If anything it seems like now it's a done deal that Syd'Quan Thompson or Shane Vareen will take one to the House against us. Austin is a good kid but to me Vereen and Thompson are way more explosive than TA.
We saw last weekend how falling asleep in one play can change the dynamic of an entire game. They can't just depend on booming kicks from Locke ( leads the conference with a 46.3 net.) every time out. I hope our specials took that lesson to heart and are working extra hard this game week because they will need to focus as hard during punt and kickoff coverages as they did against Stanford's Chris Owusu in Palo Alto when they were able to bottle up Palo Alto. More on the game and other team notes after the jump.
The guys over at California Golden Blogs have the notes up on UCLA and I think they are pretty much on the mark. I have been saying all week Saturday is going to be about how UCLA offense performs against Cal's defense. Avinash's thoughts on the "biggest battle" on Saturday:
Not only is their starting tailback a frosh, but their starting o-line is very young. 1 frosh, 3 sophomores on the offensive line, Even more interestingly, their left tackle is a true frosh (although Su'a-Filo might be their best guy on the line). So they're going to struggle generating offense as they get their reps in and they make those mistakes.
It's why the biggest battle will be UCLA's offensive line playing Cal's defensive line. The Bears D-line has played well the last two weeks, but got overshadowed by the other deficiencies and strong O-line play by Oregon and Southern Cal
UCLA. They'll certainly want to make their mark, and Alualu might have his most favorable matchup of the season playing either Harris or Su'a-Filo. The Bruins have to hold their ground to make sure Kevin Prince is comfortable in the pocket and execute their blocks to get UCLA's running backs to that second level against our weaker linebackers.
Not only are we working in freshman and sophomores, two of our offensive line starters are also transfers. I actually think our guys have done an average job (which is substantial improvement from the miserable state of things last season) of giving our QBs time and opening up running lanes. They just need to do be working on becoming more consistent. They are aware of what they need to do:
Sophomore center Kai Maiava said he takes personal responsibility for the team's inability to punch it in from inside the 2-yard line on four consecutive plays against the Ducks.
"Shoot ... Oregon did a good job plugging up the holes," Maiava said. "We just couldn't execute it. We never really practiced that play. But either way, we should've punched it in. I take most of the responsibility on that. We should have wedged it in and gotten that seven."
The key question will be whether our guys (Prince or Brehaut) will be able to get in a rhtyhm early on. There was no doubt Prince was rusty early on against Oregon. He did get back into it somewhat in second quarter (IIRC at point he had completed something like 8 passes in a row) but he went back into a funk during that Duck explosion early in the 3rd. I think it will be imperative for Chow to call a game on Saturday that will put Prince in a comfortable spot and facilliate his game management decisions. Perhaps having Christian Ramirez this weekend will help:
"He's (Christian Ramirez) looking like he's healthy and he's starting to work his way back into the mix a little bit," UCLA running backs coach Wayne Moses said. "When you're away that long, it takes a little time to get your timing and rhythm back. It looks like he's starting to get into the flow."
Ramirez presents a completely different option than the team's more diminutive backs. At 6-foot-2, Ramirez is the biggest Bruin back, with two inches on Coleman, four inches on Franklin and six inches on Knox and Thigpen.
His size gives him a built-in advantage in pass protection and in the receiving game, though he was admittedly shaky with his blocking against Oregon.
"I need to try to use the combination that I have - the size and speed. And I pride myself on catching the ball, being a receiving back. I can split out and turn it into a five-wide easily. I still need to get some more experience in (protection). I felt a little rocky out there Saturday. I'm coming. I need to get back into the groove, and try to establish myself again."
I wonder if we will see Ramirez in goal line situations this Saturday. As for the Jet Ski sounds like it's a day to day deal with him at this point. From the LA Times:
Franklin, who gives the Bruins speed in the backfield, was unable to get in a full workout.
It leaves coaches pondering other options.
"We'll find out on Saturday," Franklin said about whether he would play.
Asked what was difficult about running on the ankle, Franklin said, "No comment on that." Asked if it still hurt, Franklin said, "No comment on that."
For some reason I am not as worried about this as I should be. I am thinking in a situation like this is perfect for backs like Ramirez and Knox to pounce all over and take advantage of the opportunity. At least I hope that's the case and they get the chance to do it. We will see.
Speaking of personnel decisions it looks like Hester is not going to be available for this week. The earlier he might be available is for the Arizona game on October 24. But CRN might decide to work him in cautiously and wait till October 31 when the Bruins take on Oregon State (See the OC Register report). Meanwhile, Sheldon Price is scheduled to start against California this Sat:
The UCLA depth chart listed Price and sophomore Courtney Viney as possible starters this week, but Bullough said Price would keep the job.
"I think he's growing up more and more every game," Bullough said. "He's a very gifted player and hasn't had as many mental mistakes as you would expect as a freshman."
Honestly, I don't get this decision. No doubt Sheldon is giving eveyrthing he can but to me it seems like Viney brings a more noticable physical presence in the way he covers and tackles (despiting giving up size). At least that's what I remember from the effort he gave against pretty athletic Tennessee receivers at Neyland stadium. Anyway, we will see how it goes on Saturday.
Lastly, let's end with a note with a quick look into the mindset of the Bears. They are desperate for a win and per Jonathan Okanes of the MercuryNews.com, apparently Tedford has been tyring out some "new practice rituals" to fire up the Bears for this Saturday (and rest of the season):
Tedford also introduced some new practice rituals in an attempt to work on intangibles. The team began and ended practice by assembling in a big huddle, and jumping up and down and hooting and hollering, as though they were about to take the field for a game.
"That's the swagger that we have all day, every day," Kendricks said. "That was fun. That's what they're trying to install in us. You have to have fun while you're doing this. We always have a sense of urgency and we always want to win, but I feel like having fun while we're out there playing is just going to help us play better."
"A lot of people had high hopes for us. The season isn't over," Cal safety Marcus Ezeff said. "The season is brand new now. That's how we're looking at it. "
I hope it all works out for them ... starting on October 24th.