This Saturday gives UCLA a golden opportunity to begin the year 5-0 and 2-0 in conference play: to say Cal is struggling would be an understatement. These definitely are not the same Bears we saw during the height of the Jeff Tedford era (who only won one game at the Rose Bowl, even with Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel trying to lose games), so UCLA should have a solid victory over another low-level conference opponent. Having begun our Cal previews yesterday with a look at the Cal coaching staff and their special teams, we now turn to Berkeley's offense, led by sophomore WR Chris Harper and true freshman QB Jared Goff.
The conventional thinking on Cal's offense is that new offensively-minded head coach Sonny Dykes would turn last year's inconsistent and sometimes stagnant Cal offense into a high-powered, wide-open offensive machine as he did at Louisiana Tech. And in watching the Bears this season, you can definitely see glimpses of that happening. For example, in Tedford's final season, the Bears offense was mediocre at best, averaging 391.2 total yards per game, while scoring just 23 points per game. With Dykes now at Strawberry Canyon, the Bears are putting up a much improved 515.6 yards per game in total offense, but despite the increased offensive output, Cal has only managed to slightly increase their scoring, averaging just 27.8 points per game (compared to UCLA's 48 points per game). And why is that?
Dykes' "Bear Raid" system follows what he utilized at Texas Tech when he worked for Mike Leach (who took his former student out behind the woodshed last Saturday), which means a dramatic increase in the passing attack. Last year, Cal's offense was more balanced, averaging 183 yards per game on the ground and a paltry 208.2 yards per game in the air. This year, it's been all through the air, with the Bears gaining just 113 yards per game on the ground, but 402.6 yards per game in the air, which means the ball is increasingly in the hands of a true freshman QB, one who has already set the school record for yards per game. The downside is that he's averaging an interception per game (having thrown 9 TDs to 5 INTs on the year), and as conventional football wisdom points out: having a true freshman QB is inevitably going to lead to mistakes and turnovers (not counting the other 2 INTs not thrown by Goff this season). Likewise, ball security has been a problem for Cal, having coughed up the ball 15 times so far, losing 9 of those fumbles to the opposition (UCLA has only lost 3 fumbles this year). Add up the numbers and you have a team turning the ball over 3.2 times per game. So, you end up with more yards, but the same number of points.
So, what does that mean for UCLA? Our young secondary will once again be tested in a big way on Saturday. Last Thursday, they came up huge against Travis Wilson and the Utah offense, so this weekend will really show us if these kids have taken the next step forward or if Thursday was an aberration. The Bears have a pair of solid receivers to compliment Goff's gunslinger ways in Chris Harper and former UCLA recruit Bryce Treggs (you remember, the one Cal recruit who didn't bail on the Bears when Tosh Lupoi skipped out on his alma mater to work for the Sark in Seattle), so Ishmael Adams and Fabian Moreau will have their hands full on Saturday.
But, most importantly, the Bruins should have a big advantage in the trenches, with Cal starting a freshman at RT, a sophomore at LT, and featuring a line with just one senior and one junior. So far, the Bears have surrendered front should allow the Bruins to get pressure on a true freshman QB, and that will be key in disrupting Cal's offensive rhythm. Given that the Bears have already surrendered 17 sacks on the year (compared to UCLA's 8) means that it should be a good day for Cassius Marsh, Anthony Barr, and the rest of our front seven. When pressure is put on a true freshman QB, it will inevitably lead to turnovers, so there should be opportunities to make plays and generate turnovers, so the Bruins will have to take advantage when those chances come.
Alright folks, that concludes your offensive preview for this weekend's upcoming game against Cal. Fire away in the comment thread with your thoughts, opinions, and takes on the Golden Bears offense.