They don't need to dominate UCLA. They don't even need to look good. But they must win — doesn't matter if it's 49-48 or 4-3.
Given the manageable schedule ahead, a victory would have the added benefit of putting Cal (3-2, 0-2) back on track for an upper-level finish in the Pacific-10 Conference. You could make a pretty good case for the Bears reeling off three or four victories in a row if they win Saturday.
But just as victory could propel Cal to a first-rate season, defeat — especially a resounding, lifeless defeat — surely would accelerate its demise and raise legitimate questions about Tedford's future:
Has he taken the program as far as he can? If he was the perfect coach to raise Cal from the ashes, is he the wrong coach to lead it to the conference title?
In that sense, Saturday's game could close the Tedford circle.
It comes five years and one week after the performance that made his career — a 23-17 loss in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to a USC team that stands as one of the greatest in Pac-10 history. Coming within a few yards of toppling the Matt Leinart- and Reggie Bush-led Trojans cemented the Bears' ascendancy under Tedford.
Now they're headed back to Los Angeles, trajectory unknown. Can they continue the climb? Have they, as many believe, stagnated? Or are they headed for another free-fall?
Hmm. I will defer to the Bear fans or the people who follow that program closely on marking which "performance" "made" Tedford's career. I've got to think there are more poigant moments in Tedford's career in Berkeley ending up with victories. To me when I think of Tedford, I think of a good coach who has built a solid program that was basically burnt to the ground and left in worse shape than what Steve Lavin left for Ben Howland in Westwood.
I think Tedford will probably get his team to the Rose Bowl or a big bowl game eventually. I could be wrong on that but I can't help but be impressed by what he has built up in Strawberry Canyon. Now in recent years one can argue that his team has looked a little bit like the teams Bob Toledo had in his later years in UCLA, when season which began with lot of promises at the beginning didn't leave up to the high expectations as it unraveled in huge games. Cal's 2007 season in some ways was a carbon copy of UCLA's season from 2001. Bears' recent demise against Oregon and Southern Cal has lot of people wondering again. However, I think people need to get a sense of perspective and the big picture. From what I see is a damn good coach who has built a good program featuring spectacular play makers, who are going to be eager to make an emphatic statement this Saturday. Our guys better be ready. If not it's going to be another disappointing Saturday. More notes on the Bears and our team after the jump.
Ted Miller has some quick notes on Saturday's matchup:
California (3-2, 0-2) at UCLA (3-2, 0-2)
California beat UCLA 41-20 last year ... UCLA leads the series 49-28-1 .... Cal ranks second in the Pac-10 with 15 sacks ... UCLA kicker Kai Forbath has connected on 13 of 14 field goal attempts ... Cal is second in the conference in turnovers margin (plus-six) and is the conference's least penalized team ... Bruins defensive tackle Brian Price ranks second in the conference with nine tackles for a loss. No other interior defensive lineman ranks among the top-9 ... Bears linebackers Mychal Kendricks and Mike Mohamed combine for 17.4 tackles per game, making them the conference's top tackling tandem ... Bruins safety Rahim Moore ranks No. 1 in the nation with five interceptions ... Cal and UCLA rank seventh and eight in the conference in pass efficiency ... Bruins punter Jeff Locke leads the Pac-10 -- and ranks fifth in the nation -- with an average of 46.3 yards per boot ... Bears punter Bryan Anger ranks eighth with 39.3 yards per kick.
If you didn't know by now (this was discussed a lot during off season IIRC) the Bears are take the bus instead of flying down to LA. The whole idea was to help with the budget shortcoming experienced by UC's up and down the coast. However, given the game time for Saturday, they are driving down on Thursday so it didn't matter all that much at the end. From Jonathan Okanes in the Oakland Tribune:
In an attempt to do their part to help the university with its budget shortcomings, the Bears have agreed to take buses to Southern California for Saturday's game at UCLA. Cal usually travels on a charter plane for its road trips.
"We definitely want to do our part," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "To do our part to alleviate some of the issues. ... We have a responsibility."
But the Bears won't be saving as much money for the university as originally intended because the team has decided to leave Thursday rather than Friday, meaning an extra night in a hotel for the travel party. The team made the decision after it was announced last week that Saturday's game will begin at 12:30 p.m.
"We are going Thursday night so we don't run into a deal of busing down there late Friday, having a late walk-through and then having a 12:30 game," Tedford said. "We will for sure have gotten over the bus ride. I don't think the bus ride will be an issue."
The bus ride actually will allow the team to spend more time together than the one-hour flight down south. Tedford said the Bears might even hold some position meetings during their travels.
Bears are also getting healthy after having a by week. According the same report in the Oaklan Tribune wide receiver Nyan Boateng who missed last two games with fractured right foot will be avalable for Saturday. Boateng was the Bear's leading receiver last year and did some damage in Bear's last win (against the Gophers) cattching 5 passes for 78 yards and a TD. I am assuming Moore, ATV and co. will be aware of him when he gets on the field.
Of course when we talk about the Bears Jahvid Best becomes the focal point of all discussion. Predictably UCLA defenders are getting peppered with questions about how and whether they can contain arguably the best back in the conference (and of the premiere ones in the country):
"He's probably, and not to knock them, the best of the three," UCLA senior linebacker Reggie Carter said. "Earlier in the year they said he was the best back in college football.
"They pick you when you're up, and when you're down, you're down. The last couple weeks he hasn't had great games, so you haven't heard too much about him. But I still know he's one of the best in the country and the best in the conference."
"I'm not going to take anything away from him just because his last two games weren't great."
If anything, the Bears used the bye week to devise more ways to get the ball into Best's hands.
On a Tuesday-morning conference call, Cal head coach Jeff Tedford talked about using his speedy back in the Wildcat formation. [...]
"It just gives you an extra blocker at the point of attack," Tedford said. "Ultimately, it's your quarterback running the ball and it gives you a hat on a hat. Then they try to come up with schemes that let a guy go on the outside. It puts the ball in your best ballcarrier's hands, and a hat on a hat, and it's a matter of execution."
It will be interesting to see whether the Bruins can contain Best this Saturday. We have been burned by big plays during last two Saturdays. Best and the Cal offense is all about big plays. Remember UCLA defense did a decent job of containing Best last year in Berkeley except he busted lose for a 34 yard run which seemed to set the tone for that game.
I don't think it's just a matter of needing to tackle better for our defense. I think it will come down to how effectively our LBers are swarming to Best or whoever has the ball. It will be matte rof making sure our defenders have Best contained instead of allowing him to get any kind of space from which he can explode into the end zone. Easier said then done. I know. I think the other key for Bruin defense will be getting pressure on Kevin Riley early and not allowing him to settle into any kind rhythm. If he gets into a rhythm early on giving that Bears offense much needed balance, it will potentially be a long afternoon for our guys at the Rose Bowl.
Speaking of our defense coaches are making Reggie Carter taking it a little easy this game week:
Carter sat out his second consecutive practice Tuesday after spraining his left knee last week against Oregon. He maintains, however, that he will play against Cal on Saturday.
"They told me to relax a little bit, but my knee feels great," Carter said. "It's kind of irritating. I don't like watching. I feel like a spectator."
Carter, who leads the Bruins with 27 tackles, suffered a knee injury last season against Brigham Young, but he played in all 12 games and finished with a team-high 83 tackles.
Coaches don't sound too worried about Reggie. He will most likely be ready to go on Saturday. Another guy who might be getting decent amount of reps this Saturday is running back Christian Ramirez. The OC Register reports that Christian "took more reps than usual during practice Tuesday":
Patience might finally be paying off for Christian Ramirez.
The UCLA tailback took more reps than usual during practice Tuesday and he hopes that it will lead to more playing time when the Bruins host Cal on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
"Before this, I was just out there watching and just going in for a couple of wildcat plays. That was it," Ramirez said. "Now I'm back in the mix, trying to remember everything and dust off the cobwebs."
I think Ramirez looked pretty decent in the two carries he got against Stanford. It might not be a bad idea to work him back into the mix. We haven't seen our RBs make any play out of the backfield by catching the ball except for one great play Knox had in Tennessee. One of the reason Ramirez had moved up the depth chart earlier this spring was because of his size and his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. So if both of those guys are ready to go this week, they could add desperately needed new dimensions to the UCLA offense this Saturday.
Again to wrap this up, I think we know what we are going to get from the Bears and the mindset they are in coming into the Rose Bowl. I think we have a general idea about our defensive abilities. The only quesitons are whether they can continue to cut down on mental mistakes (they did a good job on that front last Saturday) and can minimize the big plays. The biggest question mark heading into this Saturday though is our offense.
Right now I have no idea what to expect from Kevin Prince (or Richard Brehaut/Kevin Craft) against the Bears defense. I don't know if the light bulb will go on for us so that we are not settling for FGs in the red zone and playing Donahue style of playing not to lose. I am hoping our QBs will do enough to manage the game and keep us in it. To beat the Bears though I think we are going to need to score at least 20 something point if not in the low 30s. Can we do it?