Now that all the "cleansing" is out of the way (if you haven't done it yet, here is the dread thread) for tomorrow's game let's look ahead to the big picture impact for tomorrow's game. Despite the gloomy out take (as no one is picking us to win) Bruins actually head into this game with not much to lose and lot to gain. Heading into this season our hope was for UCLA to put together a winning record in the conference to sustain the recruiting momentum from last couple of years. Bruins are not going to lose that vantage point no matter what happens tomorrow afternoon at Berkeley.
On the other hand this is a monster game for the Bears. Apparently Tedford is under some tinge of pressure in the Bay Area despite having done a great job of establishing that program. Given how their seasons have fizzled in recent years - failing to finish in the top 25 since 2006 - the Bear program has been stuck in bit of rut since their earlier success in Tedford era. If somehow they lose to the Bruins tomorrow afternoon, not only it could impact their position in this year's Pac-10 race, it could have ramifications in terms of overall trajectory of the Cal program.
As for UCLA, we have talked all week about how we haven't won a game there since 1998. I don't expect that to change tomorrow. However, if the Bruins play up to their potential, give it everything they have and continue to build on the performances from last three weekends (especially the games against Texas), we are going to be all right no matter what the score. Our view here is the long term, which is to squeeze out 4 or 5 more regular season wins rest of this regular season. If we manage to get to 7 or 8 wins this year with the holes we still have in our roster, we are going to be set up well to make runs in the coming years. So the pressure is going to be on Jeff Tedford and the Cal Bears to hold serve on their home turf.
The Bears have been badgered with "pistol" related questions all week. Earlier in the week Tedford talked about the need of being "disciplined" in defense. His DC - Clancy Pendergast - echoed the same points yesterday:
"The biggest thing we have to do is do a better job of getting off blocks and playing with more discipline, playing with more gap integrity and really trusting our keys."
Well at least the Cal coaches are all on the same page, which could be a good sign for them. Conventional wisdom at this point suggests that the Bears are going to force the Bruins to get it done via Kevin Prince, who is coming off after sitting out a game due to knee injury. We have been hearing all week how Prince is no Colin Kaepernick [Nevada's dynamic, who have been running the original pistol for 4 years]. Prince on his part doesn't around all that worried about the focus on him. From the LA Times:
[M]aking Prince run may be on the Bears' agenda.
"That's fine," Prince said. "I doubt they will play the same way because they got run up pretty good by that quarterback. Whether they think I have the same capabilities or not, or whether they are thinking about my knee, the fact is I'm ready to play. If I end up having to run, I will run." [...]
Nevada's offense has more designed runs for Kaepernick, but UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said that if the Bears "decide they're going to make Kevin keep the ball, then the plan is for him to keep the ball. We should be getting good chunks of yardage."
As for concerns about his knee, Prince said, "It will be first down, then slide."
And don't forget to keep your mouthpiece on Kevin.
On the other side of the ball, you can bet Tedford is going to be putting in special packages to key on Akeem Ayers (and Rahim Moore):
Of Ayers, Tedford said: "He's a very good player. They put him in a lot of different positions. He rushes off the edge. He's very fast off the edge. They also drop him into coverage."
Of Moore, who led the nation last year in interceptions, he said: "He' good, he's athletic, he's in good position. Obviously, he can make a play on the ball. It's obvious that he's athletic enough to catch the football when he's in position to make a play."
I am guessing the Bears studied the tapes of UCLA's last game very closely when the Cougars specifically targeted Ayers through some doubles and chipping away at him. The question (again) is going to be how Chuck Bullough will anticipate, recognize, and rapidly react to Tedford's moves.
If the Bears decide to give "extra" attention to Akeem when he is lined up towards the outside, it would potentially mean the gaps could be available for our LBers to burst through. It will be up to Bullough to make sure he and his LBer coach and LBers are closely studying film, and look for opportunities to put in their own packages to counter punch and attack by shooting through the other holes.
As mentioned up top, it's a huge game for the Bears. Shane Vereen is feeling a sense of "urgency":
"I definitely hope the offense can put up more points than nine," tailback Shane Vereen said. "It will be on the offense to put up points to support the defense. I don't know if it's urgency for the Pac-10 (race), it's urgency for our entire season. We all understand we need to get a win on Saturday."
Patrick Larimore is planning to keep an eye on Vereen:
"He's the focal point of Cal's offense," UCLA linebacker Patrick Larimore said. "They try to give him the ball in a lot of different ways so we've got to keep an eye on him and focus on keeping him in check."
Larimore and co. will have to keep an eye on Vereen's backups as well. Tedford mentioned earlier this week that Bears expect to "get backup tailback Isi Sofele more involved in the offense" and that he "trusts" other backup RB Ron Gould, so that they can keep Vereen fresh. Bruins can't forget about those guys. In recent years while they were too worried about Jahvid Best, it was Vereen who was killing them with consistent and often game breaking runs.
On the injury front it appears Steve Sloan is going to tough it out through a new injury. However, right now at least for this weekend Dalton Hilliard might be out. Here is Coach Rick Neuheisel giving injury updates in his last practice presser of the week:
Gold has more details on the injuries.
Elsewhere, Chris Foster has a really original and riveting story about Cal and UCLA's fight songs. OMGZ! Did you know UCLA stole Cal's fight song?! You can always count on the LA Times sports section for bringing "news" we haven't heard of anywhere else. Whatever.
Lastly as mentioned, Cal is almost everyone's pick this weekend. Ted Miller picked the Bears on tWWL. Jon Wiliner (the former UCLA beat writer for the Daily News), picked the Bears. Even Tracy Pierson from Bruin Report Online is picking the Bears in his always excellent previews of UCLA games. Of course none of us are feeling all that confident either. All of these predictions bring us back to the point made at the very top: UCLA has nothing to lose tomorrow afternoon.