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UCLA Football Preview: Who’s the QB for UC Berkeley?

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Brandon McIlwain seems to be the juice in the Bears’ offense and maybe the key to the game for the Bruins, but will he start?

Oregon v California Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

I know a lot of people are excited and feeling like this week is a winnable game, and I guess it is kind of nice to go against a team that is 0-2 in Pac-12 play and 3-2 overall, but let’s not forget that UC Berkeley started off the season 3-0 and was ranked No.24 until their week four loss to Oregon 45-23.

So let’s take a look at what UCLA’s defense is going to have to deal with when they travel up University Avenue to face UC Berkeley this weekend.

Offensive Line

The Golden Bears’ offensive line is anchored by two seniors, center Addison Ooms and left tackle Patrick Mekari. Ooms is currently on the watch-list for the Rimington Trophy which is given to the nation’s best center. Not to be outdone, Mekari is on the Outland Trophy watch-list which is given to the nation’s best interior lineman. Last year Mekari also earned All-Conference Honorable Mention in his first full season as a starter in 2017.

Mekari and Ooms are the cornerstones of the line with three sophomores manning the rest of the offensive line.

Cal has some experienced players on their line even with the sophomores, as each of the sophomores played major minutes over the last two years for the Bears. Experience is always key on a line but even more so when you utilize a zone-blocking scheme like Cal does.

Quarterback

Cal head coach Justin Wilcox has taken a page out of Chip Kelly’s weekly media address when he was asked this week who would start at QB against the Bruins this Saturday. “We’ll do what’s best for our team,” Wilcox said in Monday night’s three-minute interview. “Everything is on the table. We’re looking for consistency.”

For the first three games, it was freshman Chase Garbers starting for the Bears and completing 45-of-79 passes for 493 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions for a 136.28 passer rating. Garbers was sharing some of the QB duties and it looks as if the Bears are going in a different direction altogether.

Last week against Arizona, the Bears started Brandon McIlwain. McIlwain completed 32 of 43 passes for 315 yards and no touchdowns and three interceptions. McIlwain did rush for 107 yards, including touchdown runs of 25 and 23 yards. His interceptions were the difference in the game as Arizona turned both of the interceptions into pick 6’s.

It is very clear that McIlwain will run and run often. He currently leads the team in rushing with 388 yards on 58 attempts. McIlwain rushed for 123 yards against Oregon earlier in the season as well.

Running Backs

Other than McIlwain running the ball, the Bears have a quality running back in redshirt senior, Patrick Laird. Laird currently has rushed for 311 yards on 81 attempts with two TD’s. Laird is not just a running back, he’s also an adept receiver out of the backfield. This year, he has 23 receptions for for 124 yards and two TDs. I am sure most of us remember Laird running crazy on the UCLA defense last year when he racked up 178 yards on a crazy 32 attempts. He has a powerful running style and a little speed to go with it.

Wide Receivers

When you watch game film on the Bears, they have a number of wide receivers, but not one particular receiver that seems to stand out. Redshirt senior Vic Whaton III leads the team with 21 receptions but for only 187 yards.

Redshirt junior Kanawai Noa leads the team in receiving yards with 207 yards on 18 receptions.

Junior Jordan Duncan seems to be the big play receiver for the Bears as he leads them with 3 TD’s at the receiver position.

Final Thoughts

UCLA’s defense better be prepared for a quarterback that will run and run, as I predict McIlwain will get the start at QB. The Bears will call McIlwain’s number in designed quarterback runs. On both of his two TD runs last week, the runs came with him running directly out of the shotgun on designed QB run plays. More specifically, these running plays are being ran right behind their best offensive lineman, center Addison Ooms. Below is what I am referring to and the specific play came against Oregon in week four. However, the same exact play was also ran twice against Arizona for McIlwain TD’s.

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McIlwain is one of those players that if he gets into the open field he will not be caught.

It seems clear to me that UCLA’s ability to stop McIlwain will be the key to the game. He’s been prone to turn the ball over, so the UCLA defense will need to be able to apply disciplined pressure without opening running lanes like they did for Jake Browning last week. UCLA linebackers are also going to play a big role with this type of player lining up at quarterback and not having Jaelan Phillips available is going to hurt.


Go Bruins!