UCLA goes into their last contest of the season the favorite by a touchdown. UC Berkeley has an identical 5-6 record ranking 5th in the North, only coming out ahead of Oregon State which doesn’t have a single conference win this year. They are led by first-year head coach Justin Wilcox and sophomore quarterback Ross Bowers (who bears a slight resemblance to Zac Efron). Let’s take a look at UCLA’s final opponent of the regular season.
Ross Bowers comes into this game with a .500 record, and he actually got his first collegiate minutes last year when the Bears blew us out 36-10 in Berkeley. Josh Rosen is, by far, the better quarterback in this match, with Bowers completing 227 of 391 passes (58.1%) for 2,615 yards with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He did have a string of 116 passes with no interceptions earlier this year, but that streak was broken against Arizona. He looked pretty amazing in their first win of the season at North Carolina and I actually thought UC Berkeley was going to have a much better season than they did. With Coach Wilcox sticking around, this guy does show promise and will most likely have more success next year. Wilcox and offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin play pretty aggressively even when Bowers is making mistakes, so don’t expect the Bears to take any kind of conservative stance on Friday. We’re both fighting for a chance at having a post season (however crappy it may be), but for now, I think we’ve got the upper hand at this position.
At the beginning of the season, Berkeley’s offensive line was almost seen as a liability. Phil Steele ranked the most experienced offensive lines by starts and the Bears were at the bottom. The Bears ranked 126th in the nation with 25 starts in all from the returning linemen. Right after that, Dwayne Wallace left the program and 12 of those starts were erased. So, at the beginning of the season, Berkeley’s entire line had a total of 13 starts among them. When the Bears lost at Oregon, the loss was mostly credited to a collapse of the offensive line and the lack of a running game (sound familiar?). Addison Ooms will anchor the line at center, with Kamryn Bennett and Patrick Mekari on his left. Valentino Daltoso and Jake Curhan will be on the right side. Daltoso actually turned down several Division II scholarships when he graduated from Boise High in 2016 and redshirted at Oregon that fall. He has finally found his place with the Bears and is showing promise for the future.
The Bears lost their #1 running back Tre Watson early in the season after he suffered a lower body injury on September 9 against Weber State. Former walk-on Patrick Laird stepped in and rushed for 191 yards and three touchdowns, ensuring Berkeley’s win. He has rushed for 949 yards on 159 carries this year and is by far almost the entirety of their run game. Vic Enwere is a distant second, with 352 yards on 98 carries. Stop these guys and the Bears will be forced to take it to the air. Laird has half of Berkeley’s 16 rushing touchdowns while Enwere has five. Only one other running back has a touchdown and Bowers has two of his own on the ground.
The Golden Bears look pretty balanced on paper when it comes to scoring with 18 touchdowns coming from their receivers. They have a much bigger pool to choose from in this category, with six receivers having yardage in the triple digits. Vic Wharton III is Bowers’ favorite target, but he has also Kanawai Noa and Jordan Veasy. These three receivers account for 14 of Berkeley’s receiving touchdowns. Look for Derrick Clark, Demetrius Robertson, and Zion Echols to be in the mix as well.
The saddest statistic I just found is that UCLA ranks #21 in total offense, but #123 in total defense. It really shows how our defense has dragged the team down this year. The Bears come in tied at 90th, so we definitely have them on paper on this side of the ball. If I had to call it right now, I’d say we’re the ones getting the lower-tier bowl invite after Friday night.