The 10th-ranked Golden Bears (5-0, 2-0 Pac-10) are considered the top challengers to No. 1 USC in the conference after both Oregon and Arizona State failed to beat the two-time defending national champion. California coach Jeff Tedford, though, has yet to see the full potential of his young team, especially on offense, after its 28-0 win over Arizona last Saturday.
In years past, Tedford’s teams have been known for innovative offenses and standout quarterbacks, most recently Aaron Rodgers. But junior college transfer Joe Ayoob has not fully mastered the intricacies of the offense, evidenced by just five completions to his wide receivers in Saturday’s win.
“He had some open receivers he needed to hit,” Tedford said. “He needs to be more consistent that way. Joe hit some underneath stuff very well. To be a great team, a conference championship contender, you have to make a lot more big plays in the passing game.”
Ayoob also knows he must expand the passing game vertically, noting, “You can’t beat top teams with the 5-yard pass every play. You have to complete some long balls.”
The running game has compensated for Ayoob’s inconsistency. California is seventh in the country in rushing at 259.6 yards per game, but that has come against opponents with a combined record of 4-16.
The Bears, off to their best start since going 9-0 in 1950, know this week’s test at UCLA will be their toughest to date.
“We knew it would get tougher when we got to Pac-10 play,” Bears cornerback Daymeion Hughes said. “We had to step it up a couple of notches and we did. These are the games that really matter. … UCLA will be the best team we’ve played so far. We’re up for the challenge. If we play the way we’re capable of playing, we can beat anybody.”
The Bruins (4-0, 1-0), ranked 20th for the second straight week, struggled to rally past Washington 21-17 on Saturday to remain unbeaten. UCLA headed into the game more than three-touchdown favorites, but poor execution and 13 penalties—10 on special teams, one of which negated a touchdown on a punt return—left coach Karl Dorrell convinced his team needs to improve in many areas.
“We’re just not playing smart. We need to correct a lot of things. Penalties are a reflection of some of the things, but it’s also execution offensively and defensively.” Dorrell said. “Our challenge this week is to shore up our fundamentals and get ourselves back to playing the caliber of football that we’re capable of playing.”
UCLA did get some positives from the win. It was the first time the Bruins trailed all season, and they rallied from a 17-7 second-half deficit. They also showed poise on their game-winning drive, converting a fourth down and getting a 39-yard reception from Marcus Everett to help set up Maurice Drew’s one-yard TD run with 1:08 to play.
“Everybody didn’t really blink and eye, other than just to get themselves going and prioritize what they needed to do to win the game,” Dorrell said.
California has won four of the last six games between the schools, but UCLA holds a 47-26-1 edge in the all-time series. The Bears rolled to a 45-28 victory last season behind 205 rushing yards and two touchdowns from J.J. Arrington.