Cal is in desperation mode heading into its Oct. 6 home game against UCLA, which is ranked No. 25 and better than expected. It will be interesting to see how the Golden Bears react.
Preseason thoughts that the Bears might have the talent to sneak into Pac-12 title contention are gone, and with Cal having lost three straight to drop to 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the Pac-12, the notion of a bowl berth has almost disappeared as well.
There is reason to believe the Golden Bears have the talent to turn it around, because they have been in all five games in the fourth quarter. However, Cal has been unable to close the deal in four of them, leaving the team frustrated and fans disappointed.
So how will the team react? Will it show signs of resignation, realizing that a successful season is now a long shot with five of its final seven games against teams currently ranked in the Associated Press top 25? If that happens, and the team shows signs of giving up, things could get ugly. Coach Jeff Tedford's job security may become a bigger issue, even though his contract runs through the 2015 season.
Or will the Bears play with a back-to-the-wall mentality, playing with the desperation it may need to pull off the upset against the Bruins. A victory over UCLA is not impossible, given that the game will be played in Berkeley and that Cal showed in road games against Ohio State and USC that it is capable of competing with a team of UCLA's caliber.
To beat UCLA, Cal must improve in two specific areas: defending a dual-threat quarterback and protecting the passer.
UCLA's Brett Hundley is an excellent passer who can also run the option effectively, the kind of quarterback that has given Cal and Bears defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast problems. Nevada's Cody Fajardo carved up Cal's defense with his passing and his running, and Ohio State's Braxton Miller dominated the Bears in the first half of that game before Cal found an answer in the second.
Arizona State's Taylor Kelly is not as accomplished a runner as Miller or Fajardo, but he is a dual-threat quarterback who Cal controlled fairly well in the 27-17 loss to the Sun Devils on Sept. 29.
However, Hundley may be the best dual-threat quarterback Cal has faced -- probably better than Miller as a passer and nearly as good as a runner.
The Bruins ranks first in the Pac-12 in total offense (ahead of Oregon), so the defensive challenge will be considerable.
Offensively, Cal's biggest issue is pass protection. Quarterback Zach Maynard was sacked seven times by Arizona State and 20 times in the past three games. That's an extraordinary number of sacks to give up, and Maynard is clearly showing the frustration and passing inefficiency that go with it.
Tedford wants Maynard to maintain his composure. Maynard seems to be pressing when things don't go well, and the frustration he shows can have a negative effect on the team as a whole.
UCLA has 18 sacks this season, including four against Colorado in a 48-14 victory on Sept. 29, so the Bruins are very capable of applying pressure.
The key is whether Cal can run the ball effectively against a UCLA defense that has been vulnerable against the run. Cal's ground game has not been as effective as expected, although it showed improvement against Arizona State.
If the game becomes another sack fest, and Cal loses, the pressure on Tedford will be increased.
"No one would be happy to be where we are," Tedford told the Oakland Tribune, "so I don't blame anybody for being unhappy. I'm not happy about it, either."
--Cal is 1-4 for the first time in Jeff Tedford's 11 seasons as head coach and for the first time since 2001, when the Bears started 0-10 en route to a 1-10 season in Tom Holmoe's final year as head coach. Since 1987, Cal has started 1-4 or worse only three times. Cal has been 1-5 or worse after six games only twice since 1986 -- in 2001 and 1995.
--Much has been made of the fact that Jeff Tedford's house in an exclusive region of the Bay Area was put up for sale in August, with a listing price of $5.3 million. It may mean nothing. Athletic director Sandy Barbour has been outspoken in her support of Tedford, and she had to do a lot of work to put together a contract extension that would keep Tedford at Cal back when the Bears were winning. Also, the expensive new sports complex was built in large part to satisfy Tedford, who had hinted that he might leave if Cal's facilities did not improve. A guarantee of improved facilities was even written into his contract.
--Brendan Bigelow did not get a single touch against Arizona State in Cal's last game and ran just four times for 31 yards (all in the second half) in the previous game against USC after having two long touchdown runs and 160 rushing yards against Ohio State. Coach Jeff Tedford said it's hard to get a third tailback rushing attempts when the other two established tailbacks (Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson) have been productive. He also said it would help if Cal got more first downs. The Bears ran only 64 offensive plays against Arizona State, providing fewer opportunities to get Bigelow in the game. (Cal ran 79 offensive plays against Ohio State.)
--Two injury issues of note concern LB Khairi Fortt and OG Dominic Galas. Fortt, a transfer from Penn State who had knee surgery last spring, is not ready to begin contact work yet, and it's looking more and more as though he will redshirt. Galas has missed the first five games with a torn pectoral muscle, and he may begin contact work this week, although he is unlikely to play against UCLA or against Washington State the following week.
SERIES HISTORY: UCLA leads 50-31-1 (last meeting 2011, UCLA 31-14).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Cal ran the ball much better against Arizona State than it had previously, but the passing game was worse, primarily because the pass protection was so poor. TB Isi Sofele had a season-high 105 yards rushing against the Sun Devils, and C.J. Anderson averaged 9.8 yards on eight carries. But QB Zach Maynard completed just 9-of-28 passes after completing better than 63 percent of his passes in the first four games. He was sacked seven times against Arizona State and 20 times in the past three games. Even when he wasn't sacked, he was hurried, contributing to his low completion percentage. Cal still has a big-play weapon at wide receiver in Keenan Allen, although his numbers are down from last season. Allen averaged over 103 receiving yards per game last year, and is at 77.6 this season.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: It's difficult to assess Cal's defense, except to say it's not as good as it was last season. The Bears were poor against the run but good against the pass against USC on Sept. 22, but then decent against the run and mediocre against the pass against Arizona State. Even within the same game, Cal's defense sometimes varies in its effectiveness, playing poorly in the first half against Ohio State before slowing the Buckeyes' attack in the second half. The Bears' pass rush is not as good as it's been the past two seasons, and that is a major factor. The Bears have forced seven turnovers, which is about average but less than what Cal needs to be successful. Cal CBs Steve Williams and Marc Anthony have played well, and pass coverage has improved this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Try not to pay too much attention. I'm in my cocoon here, and I try not to pay attention to it. That's not going to help me or the team, me sitting around thinking about that, waste energy thinking about that." -- Cal coach Jeff Tedford, to the Oakland Tribune, regarding the heat he's taking from the outside because of the Bears' 1-4 start.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: UCLA at Cal, Oct. 6 -- Cal lost to UCLA 31-14 last year, but the Bears have beaten the Bruins six straight times in Berkeley. Under new coach Jim Mora, UCLA is 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the conference after a 48-14 road victory over Colorado. Its only loss was to Oregon State, currently ranked No. 14. Cal is 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the Pac-12 after a 27-17 home loss to Arizona State, which was the Bears' third straight loss. Cal's only victory was against FCS team Southern Utah.
KEYS TO THE GAME: UCLA has two major offensive weapons -- TB Johnathan Franklin and QB Brett Hundley. The Bears must stop Franklin and UCLA's option running game and hope Hundley does not destroy them with his passing. Last season, UCLA QB Kevin Prince ran for 163 yards, and the Bears cannot let that happen again, especially since Hundley is a better runner than Prince. Offensively, it's all about providing pass protection for Zach Maynard. That may come by having Maynard throw on the move, or it may come from having a better running-game threat. The Bears must control UCLA OLB Anthony Barr, who has six sacks and nine tackles for loss. Presumably, the Bears will start out trying to run the ball because the Bruins' run defense has not been very good, yielding 4.5 yards per rushing attempt, tied for last in the conference. If Cal can get consistent gains on the ground, which seems possible, it may be able to control the tempo of the game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
WR Keenan Allen -- Always QB Zach Maynard's No. 1 target, Allen is capable of producing a big play as a pass receiver, runner or punt returner. He has yet to have a 100-yard receiving game though. He had more than 100 yards receiving in five of the first six games last season, but now has gone 12 straight games without another one.
TB Isi Sofele -- Sofele had his best game of the season last week when he rushed for 105 yards. UCLA's defense is vulnerable against the run, and Sofele needs to have a big game for Cal to win.
QB Zach Maynard -- The Bears need him to be the player he was against Ohio State, when he went 26-for-37 passing. He had his worst game of the season in the Sept. 29 loss to Arizona State, when he was just 9-for-28, and anything close to that will result in a loss to UCLA.
OLB Brennan Scarlett -- Despite a broken hand, Scarlett will be a key ingredient in stopping Johnathan Franklin and Brett Hundley. He has four tackles for losses and has shown an ability to come up with big plays.
--OLB Brennan Scarlett broke his hand against Arizona State, but he is expected to play against UCLA.
--OT Matt Summers-Gavin (knee) played against Arizona State and is expected to play against UCLA.
--G Dominic Galas is not expected to play for at least two more weeks because of a pectoral injury.
--LB Khairi Fortt (knee) has not been cleared for contact and may redshirt.
--LB David Wilkerson is doubtful with a foot injury.
--TE Spencer Hagan is out for the season with a knee injury.
--DE Aaron Tipoti is questionable for the UCLA game with a knee injury.