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Cal Football

UCLA Preview: Bears Can't Afford to Take Bruins Lightly

November 27, 2019

Even though UCLA (4-7, 4-4 Pac-12) has lost two straight and might be without its starting quarterback Cal (6-5, 3-5) had best be careful going into Saturday night’s regular-season finale at the Rose Bowl. 

The Bruins still have dynamic playmakers, and history is on their side

Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (DTR), the sophomore who is one of the more exciting players in the Pac-12, limped off the field late in Saturday’s UCLA loss to USC and has not practiced as of midweek. If he can’t go, the fill-in will be redshirt sophomore Austin Burton. DTR missed the Oregon State game with an injury earlier this year and Burton wasn’t horrible, 27-for-41 passing for 236 yards and a touchdown and no interceptions. But the Bruins lost that game and were much livelier offensively the next week when DTR came back and they beat Stanford.

But two years ago UCLA lost All-American quarterback Josh Rosen and the backup came on to beat the Bears. That fellow’s name is Devon Modster. 

And last year UCLA came to Berkeley 0-5 and buried the Bears, 37-7. That was the Bruins’ fifth win in six games in the series. Add to that the fact that Cal has not beaten UCLA in the Rose Bowl since 2009 and you see the home team can’t be dismissed.

In last year’s game, running back Joshua Kelley, who started his career at UC Davis, went wild. He gained 157 yards and scored three touchdowns.

“He’s a very physical back,” defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter said. “He doesn’t have to have everybody block, he can make guys miss. And he can run through tackles...He does a really good job of being patient and seeing where the hole is and exploding through.”

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Joshua Kelley

Kelley, a 5-11, 219-pound redshirt senior, is averaging 98.4 rushing yards per game, second-best in the Pac-12. However, USC held him to a season-low 45 yards. The Trojans made a point of concentrating on him, and he found a Trojan accompanying him virtually everywhere he went.

“I thought when Josh had an opportunity he did a good job,” head coach Chip Kelly (above) said after the game. “But if you are going to take him away then we had to make them pay passing.”

And that is where Thompson-Robinson enters the discussion. He was 26-for-44 for 367 yards and three touchdowns against USC. He also can run, and his 64 net rushing yards game him a total of 431, the second time this season he has exceeded 400 yards of total offense. 

“He is an explosive dynamic player that really stretches you on third down. He’s a guy who can make all the throws,” DeRuyter said. “And when things break down he really hurts defenses running for big-time chunk plays.”

Against USC the Bruins had the ball on the Trojan three-yard line. They stacked their offensive set with three tight ends and had USC looking for Kelley up the middle. Instead, Thompson-Robinson took off around left end and scored easily.

He does get a little careless with the ball. He has thrown 11 interceptions in 323 attempts and has fumbled ten times. 

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Dorian Thompson-Robinson

Redshirt freshman Kyle Phillips leads the Bruins receivers with 55 catches. He has 50 in the last eight games, including 12 against USC. 

“Kyle Phillips is really shifty,” announcer Steve Levy said on the telecast of the USC game. “ “He’s reliable. He’s not the fastest, he’s not the biggest.”

Phillips is also dangerous on punt returns, averaging 22.5 yards.

Demetric Felton is the sort of back Kelly would have loved to have had at Oregon when his version of the spread offense was taking the conference by storm. Felton can line up at running back, or in the slot, and is equally dangerous from each. He is second on the team in both receiving (48 catches,) and rushing (326 yards on 45 carries).

Tight end Devin Asiasi has 36 catches for 542 yards and four TDs. At 6-3, 260, when he gets going he is tough to tackle.

The left side of the offensive line is manned by two freshmen, tackle Sean Rhyan and guard Duke Clemens. Rhyan beat out Alec Anderson while Clemens moved in when Michael Alves went down for the season with an injury. 

The Bruins defense has been, in a word, terrible. It has allowed opposing offenses to gain 600 yards or more four times, and 400 yards or more seven times.  It's 114th in the country in yards allowed per play at 6.7. It is giving up 35.4 points per game. 

After a bad start the UCLA defense seemed to have improved against Stanford and Colorado  But Utah and USC put up 49 and 52 points respectively against the Bruins, USC gashed them for 643 yards. 

“When we were winning the best thing we were doing was that everybody was playing together,” linebacker Josh Woods told the Los Angeles Times. “The effort and energy was there. We just weren’t communicating to the best of our ability.”

UCLA plays a base 3-4, but on most plays, a fourth man (usually a linebacker) lines up on the line. On short yardage against USC, the Bruins would bring seven men into the box, but the safeties lined up deeper than normal. That left the Bruins vulnerable to mid-range, five to seven yard passes. USC exploited that. 

Linebacker Krys Barnes, the leader of the defense, had to leave the USC game with an injury in the third quarter., He had nine tackles, including a sack and two pass breakups before he went to the sideline and the Bruins missed him. Kelly said the Bruins had to change coverages, “because we can’t leave a guy isolated one-on-one, things that Krys can do,” He is questionable for Saturday, as is fellow inside backer Lokeni Toailao.

Other Bruins whose status is questionable are defensive backs Shamar Martin and Kenny Churchwell and linebacker Tyree Thompson. 


  • UCLA leads the series 55-33-1. That includes the 18-game Bruin win streak from 1972-1989, which encompassed the entire tenure of three Cal coaches, Mike White, Roger Theder and Joe Kapp all won Big Games but never beat UCLA.  
  • Since 1950 UCLA is 6-11 in regular season games played after the Bruins played USC.
  • When he took over Kelly went into a rebuild mode and ran off an estimated 30 players, leaving a very young roster. UCLA has 64 freshmen counting redshirts on its roster of 120. That is 53.3 percent, second-highest mark in the country behind Oklahoma State (57.4). Cal ranks tenth at 47.7 percent (52 out of 109). Stanford is the only other Pac-12 school in the top ten, ninth at 48.0.
  • Kelly is 7-16 since taking over. 
  • Cornerback Darnay Holmes, a preseason honors candidate, missed the first three games but has 33 tackles and an interception.
  • Punter Wade Lees and placekicker JJ Molson are both from Australia. Lees, who averages 42.7 yards per punt, is 31 and the oldest player in college football. Molson, heir to the famous Canadian brewery is 7-for-13 on field-goal tries.

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