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UCLA Preview: After Preparing for ASU, Cal Must Adjust

November 14, 2020
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After spending an entire week of practice preparing for Arizona State, Cal was forced to pivot and get ready for UCLA, a team that was not even on the Bears’ revised schedule.

Such is life in the Pac-12 these days.

Both the Bears and the Bruins had a game scheduled for Saturday pulled out from under them when both Arizona State and Utah had COVID-19 issues that rendered them unable to play. Thus the conference shuffled the deck and sent the Bears south to face the Bruins on Sunday morning.

Although until Friday the Bears were giving the Bruins no thought, they did play against UCLA less than a year ago. In their regular-season finale, which like Sunday’s game, took place in the Rose Bowl. Cal defeated its Southern California cousins, 28-18.

The teams that will line up on Sunday are not identical to the ones who went at it last year, but there is some carryover. 

In its rushed preparation, Cal does have some film to study. While the Bears were idled last week by their own COVID-19 issues, UCLA was able to play. The Bruins let Colorado build a big lead and almost caught the Buffaloes before falling, 48-42. Although it was a loss, the afternoon in Folsom Field did give UCLA game experience something the 2020 Bears are lacking.

The Bears were preparing to face Arizona State’s dynamic quarterback Jayden Daniels, which could help in dealing with the Bruins Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Like Daniels, DTR is an outstanding runner. Although he has been inconsistent during his two years operating the Bruins offense, he is a much more accomplished passer than Daniels. As he tried to rally the Bruins from a 28-7 deficit, last week he threw 40 times, completed 20 for 303 yards, and four touchdowns. He also ran nine times for 109 yards and another score.

Prior to taking on the Bruins, Colorado coach Karl Dorrell, a UCLA alum, had high praise for the Bruin quarterback.

“Dorian is a really, really good player. He’s a dynamic player,” Dorrell said. “He’s obviously a tremendous athlete. I think what’s underrated is that he’s a very accurate thrower.

“He can throw the deep ball very, very well, and make it effortless. And his ‘escapability’ with what he does playing that position, I think he’s one of the better ones in our conference for sure.”

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Chip Kelly pleads his case

Another key to the Bruin offense is running back Demetrick Felton, the senior who takes over for last year’s workhorse Joshua Kelley.   He was the leading receiver last week with seven catches, although they totaled just 46 yards. He also carried the ball ten times for 57 yards. 

Sophomore Martell Irby was supposed to move up the depth chart and serve as Felton’s backup, but he missed last week’s game with an injury and is questionable for Sunday.

Sophomore wide receiver Kyle Philips led UCLA in receptions a year ago with 60. He is questionable Sunday with an injury. This could be a problem area for the Bruins, especially against Cal’s veteran secondary. 

There is not a lot of depth at tight end, but a bit of quality. Mike Martinez was supposed to be the main man, and he is a good one. But sophomore Greg Dulcic, who began his career as a walkon wide receiver, caught four passes last week, including one he turned into a 52 yard TD.

We were practicing that look all week,” Dulcich said. “They gave it to us, it was just catch and throw, so I was pretty happy how it worked out.”

The Bruin offensive line is young but experienced. Left tackle Sean Rhyan last year became the first true freshman to start a season opener. He was a freshman All-American and hasn’t lost a step. He and the rest of the O-line should be able to take advantage of a Cal D-line that hasn’t practiced together much the last couple of weeks.

Colorado which wasn’t expected to have much of an offense, absolutely shredded the Bruin defense. The Buffs gained 525 yards including 260 on the ground. The Buffs made no secret of what they intended to do, they ran it 50 times. Even though they knew what was coming, the Bruins couldn’t stop it.

With their experienced offensive line and running backs Christopher Brown Jr., Marcel Dancy, and DeCarlos Brooks, the Bears should have an advantage there. The Bruins were banged up on defense going in and lost linebacker/defensive end, Myles Jackson for the season against Colorado.

Last week was the first time the Bruins got to use their new 4-2-5 alignment which uses a hybrid DB/linebacker on most plays. Two DBs, Obi Eboh, and Rayshad Williams are questionable, so who knows if the Bruins have the manpower to run that defense. Whatever the alignment safety Stephan Blaylock will be part of it. That’s trouble for any offense. 

This game could be huge for UCLA coach Chip Kelly, who is in his third year in Westwood. The magic he worked at Oregon is nowhere to be found, and if the Bruins start a seven-game season 0-2, he might not be around by Thanksgiving.

Notes:

UCLA leads the series,55-34-1, and has won five of the last seven meetings...Last season Blaylock ranked 18th in NCAA in solo tackles, 5.4 per game... By giving up 48 points last week UCLA has now allowed 40 or more seven times in its last 11 games..Over that stretch, the Bruins are allowing an average of 38.0 per game...Cal on the other hand has allowed just 23.0 points per game over its past 11 games and opponents have scored 40 or more vs. the Bears just twice in the past 29 contests. . . . UCLA is plus-11 in turnovers in their seven wins, but ut minus-22 in its18 losses over two-plus seasons. The Bruins had four turnovers at Colorado.

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