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Cal Football

Golden Bears Finish Season Against Little Brother

November 23, 2022

The University of California Golden Bears wrap up an overall disappointing season with the chance to finish with two straight victories Friday in Strawberry Canyon.

Their defense provided the spark in a thrilling come-from-behind win against rival Stanford in last week’s Big Game. Cal overcame a 17-6 deficit in the final quarter, outscoring the Cardinal 21-3, with 14 of those points directly attributable to the defensive effort.

They will need more of the same this Friday. A lot more.

The last time Cal played UCLA at home was in 2018, and that game was Bruins’ head coach Chip Kelly’s first win at the helm of the baby blue and yellow squad from Westwood. Cal jumped out to an early 14-10 lead, but UCLA dropped 32 unanswered points on the Bears that day.

This year’s version of the Bruins is nothing less than an offensive juggernaut. One of six FBS teams to average more than 500 yards per game on offense (Tennessee, USC, Oregon, Mississippi and Washington are the others), they rely on a pair of star players that Cal fans have seen wreak destruction all too often in the past.

Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson might be the best quarterback in the nation to be rarely if ever, mentioned in the Heisman race. DTR, as he is known, is fourth in the nation in completion percentage (69.8%), seventh in points responsible for (206), and 15th in passing efficiency (158.7).

Thompson-Robinson, in UCLA’s 48-45 shootout loss to USC last weekend, moved past Brett Hundley (9,966 from 2011-14) into second place on the all-time school list for passing yards. He finished the game with 309 passing yards for a total of 10,235 and now takes aim at Cade McNown (1995-98), who is the all-time school leader with 10,708.

With 823 completions, he needs 15 more to pass Hundley (837) and become UCLA's all-time leader in the category. Thompson-Robinson became the school’s all-time leader in touchdowns accounted for (110) and total offense (11,959) versus USC. His six total touchdowns against the Trojans brought him to 110 for his career. Thompson-Robinson moved past Hundley (106 touchdowns accounted for and 11,713 yards of total offense) in both categories.

UCLA is not one-dimensional, however. They have senior running back Zack Charbonnet, who leads the Pac-12 in rushing at 137.8 yards per game (4th in the nation) and leads the country with 171 all-purpose yards per game.

Charbonnet is no stranger to Cal’s defensive corps, as he pierced them for 106 yards last year.  DTR added 102 rushing yards in that game. No other team in the nation can match the Bruins’ 2,949 passing yards and 2,604 rushing yards this season.

Still, even though ranked as high as 9th this year, UCLA has dropped their last two games, and three of their last five. They were knocked off by Oregon, 45-30, by Arizona, 34-28, and by USC. All high-scoring contests. Call will have to pull out all the stops and empty the playbook to keep up with the Bruins and allow their defense to make plays that could win the game.

A key stat to watch (as always) is turnovers.  In its three losses in 2022, UCLA has forced a TOTAL of one turnover; conversely, they have forced at least one turnover in 11 of their most recent 13 contests. Ball security for the Bears will be paramount – with the sixth-best rushing offense in the country, giving the Bruins a short field will lead to disaster.

Charbonnet is not just a plow-ahead runner; he has 37 rushes of 10 or more yards this season, 29 of those coming in the past six games. He fell five yards short at USC of extending his streak of six-straight 100-yard games.

When he does drop back to pass, DTR’s favorite receivers are Jake Bobo (6 TDs, tied for 7th in Pac-12) and Kazmeir Allen with 48 catches including a pair of touchdowns longer than 50 yards.  Cal’s defense can’t sleep on TE Michael Ezieke, though – he became the first Bruin in 5 years to catch three TDs in a game against USC last weekend.

UCLA’s defense can be exploited. Ranked 90th in FBS, 6th in the conference, allowing 403.4 yards per game. Jaydn Ott, who has an outside chance at a 1,000-yard rushing season as a true freshman, will be key in giving Jack Plummer enough time to utilize his deep wide receiver group. I would expect to see Cal try to establish Ott as an early threat, then look to play-action to give Plummer a little more time to find receivers. On passing downs, expect Cal to key on Bruin linebacker Laiatu Latu, who has 9.5 sacks this season and is second in the Pac-12 averaging 0.86 sacks per game. Latu is also top-10 nationally in forced fumbles with 0.27 per game.

The Bruins’ defense has allowed 5.62 yards per play, which gives Cal hope for engaging in a shootout—the only way to beat the Bruins, who have won 44 straight games when holding their opponents under 20 points.

Kickoff is at 1:30 on FRIDAY, which should give you ample time to recover from your tryptophan coma and make a turkey sandwich while enjoying Dan Hellie and Petros Papadakis on FOX (Not FS1).

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Golden Bears Finish Season Against Little Brother

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