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October 29, 2011
Cal goes up against UCLA's pistol
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Read our exclusive Q&A with BruinBlitz.com HERE.
Read our exclusive preview of the Cal offense HERE.
Read more about this week's practices HERE, HERE and HERE.
Listen to The Bear Republic Podcast HERE.
LOS ANGELES -- UCLA is ranked 10th or worse in the Pac-12 in 13 different statistical categories. Five of those are on the offensive side of the ball. The Bruins have the third-worst scoring offense in the league (23.9 points per game), the third-worst total offense (383.1 yards per game), the second-worst passing offense (211.1), third-worst in red zone offense and second-worst in first downs.
"I don't think you look at those statistical categories," said California head coach Jeff Tedford, who's Bears head into the Rose Bowl for a 4 PM tilt on Saturday. We don't really look at that. It's about our preparation and what we're doing and our focus and yes, it's our job as coaches to make sure that we continue to harp on and focus on preparation and focus and that's what the, no matter who you're playing. That's what your preparation has to be, and stats don't really have a factor in that."
With starting quarterback Richard Brehaut -- still eighth in the conference with a 138.1 passer efficiency rating -- out due to a broken leg suffered against Washington State, UCLA has turned to Kevin Prince to run the pistol offense, and Prince has been hardly more than a pauper, with a 53.4 completion percentage and four interceptions to three touchdowns.
The Bruins are eighth in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency (136.4), while Cal is sixth in passing efficiency defense (127.2).
There is a possibility - however remote - that true freshman dual-threat UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley could see some action if Prince goes down or wilts under the Bears' pass rush.
"He'll be ready to play," said Bruins head coach Rick Neuheisel. "He'll continue to work and get himself in a position where -- if needed -- he's ready to go."
Neither Hundley nor Prince figures to not get much help on Saturday, what with starting offensive lineman Albert Cid suspended for the first half and wide receivers Taylor Embree, Randall Carroll, Ricky Marvray and Shaquelle Evans also held out due to the melee last weekend in Tucson.
"We've got a little bit of an issue with depth problems based on some suspensions, but we're going to manage, and we're going to play our tails off," Neuheisel said. "Looking any further than that would be a mistake. We've just got to get ourselves a great effort on Saturday."
UCLA fullback Anthony Barr and wide receiver Jerry Johnson also dealt with injury troubles this past week. Given the increasingly disruptive Cal defensive line, Prince may be on the run more than tailbacks Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman.
"We've been playing well, but every week's a new week. It's a new offense, a new offensive line, new schemes," Tedford said of his defensive line. "As we know with the pistol, it can be a challenge, but it all starts with those guys up front, on the inside part of the game. I think they've been playing pretty well for most of the season. I think they're playing aggressive and doing a good job. They prepare hard, Tosh [Lupoi] does a good job of getting them prepared, and I think the defensive staff does a nice job of putting them in a position to be successful."
Franklin is fifth in the Pac-12 in rushing, averaging 74.3 yards per game, with two rushing touchdowns. Coleman -- a load to tackle at 6-feet, 230 pounds -- is 10th in the league in touchdowns, with six scores on the ground, in addition to a 5.0 yards per carry average.
"They're two different style backs," said Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast of the Bruins' two-headed monster in the backfield, who are the tip of the spear when it comes to the pistol offense. "They're kind of thunder and lightning.
"One can get on the perimeter and the other can get up inside between the tackles, so they give you two formidable backs with two different styles. That's to their advantage."
Prince may have no other option than to utilize the run game, as the Bears are first in the conference in passing defense (214.6 yards per game) with a returning veteran cornerback in junior Marc Anthony, who missed the past two weeks with a separated shoulder. In his stead, true freshman Stefan McClure made a name for himself, particularly shutting down one of the nation's best receivers in USC's Robert Woods.
"It's always good to get Marc back," said senior safety Sean Cattouse. "Stef stepped in and stepped up. He had his share - as anybody does - of tough plays, but Stef stepped in and played really well, but it's always good to have Marc back with his experience. A lot of guys are excited that he's back, so it's good all around. It's good that Stef got experience, so if anything happens -- knock on wood, I hope it doesn't -- but if it does, Stef's got what it takes. We'll be good either way."
While UCLA is fourth in rushing offense (172.0 yards per game), Cal is fourth in the conference in rushing defense (115.6), having allowed just one 100-yard-plus performance the entire season. Much of that has been due to the run support of the secondary, senior inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks and especially the defensive line.
"Everything starts up front," Pendergast said. "The running game, if they fit their gaps aggressively, and we feel comfortable with how they're playing and getting off blocks, we can play a few more seven-man fronts, we don't have to have an eight-man front all the time, and then, obviously, putting pressure on the quarterback and disrupting him is obviously our goal every week. We want to affect the quarterback. It's not always going to be guys [coming] free. We've got to beat blockers, whether we're calling pressures or running games or rushing our gaps one-on-one."
After a big game against Utah, redshirt freshman outside linebacker David Wilkerson and the other outside backers should also have a field day. Aside from senior receivers Nelson Rosario and Josh Smith, most of the rest of the receivers seeing action on Saturday against the Bears will be underclassmen, including Devin Lucien and Jerry Rice Jr..
"Any time you lose a top player at any position, it's going to be tough, to have four guys suspended," Cattouse said. "They're in a tough situation down there, so you would anticipate them coming out, we have to expect anything from them. Probably more than ever, we have to really be on our toes and be ready for any possibilities."
Smith is eighth in the Pac-12 in all-purpose yards per game (119.1), but the four receivers that will be held out account for more than 20 percent of the Bruins passing offense.
"You prepare for scheme, and concept and things like that," Tedford said. "It's their offense. I'm sure they're not going to change the offense. The guys there who have been practicing will play, will run their offense, so you prepare for an offense more than for a particular person, unless it's like a Robert Woods or somebody like that, that you have to pay special attention to. I think, with this offense, you really have to be disciplined in your assignments, because of the pistol and all the things that come off of it. It's more about just playing the schemes and concepts than personnel."
Against experienced Cal defensive backs, those receivers may have a bit of trouble getting open, leaving Prince in the backfield as easy pickings for a young, talented group of pass rushers.
"I love Wilk. I'm looking forward to watching him in the future when I'm gone," Cattouse said. "A lot of guys are stepping up. We've got a lot of young guys, a lot of guys out there making plays in big games, in every type of game, so it's good all around to have them."
Heading the linebacking corps is Kendricks, who is third in the league with 55 tackles.
"He's playing well," Pendergast said. "He's adapting well to playing behind the ball. Last year, we played him at outside linebacker, which gave him half the field to cover. I felt like by moving him to a stacked position, he'd have the full field to cover, because he does have explosive speed, and I think he's getting better every week. We've got a couple guys -- he and D.J. Campbell -- who are first-year starters at that particular position, but I can see them making progress, week-in and week-out, and it may not be as much from the naked eye, but I can see their mannerisms on the sideline and how they're regurgitating what went on, on that last series, and it's exactly right. It's similar to last year with [Chris] Conte, for example. The guy never played much, but every week, you see him getting more and more. The game slowed down for him."
Fellow inside linebacker D.J. Holt is fifth with 51, and Cattouse is tied for 48th in the conference in tackles per game, having recorded 32 total stops.
"They're definitely a run-first team, so we definitely have got to pride ourselves on stopping the run," Cattouse said. "It's going to be a team effort, the whole defense, stopping the run game, but I think we'll get it done."
Defensive ends Ernest Owusu and Trevor Guyton are among Pac-12 leaders in tackles for loss, with Owusu's 6.5 tied for seventh, and Guyton's 5.5 tied for 11th.
"I try to put them in a place where they're going to have an advantage on an offensive lineman, and to make a hole in that offensive line, whether that be run or pass," Pendergast said. "This defense is built on everybody making plays, and that starts with the guys up front. They want to have fun, too.
"We call a lot of different run stunts that make the ball bounce a certain way, and we hope that the ball does go there when we do call those movements, so it may make the linebackers a little cleaner, or it may make the D-line cleaner, based on what that first, initial movement is."
Wilkerson and Owusu are tied for ninth in the conference with 3.5 sacks, while Guyton is tied for 16th with 2.5. Wilkerson is also tied for 14th in the league with 5.0 tackles for loss, along with Kendricks and Holt.
"That's my best friend, personally, our D-line, whoever it is in there," Cattouse said, referring to youngsters Viliami Moala and Mustafa Jalil. "They've definitely been disruptive in there, all together working. They call themselves the Honey Badgers. They're kind of a relentless group, always relentless, so I'm looking forward to them remaining consistent and getting even better."
By the Numbers
The Cal defense is tied for second in the Pac-12 in sacks (20 for 107 yards), while UCLA has allowed the fourth-fewest sacks in the conference, thanks to the pistol offense (6 for 29 yards). This will be the Bears' third time defending the pistol, after Cal lost to Nevada last season and defeated their neighbors from down south.
"Do your job," Cattouse said, when asked what the keys to defending the scheme are. "Have good eyes -- great eyes, I should say -- and do your job. It's all about discipline; discipline, disciplined eyes and technique, doing what you're supposed to do."
The Bruins are ninth in third-down conversion (37.5 percent), while the Bears rank fourth in the conference in opponent third down conversions, holding opposing teams to a 34.0-percent success rate.
Cal is tied for sixth in the league in red zone defense with Washington, allowing an 85.7-percent success rate (18-for-21). The Bears have allowed 11 touchdowns from inside their own 20, with five rushing and six passing. Eight times, Cal has forced opponents to settle for field goals, with seven of those going through the uprights. Guyton forced a fumble down deep against Fresno State, and recovered it for a touchdown.
UCLA is 10th in the Pac-12 in red zone offense, with a 75.0-percent success rate (24-for-32). The Bruins have scored 21 touchdowns, with 12 coming on the ground and nine through the air. Six times they've settled for field goals, hitting three of them. UCLA has surrendered the ball twice on interceptions and twice on downs in the red zone.
The Bears are second in the conference in opponent first downs (16.4 per game; 52 passing, 49 rushing, 14 penalty). The Bruins are 11th in first downs (57 rush, 59 pass, 11 penalty, 18.1 per game).
They said it …
Cattouse, on playing at the Rose Bowl: "It's nice. I can't speak for everybody. I know we have a lot of SoCal guys, so it's kind of going home for a lot of them. It's nice, the Rose Bowl and all of that. It's historic and everything, but we'd like to be playing there for a different game."
Cal QB Zach Maynard on how the defense fueled the Bears offense last week: "It gave us a lot of confidence, for the whole team; not just me, but a lot of guys did great. The defense did well. They keep playing like they did last week, we'll have a promising future."
Neuheisel on finishing out the season: "We just believe in our players. We believe in our own experiences and no one who's coached any period of time hasn't been in this place, where there's adversity, and I think the opportunity exists to dig yourself out if you take the right attitude, and we're certainly going to do just that."
Tedford on stopping his team's three-game losing streak: "It was a big win, obviously, because it was that week's game and there's no question that after losing a few, you're not very happy about it, so a win picks up the spirits. Again, the focus needs to continue to be there. We need to be able to be mature enough to be able to handle a victory, and make sure we continue to prepare for the next game. There's no question that the mood in the locker room was great to see -- sincere celebration through hard work -- so that was good to get a win."