Friday, October 28, 2011
Five things to watch: California at UCLA
By Peter Yoon
1. BOUNCE BACK EFFECT
UCLA was demoralized in its last game and the Bruins will have sat on that embarrassing 48-12 defeat at Arizona for nine days by the time they take the field against Cal, so the early going in this game will tell a lot about the mindset of the UCLA players. The players say they still have pride and expect to come out with fire and energy that will show their resiliency. But if things don't go well in the first quarter and UCLA comes out flat and uninspired, that will be a bad sign not only for this game, but for the rest of the season. That would be a pretty clear indication that the team has simply given up. UCLA has shown character by following each of its first three losses with victories, but last week's loss will be much more difficult to overcome than the previous three.
2. ANY WARM BODIES?
The Bruins will play without five suspended players for the entire game and will miss a sixth for the first half. Receivers Taylor Embree, Shaquelle Evans, Randall Carroll and Ricky Marvray along with defensive lineman Cassius Marsh will sit out the entire game and offensive lineman Albert Cid is out for the first half because of their roles in a brawl last week against Arizona. The receiver corps is a particular issue because the Nelson Rosario and Josh Smith will be the only receivers with playing experience this season available for the game. Jerry Rice, Jr. is coming off the scout team to fill in and Jerry Johnson is expected to come back from an ankle injury that has kept him out almost a year, but Smith and Rosario will certainly need to stay near the oxygen tanks when they are on the sidelines. Marsh's absence is significant because the defensive line has struggled this season and he has been one of it's better performers.
3. BATTING DOWN THE PASSES
Cal features one of the top receiver tandems in the country with Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones. Allen leads the nation with 129.43 yards receiving per game and Jones averages 85.57. That will put a lot of pressure on the UCLA secondary, with cornerbacks Aaron Hester, Sheldon Price and Andrew Abbott in the thick of that battle. Price is still recovering from a knee injury and tried to play through it last week, but clearly wasn't at full speed. UCLA has struggled against the pass at times this season, giving up 244 yards per game through the air and top-flight receivers such as Juron Criner of Arizona, Marquess Wilson of Washington State, Markus Wheaton of Oregon State and Tyron Carrier of Houston have all had big games against the Bruins. Now they have to face two elite receivers and prevent both from breaking out.
4. RUNNING ON EMPTY
Last year when these teams met, UCLA was on a roll running the ball, having averaged 322.3 yards rushing in the three previous games but California defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast devised a defensive scheme that nullified the Pistol attack and became the blueprint for UCLA opponents the rest of the season. The Bruins gained only 26 yards rushing in that game and averaged only 128 yards on the ground the rest of the season. UCLA has a more diverse offense this year, but will rely heavily on Johnathan Franklin, Derrick Coleman and the run game this week because of the receiver shortage. Cal is No. 27 in the nation against the run this season, so if Pendergast again draws up an effective plan, it could turn into a long day for UCLA.
5. THE HOT SEAT
Keeping an eye on coach Rick Neuheisel may prove a worthwhile endeavor in this game. Publicly, he's handled a difficult week with class and dignity, but you have to wonder what's really brewing under the surface. On game day, he'll be exposed by the heat of the battle. It's doubtful much will change. He's usually pretty animated and emotional on the sideline, but look for subtle differences. Does he appear stressed? Are his players responding to his coaching? Are they listening to him? Is he yelling as much? Also try and steal a glance of the athletic department brass. Athletic director Dan Guerrero and senior associate athletic director Bob Field may give away their thoughts about Neuheisel and the direction of the program with their expressions as the game progresses.