- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Another week, another top-notch pass offense standing in UCLA's way.
So far this season, UCLA has faced four of the top-20 passing offenses in the nation and gets a fifth Saturday when California visits the Rose Bowl for a 4 p.m. Pac-12 game.
That means that if UCLA is going to get its season back on track, the Bruins will have to find a way to contain California quarterback Zach Maynard and receiver Keenan Allen, who lead a Golden Bears offense that ranks No. 19 in the nation with 293 yards passing per game.
And not only that, but the short-handed Bruins must also figure out a way to decipher a California defense that is fourth in the Pac-12 in total defense and leads the conference in pass defense.
"We’ve got our work cut out for us," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said.
Allen, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore, is among the top receivers in the nation. A freshman All-American last season, he leads the country this season with 129.43 yards receiving per game and is eighth with 60 receptions. Maynard doesn't quite fit into the elite group of quarterback UCLA has faced this season, but he is improving in his first year as a starter and has passed for 1,840 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Last year when these teams met, Cal dominated with a running attack that gained 304 yards rushing in a 35-7 Golden Bears victory. Shane Vereen led that charge with 151 yards. Vereen is now with the New England Patriots, but Isi Sofele, who gained 80 yards in 13 carries in last year's game, is back and is having a strong season. He's averaging 89.57 yards per game, fourth in the Pac-12.
The Bruins are No. 106 in the nation in total defense, giving up 436.14 yards per game, so facing such a balanced offense could lead to more problems, but it's the other side of the ball that has Neuheisel most concerned.
Linebacker Mychal Kendricks, brother of UCLA linebacker Eric, is among the top defensive players in the conference, if not the country. He is third in the conference with eight tackles per game and is a key reason why Cal gives up only 115 yards rushing per game.
"They've got, in my mind, the best defensive player in the conference in Mychal Kendricks," Neuheisel said. "I think he is spectacular football player."
Defensive end Ernest Owusu (6-5, 270 pounds) is also a force in Cal's 3-4 defensive scheme. He leads the team with three sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss and Cal is third in the Pac-12 in sacks with 2.86 per game and second in the conference with 7.86 tackles for loss per game.
Add in a stellar pass defense led by defensive backs Sean Cattouse, Steve Williams and freshman Stefan McClure, and the UCLA passing attack, which will be without suspended receivers Taylor Embree, Shaquelle Evans, Randall Carroll and Ricky Marvray, could be in for a long game.
"They are a very good defensive team," Neuhiesel said. "There really isn’t a weakness on their defensive football team."
California has won the last three games against UCLA and has outscored the Bruins, 121-53 in those games. UCLA has won four of the last five games played against the Golden Bears in the Rose Bowl and has a 10-4 record against Cal all time at the Rose Bowl, but Cal romped over the Bruins, 45-26, the last time they met in Pasadena.
The Golden Bears (4-3, 1-3 in Pac-12) are coming off of their first conference victory last week, a 34-10 home win over Utah that ended a three-game losing streak. They also have a 36-33 overtime victory over Colorado, but because that game was scheduled before Colorado joined the conference, it doesn't count as a conference game.