UCLA: Shane Vereen

First look: California at UCLA

October, 25, 2011
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.

CalUCLAAnd 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."

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Shane Vereen has been a Bruin beater

October, 7, 2010
Shane Vereen wasn’t even California’s top running back the last two seasons, but he's managed to make quite an impression on UCLA.

Playing the backup to Jahvid Best, Vereen had 154 yards rushing last year in a 45-26 victory over the Bruins and in 2008, he had a 56-yard touchdown run in 41-20 Cal victory over UCLA. He is averaging more than eight yards a carry against UCLA and that could be because he has a little extra motivation against the Bruins.

Vereen went to Valencia High School in the Santa Clarita Valley and said it's always special going up against a team from near his home town.

"This is a humongous bragging-rights game for me," Vereen said. "A lot of my best friends are on that team so this game is huge. I always circle it on my calendar, I always look forward to it and it's going to be fun."

Now that Best has moved on to the NFL, Vereen is the featured back for the Golden Bears. He’s averaging 106.5 yards rushing per game to rank third in the Pac-10 and he leads the conference with eight touchdowns (six rushing, two receiving).

For the last two seasons, Vereen has been playing second fiddle to Best, now with the Detroit Lions. Still, he’s managed to make the most of his opportunities. He had 952 yards rushing last season -- including 566 in the last four games when Best was out with an injury.

In 2008, he rushed for 715 yards in a backup role while Best led the Pac-10 in rushing with 1,580.

"He's a big time player," UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said. “[California] over the years has been as good as any in the two-back running game. ... It’s one of the great challenges we face every year is matching wits with the Cal offensive coaches.”

The second back so far this season has been Isi Sofele, but he has only 22 carries for 110 yards in four games. Vereen, with 76 carries, has clearly become the main man for the Golden Bears.

“He’s the focal point of Cal’s offense,” UCLA linebacker Patrick Larimore said. “They try to give him the ball in a lot of different ways so we’ve got to keep an eye on him and focus on keeping him in check.”

But that won’t be easy, and nobody knows that better than Larimore, who spent two years trying to do that in high school when Larimore played at Hart High in Newhall, a crosstown rival of Vereen's Valencia.

“He was obviously one of the better running backs in the country in high school but he’s gotten lot bigger and stronger,” Larimore said. “Watching on tape, he makes a lot of explosive runs and he makes people pay for mistakes on defense.”



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