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October 8, 2010

Who has the edge in a unit-by-unit breakdown?

BearTerritory publisher Ryan Gorcey and BruinBlitz.com publisher Rick Kimbrel break down Saturday's match-up, unit-by-unit.

After posting four pass break-ups and a pick against Arizona, the secondary is really rounding into form. Lots of experience in this group. Senior safety Chris Conte had the game of his life against the Wildcats, making eight tackles and a clutch pick in the end zone.. While there have been signs of improvement, UCLA's passing attack almost been nonexistent. They have left plays on the field either because of bad passes or drops, but once this part of the arsenal arrives, UCLA is going to be very potent on offense.
Nevada's pistol carved the Bears for 316 yards on the ground, but the Wolf Pack have run the pistol for a lot longer than the Bruins, and are far more effective. Cal will have the experience of a now-100-percent Mike Mohamed, which could be key in stopping the run. The running game has been the talk of the nation. Last season, the Bruins were one of the worst at running the football and now with Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman, both coming off career games against Washington State-they were pretty good against Texas, too-this is the strength of the offense.
This unit is the heart and soul of the Cal defense, accounting for 9.5 of Cal's 24 TFLs and 4.5 of the Bears' 11 sacks. Cal is a mile deep up front, with at least six guys who could start at any other BCS school, led by senior Cameron Jordan. You can't have a good running game without a solid offensive line, and going into the season, UCLA's offensive line was a huge question mark. Now they go by the moniker of the "Filthy Five" because of their outstanding play. UCLA's OL is one of the feel-good stories of this college football season.
After the last two games, this has to be Cal's biggest question mark. Kevin Riley has been far from crisp lately, and misses on short, easy passes, as well as big plays downfield. Coming back home could help, as will the insertion of freshman Keenan Allen back into the game plan. UCLA's secondary on paper is one of the best, if not the best, in the conference, but they were torched last week by Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel. It wouldn't be surprising if this unit comes back in a big way this week. They are young and very talented.
Shane Vereen is coming on strong and finally looks more like himself, tearing off 300 yards in his past two games. The Bears' staple has always been the run, and if Vereen gets going, it could open up the rest of the offense. If the offensive line has been UCLA's biggest surprise, the linebacker corps is a close second. Led by Akeem Ayers, every starter in this group has earned a defensive player of the week award. Ayers, Patrick Larimore and Sean Westgate are all guys who make plays.
Even though the Bears have allowed just four sacks, they don't give Riley much time in the pocket. Having Matt Summers-Gavin back in the fold for more snaps would help to alleviate some problems, whether at right tackle or left guard. An injury to Datone Jones in training camp made an already inexperienced unit more so. Jones was severely missed over the early part of the season. Now this unit is beginning to hit stride, but it is still a very young unit that has a true freshman and a redshirt freshman amongst it starters.
Giorgio Tavecchio is averaging 66.3 yards per kickoff and Bryan Anger is averaging 45.1 yards per punt-2.5 yards better than his career average. The special teams have been one of the most dependable units this season, and I don't see that changing any time soon. Special teams have been a UCLA strength, especially the kicking game led by Groza Award-winner Kai Forbath and punter Jeff Locke. The Bruins also boast kick returner Josh Smith, who had a 45 yard return against Texas that came at a very opportune time for UCLA.
The x-factor in this game has to be Allen. If he's back to form, he gives the offense another dimension. Ayers can be very disruptive, though, and there's no way to quantify how much Cal has learned from Nevada's pistol. It'll be close, but the Bears pull away in the end: Cal 28, UCLA 17. The Bears have been tough on the Bruins in the Bay Area recently, but both teams have a schizophrenic element to them that makes this game a tough one to call. If the UCLA of Texas meets the Cal of Nevada, the Bruins will win. If UCLA of Stanford meet the Bears of Colorado, then Cal will win. The Ouija Board says UCLA 28, Cal 21.

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