Three weeks ago, UCLA came into the home stretch of their season feeling good, riding a three-game winning streak after a 31-14 win vs Colorado. They had everything in front of them, as winning out would mean a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game. Now things aren’t looking quite as bright. UCLA lost their next two games, tough road trips to No 7 Utah and No 23 USC, giving up 101 points in the process.
UCLA will now be ineligible for a bowl game for the second straight year and will go into the offseason with plenty of questions about Chip Kelly and the future of this program. They’ll finish the year hosting the Cal Bears at the Rose Bowl, and a win would certainly be a nice way to top off what has been an otherwise bumpy season.
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3 Key UCLA Matchups vs California
At the end of the day, this game is all about UCLA’s offense vs Cal’s defense. UCLA’s defense has been a mess, but their offense has shown the ability to get seriously rolling at times as the season has progressed. Now we’ll have to see if they can do so against a stingy Cal defense, one of the best in the Pac-12.
1) Cal Linebackers vs Joshua Kelley
If you had to pick a bright spot for these tough two years of the Chip Kelly UCLA program, I don’t think anyone would argue against it being running back Josh Kelley. He’s been an explosive and tough runner and the driving point of this offense, and he gives every game everything he’s got, even when the rest of the team isn’t up to the task. He’s a guy who, despite not having the biggest of frames, runs really hard, and can be really shifty as well. He’s a tough guy to tackle and his ability to explode through holes gets him into the open field awfully quickly.
In this one, he’ll go up against an elite, veteran linebacking corps led by Evan Weaver, one of the best linebackers in the country. Can he evade them to get into the open field, or will they do their job and bottle him up on the ground? USC was able to defend Kelley pretty well last week after getting burned by him last year, and I’d expect this Bruins offense to try to get back to the run game in what should be a lower scoring game than that of last week.
2) UCLA Wide Receivers vs Cal Secondary
I’ve given quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson a lot of flack over the past two years, but his play has greatly improved and bordered on elite during the second half of this season There have been lots of times where he just hasn’t been given enough help. The receiving corps has left a lot to be desired at times, especially when it comes to dropped passes. Like the Bear linebackers, the Cal secondary is full of veterans and is a tough unit to match up against. The question in this one is whether UCLA’s wide receivers will be able to do enough to get open against this defense in order to help out their quarterback.
3) UCLA Defensive Line vs Cal Offensive Line
The weakness of this Cal team is their offense and injuries along the offensive line have really hamstrung them. We haven’t been able to count on UCLA’s defense to do much of anything this year but against a weakened offensive line and a subpar passing attack, I’m counting on this d-line to be able to get some sacks and create some negative plays for the quarterback.
Cal is going to want to depend on defense, special teams, and field position to win a low scoring game, so if UCLA is able to create some negative plays and put Cal in a hole, it will end up working to their benefit.
As anyone who has watched this team every week knows, it’s been an emotional rollercoaster. The season started in awful fashion but then UCLA gave us some signs of life before absolutely imploding in the two biggest games of the year. Fortunately, this is a winnable game on their home turf. The future might not be bright, but for the last game of the season, I’m hoping that UCLA can give their home crowd something to cheer about.