Pasadena, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - A Golden State battle in the Pac-12 is on tap as the California Golden Bears make the short trip south to face the 11th- ranked UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl.
The Golden Bears' first season under Sonny Dykes has been filled with a resurgence of the passing game, but it hasn't translated into wins. California enters play on Saturday with a record of just 1-4. The lone win of the campaign came against FCS foe Portland State (37-30). Since then the Golden Bears have lost three straight games, including their first two contests in conference play.
As for UCLA, things have gone much better as the team has risen to its highest ranking since 2011 and its first 4-0 start since 2005. The Bruins dispatched Utah, 34-27, on the road last Thursday to claim their first win in conference play as they look to make it to a third straight Pac-12 Championship Game.
A number of miscues doomed UCLA a year ago in Berkeley when these teams met. California forced six turnovers in the contest and rolled to a 43-18 victory. However, the Bruins still hold a 50-32-1 edge in the all-time series, including wins in five of the last six matchups at home.
There isn't much of a mystery as to how the Golden Bears like to move the ball. Dykes has brought over his pass-heavy offensive scheme from Louisiana Tech and has transformed California into the fourth-most prolific passing attack in the country (402.6 ypg).
In the driver's seat of the offense is freshman Jared Goff, who has more than held his own. Goff has already thrown for 1,821 yards, which is second in the Pac-12. He is completing just under 60 percent of his pass attempts, but has been sacked 16 times. He has nine touchdown passes against five interceptions. In last week's 44-22 loss to Washington State, Goff threw for a career-high 504 yards to bounce back from a rough showing in the previous week against Oregon.
Though the Golden Bears have been posting incredible passing numbers, the bulk of the passes have gone to just a pair of receivers. Both Chris Harper (38 receptions, 570 yards, four TDs) and Bryce Treggs (36 receptions, 418 yards, TD) rank in the top 10 in the conference in receptions and receiving yards. Harper is coming off a career-game against the Cougars as he brought in 14 passes for 231 yards.
"We are struggling at running back, so it is important to make some plays with inside receivers," Dykes said of Harper, who was used out of the slot primarily against Washington State. "We thought we were not getting the production out of that group that we needed, and we thought we could get some more production if we moved Chris inside."
Dykes is not exaggerating about the struggles of the California run game. While taking a backseat to the passing assault, the Golden Bears are averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. Brendan Bigelow (277 yards) has shown big play ability in the past, but the leading rusher has been less productive this season.
The up-tempo style of play on offense has done no favors for a defense that is struggling to find any success. California is surrendering 45 points and 524 yards per game. Both of those marks have the Golden Bears ranked dead last in the Pac-12. It get worse as they are also among the five worst teams in the country in each category.
A struggling defense isn't something you want against any team, but that is especially true if UCLA is the opponent. The Bruins are posting 48 points and 561.8 yards of total offense per game. That has them in rarified air as only No. 2 Oregon is producing at a higher level on offense.
Sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley, and the offense as a whole, was a bit more human against Utah. Hundley threw for just 211 yards in the contest while throwing his fourth interception of the year. Overall, Hundley is completing an efficient 65.5 percent of his pass attempts for 1,059 yards and nine scores. Hundley is also dangerous on the ground with 242 yards and three scores rushing.
Speaking of rushing, the Bruins took a big hit against Utah as leading rusher Jordon James (471 yards, five TDs) injured his ankle. James is listed as doubtful for Saturday's matchup which will thrust Paul Perkins into a starting role. Perkins rushed for 92 yards on 16 carries against Utah and also had two receptions for 49 yards.
Perhaps Hundley's greatest strength as a signal caller has been that he does not rely on just one receiver. Devin Fuller (16 receptions, 167 yards, TD) and Shaquelle Evans (14 receptions, 221 yards, three TDs) have been the most productive receivers, but plenty of other pass catchers have gotten in the mix as well.
All-American Anthony Barr finally dominated against Utah with three tackles for loss and two sacks. Barr, who was third in the conference in TFL last season, now has eight on the year along with three sacks. Keenan Graham (4.0 sacks) has also been a handful for opposing offenses. The pair have helped anchor a unit that allows 362.2 yards and 20.2 points per game.
"We've got a really good linebacking corps. We've got a really good front seven. We haven't given up a lot of points this year and that's the name of the game," UCLA head coach Jim Mora said of his squad. "I like the way we're playing right now on defense."