California Golden Bears (5-1 SU, 4-2 ATS) vs. UCLA Bruins (4-2 SU, 2-3-1 ATS)
College Football Week 8
Date/Time: Thursday, October 22, 2015 at 9:00PM EST
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: CAL +3.5/UCLA -3.5
Over/Under Total: Off
In Thursday night Pac-12 Conference action, the California Golden Bears come into the city of angels to face the UCLA Bruins. Both teams are coming off losses, with Cal losing to Utah two Saturdays ago in their first loss of the season. Still ranked 20th, the 5-1 Golden Bears look to get back on the winning track in what would be a statement-making road win against the 4-2 Bruins. UCLA played on Thursday last week, losing in demoralizing fashion to the Stanford Cardinal, 56-35. The onetime 7th-ranked team in the nation is now 1-2 in the Pac-12. You could say this every week about virtually every game, but this is a game where both teams could really use a positive result.
UCLA lost worse than the score indicates against Stanford, as the Bruins tacked on a few meaningless touchdowns late. The first UCLA possession was ominous as Josh Rosen threw a pick-six, with things not getting appreciably better from there, as the Cardinal rolled right over a UCLA defense that showed an alarming lack of fighting spirit and urgency. It has unraveled all so quickly for the Bruins and now they have to try to take a sad song and make it better against a bunch from Berkeley that will be gunning hard for a win.
Perhaps expectations on freshman QB Josh Rosen were blown out of proportion a bit. After a few good games, people acted like he was above reproach, forgetting hes still a young kid facing some things for the first time. Some weeks, hell be good and other times he will be struggling to figure things out. Going into Stanford to try to win a game is such a quantum leap from what this kid was doing last year; its hard to even quantify. Hes not playing Crespi anymore. But when hes on, the kid is pretty good and he should eventually become the consistent force the Bruins need him to be.
Even more alarming than Rosens uneven performances as of late is a defense that was borderline-comical against Stanford. Giving up the most amazing catch seen in years was a bad enough sign, but allowing 243 yards to Christian McCaffrey was an even more dooming sign. In setting a new school record, McCaffrey made mincemeat out of the Bruins D and UCLA has now allowed 94 points in the past two games, showing an extreme inability for making plays and getting key stops. The injuries have certainly resonated poorly, but no one could forecast they would melt to this extent.
Beyond the numbers and Xs and Os behind UCLAs fall is an emotional component. Youd like to see a team feel some urgency is a spot like what UCLA was in last Thursday. After being upset at home the previous week to Arizona State, the heat was on and the response was disproportionately lukewarm. On the surface, theyre 4-2 with a chance to still do some big things. But unlike a lot of 4-2 teams, UCLA has arrived at this spot with a resounding thud. It will be interesting to see how they spin out of this predicament. They still have an offense that has firepower, with a top back in Paul Perkins. Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte are a good pair of receivers who can make big plays. Those three playmakers have a combined 19 touchdowns, so there are some good things in place. Theres a reason they were ranked so highly at one time and you cant rule out the possibility that they can rediscover that form.
The Golden Bears didnt do so badly two Saturdays ago against Utahall things considering. With all the things that went wrong, a 6-point road loss to a top team is actually pretty darned good. Its not good when your star quarterback keeps throwing it to the wrong guys, as Jared Goff threw 5 picks and 4 alone in the first half. In his defense, Utah players made some great plays on some of those balls, but it was too much to overcome. It was one of those situations where they might not have gotten the job done, but they still managed to showcase their overall value.
This is a spot where Goff should be expected to be at his best, as the highly-touted QB looks to make amends for the bad showing against Utah. The extra time off may have been good for them, as they can realize that theyre still in a good spot to do big things this season. Look for Goff to get back to business, getting the ball to playmakers like receiver Kenny Lawler, Stephen Anderson, Bryce Treggs, and Trevor Davis. Lawler is a real game-changer and didnt have his best game against the Utes. Khalfani Muhammad and Vic Enwere can do damage out of the backfield against this UCLA bunch, if the Bruins recent leakiness against the run is any indication.
The Golden Bears had their own issues against the run against Utah, with Devontae Booker having a big day, though Cal did well to keep them to 30 points, with all the turnovers and short fields. But they were at least making plays, forcing turnovers from Utah QB Travis Wilson. Some of that zeal shown on defense was keeping them in the game. Its a defense that can be exploited, as they showed against Texas, even though they won the game. But when thinking back to the defenses of recent Cal teams, this one is not so bad. They will give up points, but they can be pretty clutch and arent a total liability.
Look for both teams to approach this crossroads game with urgency. This is the pivotal kind of game that will go a long way toward determining the trajectories of both teams this season. To have a chance, UCLA will need to find another gear and look nothing like the team theyve been in the past few weeks. And will Cal recede back toward the middle of the pack or are they able to bounce back and win a tough one on the road? Many questions abound. Im taking the points.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the Cal Golden Bears plus 3.5 points.
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