The UCLA Bruins have been awful defensively while getting blown out the last two games following a 4-0 start and they should have their hands full with California Thursday.
The ranked team looks like a dangerous underdog Thursday night vs. one of the preseason favorites to win the Pac-12 South that has now dropped from the rankings after two awful performances as the 20th ranked California Golden Bears (5-1, 4-2 ATS) pay a visit to the reeling UCLA Bruins (4-2, 2-3-1 ATS) at Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, CA at 9:00 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has California as a road underdog for this contest with the current line at +3½ with odds of -115.
Darkhorse Playoff Contenders No More
We thought the Bruins offered great value at +3200 to win the national championship as legitimate darkhorse candidates to crash the College Football Playoff before the season, what with 18 returning starters including 10 on offense, and they even gave us hope with a 4-0 start to this year. However, they have folded early each of the last two weeks when faced with a bit of adversity, resulting in blowout losses to Arizona State here at home and to Stanford on the road.
Meanwhile, California was the winning college football pick in its first five games and it was then valiant in defeat, giving undefeated and third ranked Utah its toughest game to date in a 30-24 loss on the road in Salt Lake City its last game on October 10th, covering the point spread as a 7½-point underdog. Moreover, the Golden Bears would have pulled the upset if quarterback Jared Goff did not throw five interceptions, offsetting 340 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Defense Feeling Injury Impact
While UCLA returned as many players as any team in the country, the defense has been decimated by season-ending injuries to each of the three levels of defense, losing defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, cornerback Fabian Moreau and most notably linebacker Myles Jack. And it has been obvious the last two games that the Bruins lack the depth to overcome those key losses.
First, UCLA took on a spread offense here at home in Arizona Stare as was never really in contention while tasting defeat for the first time this season 38-23. Then the Bruins went on the road vs. a pro style offense and gave even less resistance while getting destroyed 56-35 by Stanford in Palo Alto, where a couple of late cosmetic touchdowns actually made the score closer than it should have been after Stanford led 56-20.
Now the Bruins go back to facing the spread offense again favored by California Coach Sonny Dykes, so as if UCLA did not have enough problems already making stops with backup defenders at every level, facing a different style from the prior game for the third straight time has to make things even more disconcerting for the defense.
As for the offense, the one position that did not have a returning starter was the most important one, and freshman quarterback Josh Rosen, although talented, is going through growing pains while completing just 59.0 percent of his passes overall and averaging a pedestrian 7.47 yards per pass attempt, and that completion percentage is at a terrible 53.7 percent over the last two losses.
Extra Preparation Time
California has had some extra time to prepare for this game it had a bye following that narrow loss at Utah, and the offensive-minded Coach Dykes is dangerous even vs. the best of defenses with extra time to prepare, let alone vs. a defense struggling at horrific levels like the UCLA unit is right now. The Golden Bears rank 12th in the country in points scored with 40.2 per game and an identical 12th in total offense with 517.7 yards per contest.
As you might expect from a Dykes-coached team, the offense has been a bit one dimensional ranking eighth in the county in passing with Goff under center at 355.3 passing yards per game and only 77th in rushing.
However, it is not as if the Golden Bears cannot run the ball if they want to as they are averaging a commendable 162.3 rushing yards per game on 4.3 yards per carry, and we would not be surprised to see Dykes mix in more runs after seeing the UCLA defense get gashed for 310 rushing yards on 6.5 yards per carry by Stanford.
And then there is a California defense that is allowing 24.5 points and 394.8 total yards per game. That may not sound like much, but this is certainly a defense trending in the right direction after surrendering 39.7 points and 511.7 total yards per game last year, now playing good enough defense not to lose the game on its own given the quality of the offense.
Time for Double Revenge?
Finally, California has double revenge in mind here. The Golden Bears were on the verge of upsetting the Bruins back home in Berkley last season as they were in field goal range in the waning seconds trailing 36-34 when Jared Goff threw an interception on a questionable decision. And the Bruins won in a blowout 37-10 the last time the Bears visited Pasadena two years ago.
UCLA had the clearly better team each of the last two years though, which almost certainly is not the case right now, so take the points with California and do not be surprised by an outright upset when they visit the Bruins on ESPN Thursday.
College Football Pick: California +3½ (-115)