Six days after falling to USC in an instant classic, UCLA has little time to dwell on a loss that ended its Pac-12 championship aspirations, with a short week leading up to a matchup at Cal on Saturday.
The Bruins have a Thanksgiving dinner scheduled at their hotel in Berkeley. Then, they’ll attempt to snap their first losing streak of the season and finish the regular season on a strong note at Memorial Stadium.
A win would give UCLA (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12) its first nine-win regular season since 2014, and its first under coach Chip Kelly. It would also put the Bruins one win away from tying a school-record 10 wins — if they win their bowl game.
“Ten (wins) doesn’t mean anything unless you get to nine, so we never get ahead of ourselves or talk about anything longer than that,” Kelly said. “So our attention is on Cal.”
Back-to-back losses to Arizona and USC after starting the season 8-1 have dampened the spotlight around the Bruins, who insist there is still a lot to play for.
Offensive lineman Raiqwon O’Neal said it wasn’t difficult to get right back on the practice field on Sunday night, less than 24 hours after the loss.
“That’s our hunger,” O’Neal said. “We wanted to come out here and get that bad taste out of our mouths.”
Kicker and punter Nicholas Barr-Mira described attempting to find an even-keeled mindset after an emotional game.
“There’s going to be those ups, and there’s going to be those downs,” Barr-Mira said. “The key is getting back to the middle and ready to play for the next game.”
The Bears (4-7, 2-6 Pac-12) have just two conference wins, but snapped a six-game skid last week with a come-from-behind 27-20 win over Stanford in the Big Game. Cal has played two currently-ranked teams tough, losing by one score to both USC and Notre Dame.
UCLA has won four of its last five games against Cal. The Bruins’ last game in Berkeley was in 2018, which was Kelly’s first win as UCLA’s coach.
Kelly said that Cal coach Justin Wilcox’s teams are “always going to compete.” Saturday is likely Cal’s last game of the season, barring a long-shot at bowl appearance as a five-win team.
“It’s their last opportunity to play, and we expect them to throw everything at us,” Kelly said.
Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, playing in his final regular season game, called the loss to USC difficult — but he wanted to end the season on the right note for the 27 seniors on the roster.
“Trying to send those guys out on the right foot,” Thompson-Robinson said. “And the underclassmen understand that. They know that. So we’re just trying to go into Cal and have one last hoorah together on the field.”
When UCLA has the ball
Thompson-Robinson is the fourth most efficient passer in the country — holding a 69.8% completion percentage — but threw three interceptions and also had a fumble against USC.
He will look to rebound against a Cal defense that allows the most passing yards in the Pac-12 at 287.7 per game.
Zach Charbonnet, held to under 100 yards rushing last week for just the second time all season, will look to find triple-digits again. Cal’s rushing defense is in the middle of the pack in the Pac-12, allowing 131.5 yards per game.
The Bruins could see Odua Isibor, a linebacker who spent five years at UCLA before transferring to Cal this season. Isibor has appeared in three games for the Bears.
Thompson-Robinson called Cal’s front seven “big” and said the defense gives different looks on third down.
“Stuff that we’ve been seeing over the past couple weeks that’s been giving us a little bit of trouble, so just making sure we’re cleaning up the twist looks up front on the offensive line,” Thompson-Robinson said.
When Cal has the ball
The Bruins’ defense will look to rebound from allowing 649 yards of total offense to USC against a Cal offense that has sputtered this season, with Wilcox firing offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and offensive line coach Angus McClure prior to the Stanford game.
The Bears had just six points heading into the fourth quarter last week before they were aided by turnovers to go on a 21-point fourth quarter blitz.
Quarterback Jack Plummer, who transferred after spending four years at Purdue, has completed at least 20 passes in each of the last seven games. But he has played behind an inconsistent offensive line, which has had nine different starters this season.
The status of UCLA defensive coordinator Bill McGovern remains uncertain. McGovern was spotted at practice this week, but has missed the last four games due to an unspecified illness.
Cal is last in the Pac-12 in rushing yards at 99.3 yards per game, though freshman running back Jaydn Ott has impressed. Ott leads Pac-12 freshmen running backs in all-purpose yards, touchdowns and rushing touchdowns.
Kelly called Ott tough and hard-nosed, with the ability to finish runs with his speed but also break tackles.
“He’s fast, he’s physical and if he gets to the second level and you don’t get him down, he may be through the third and gone,” Kelly said.
With the team spending Thanksgiving traveling up to the Bay Area, Kelly said he was thankful for his players.
“It’s just as good a group as I’ve ever been around to be with every day,” Kelly said. “They do every day really, really well. They’re consistent in their approach, their attitudes, their mindsets.”
UCLA (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12) vs. Cal (4-7, 2-6 Pac-12)
When: Friday, 1:30 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium
TV/Radio: FOX, AM 570
Line: UCLA by 10