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Gameday predictions: UCLA vs. California

A last minute change forced UCLA football to face California in the Bruins’ home opener following the cancellation of multiple Pac-12 games. (Axel Lopez/Daily Bruin)

By Jack Perez, Kyle Boal, Sara Hubbard, and Sam Connon

Nov. 14, 2020 5:03 p.m.

Jack Perez
Sports editor
Prediction: UCLA 28, California 21

These Bruins still have a chance this season to turn things around. But they have to win this weekend.

It’s all going to start with junior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. After totaling 412 total yards and five touchdowns, he now just needs to eliminate the turnovers. His fumble and interception proved costly in UCLA’s 48-42 defeat to Colorado, as the Buffaloes were able to score following the interception and stop the Bruins’ comeback after the fumble.

If Thompson-Robinson cuts those turnovers out, his playmaking abilities could overcome a California defense that has yet to play this year after having its opening game canceled.

On the other side of the ball, UCLA’s defense needs to drastically improve after a disaster in Boulder. The unit gave up 525 yards last week and was on the field for 92 plays.

The easiest way to turn this around is to get stops on third down. The Bruins were not terrible here, with the Buffaloes going 9-19, but one or two more stops could have swung the balance in UCLA’s favor.

With the Golden Bears yet to play because of COVID-19 concerns and a hasty rescheduling process, UCLA will step up to the plate, getting a win over a Pac-12 rival under coach Chip Kelly.

Sam Connon
Football beat reporter
Prediction: California 30, UCLA 24

2020 was going to be the first year since 1932 in which the Bruins and Golden Bears didn’t face off on the gridiron.

The streak will extend to 88 years thanks to a handful of COVID-19 cancellations, but UCLA might wish it had gotten the year off.

The Bruins lead the all-time series 54-34-1, but 19 of those wins came in the 1970s and ’80s. The two teams have split the last 20 matchups, with California taking last year’s bout by a score of 28-18.

Cal boasts more roster consistency than UCLA’s Week 1 opponent, Colorado, with its core of coach Justin Wilcox, quarterback Chase Garbers, running back Christopher Brown and linebackers Kuony Deng and Cameron Goode all back for the Bears. If an inexperienced Buffalo team can tear up the Bruins’ transitioning 4-2-5, 3-4 hybrid defense and force four turnovers, expect the Bears and their returning talent to have the same ceiling.

Garbers did enough damage to the UCLA secondary to steal a road win in 2019, but keep in mind that he did underperform in the game. The Bruins had allowed a 170.3 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks in their first 11 games last season, while Garbers only posted a 129.7 rating with 230 yards and an interception in the regular season finale at the Rose Bowl.

Defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro’s defense actually has a chance to keep Garbers relatively in check again, meaning it’s up to Thompson-Robinson and Kelly to put up points early Sunday morning.

UCLA was able to hang 42 last week, but unless the schedule uncertainty and lack of time to gameplan severely throw off California’s defense, don’t expect that to happen again this time around.

After all, Kelly isn’t just 0-3 in season openers – he’s also winless in game twos and home openers since coming to Westwood.

Kyle Boal
Assistant Sports editor
Prediction: UCLA 28, California 17

This is as close to a must win game as it gets.

Kelly has started 0-5 and 0-3 in his first two seasons, respectively, and may very well be on pace for more of the same this season.

UCLA acquired California as its opponent on just two days’ notice, after the original matchup against Utah was canceled because of COVID-19. The Golden Bears are yet to play this year, as their season opener was canceled because of COVID-19 last week.

UCLA entered last week as 6-point favorites, but could never come back from a 35-14 halftime deficit, caused primarily by four first half turnovers. Thompson-Robinson was responsible for two of the turnovers, but despite his poor first-half showing, he finished the game with 412 total yards and five total touchdowns.

The Bruins’ first win of the Kelly era came at the expense of the Golden Bears in 2018, snapping the five-game losing streak to start the season. Last year, however, UCLA was outscored by 10 in a loss to Cal.

Now, in search of the first win of this season, UCLA looks to expand its 54-34-1lead in the all-time series against its Bay Area rivals.

Garbers returns to Cal after posting a 7-2 record in the nine contests he played in last season. However, the Golden Bears lost both starting safeties to the NFL, along with defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander to the Miami Dolphins.

If Thompson-Robinson can limit turnovers, UCLA’s playing experience this year in conjunction with the short-notice nature of the game should be enough to walk out of the Rose Bowl with a win Sunday.

Sara Hubbard
Assistant Copy chief
Prediction: California 50, UCLA 10

Look, I’ll be honest. I really like winning. But that’s just not going to happen.

Thompson-Robinson, unfortunately, is not a good enough quarterback. The fact that I, a copy editor with no real sports knowledge, am able to discern this should be a wake-up call for the junior.

I won’t go into the details of his stats, mostly because I would embarrass myself trying to do so. But I’ve heard through the grapevine that perhaps it’s time for Thompson-Robinson to gracefully exit and let someone else take the reins.

Yes, Thompson-Robinson is the most-experienced quarterback in the Pac-12, but having experience that is bad is worse than having very little experience that is good. Garbers holds the No. 1 spot in all of the school’s passing categories and has started the most games out of any other signal-caller in the Pac-12 right now. All of that leads me to believe Thompson-Robinson doesn’t have a great shot at outperforming Garbers.

The Bears defeated the Bruins pretty handedly in a 28-18 loss last year. And, if UCLA couldn’t take down Colorado last week, it can’t claim victory over anyone. Colorado should have been an easy win, especially given that UCLA defeated the team 31-14 in 2019 – but, alas, it wasn’t. And nor will it be with Cal.

Sure, the game is no longer on Friday the 13th, but I don’t think that will do much to ameliorate the Bruins’ bad luck.

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Jack Perez | Alumnus
Perez was the Sports editor for the 2020-2021 school year. He was previously an assistant Sports editor for the men's volleyball, women's water polo and track and field beats during the 2019-2020 school year and a staff writer on the gymnastics, beach volleyball, women's water polo and men's water polo beats.
Perez was the Sports editor for the 2020-2021 school year. He was previously an assistant Sports editor for the men's volleyball, women's water polo and track and field beats during the 2019-2020 school year and a staff writer on the gymnastics, beach volleyball, women's water polo and men's water polo beats.
Kyle Boal | Sports senior staff
Boal is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the women's water polo beat. He was an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, rowing, swim and dive, men's water polo and women's water polo beats. Boal was previously a contributor on the men's water polo and women's water polo beats.
Boal is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the women's water polo beat. He was an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, rowing, swim and dive, men's water polo and women's water polo beats. Boal was previously a contributor on the men's water polo and women's water polo beats.
Sara Hubbard | Copy senior staff
Hubbard was the 2020-2021 assistant Copy chief. She was a 2019-2020 slot editor and contributes to The Quad, News and Sports.
Hubbard was the 2020-2021 assistant Copy chief. She was a 2019-2020 slot editor and contributes to The Quad, News and Sports.
Sam Connon | Alumnus
Connon joined the Bruin as a freshman in 2017 and contributed until he graduated in 2021. He was the Sports editor for the 2019-2020 academic year, an assistant Sports editor for the 2018-2019 academic year and spent time on the football, men's basketball, women's basketball, baseball, men's soccer, cross country, men's golf and women's golf beats, while also contributing movie reviews for Arts & Entertainment.
Connon joined the Bruin as a freshman in 2017 and contributed until he graduated in 2021. He was the Sports editor for the 2019-2020 academic year, an assistant Sports editor for the 2018-2019 academic year and spent time on the football, men's basketball, women's basketball, baseball, men's soccer, cross country, men's golf and women's golf beats, while also contributing movie reviews for Arts & Entertainment.
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