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UCLA football looks to ‘beat California’ in last-ever Pac-12 contest

Senior defensive lineman Laiatu Latu attempts to break the Trojans’ offensive line. (Joseph Jimenez/Photo editor)

Football


California
Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Rose Bowl
ESPN

By Ira Gorawara

Nov. 25, 2023 11:25 a.m.

This post was updated Nov. 26 at 6:55 p.m.

The Pac-12 became a teenager this year.

Thirteen years ago, the conference coined its current moniker when Utah and Colorado came aboard to make the Pac-10 the Pac-12.

But rather than undergoing the transformative journey that accompanies becoming a young adult, it’ll transform into, well, nothing.

UCLA football (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) will host California (5-6, 3-5) fresh off a dominant effort against USC in the last-ever Pac-12 regular season game. This bout will etch itself into college football history and simultaneously present the Bruins on their mission to beat California.

“One of the last things about the Pac-12 that I love – and I love a lot about this conference and it’s coming to the end – but there was always a battle of, can you win the state of California,” said coach Chip Kelly. “Can you beat Stanford, can you beat ‘SC, and can you beat Cal.”

In less than a month, UCLA crossed off two of those three tasks. The first came in the form of its first road conference win of the season, and the latter came last weekend, when redshirt junior quarterback Ethan Garbers threw 155 yards on 18-for-31 passing to spearhead the victory.

After Garbers vaulted into the offensive limelight, the Bruins will call on their defense to attempt to complete their trifecta.

Cal boasts an average of over 30 points and 400 yards of offense per game for the first time in the coach Justin Wilcox era. After managing just 3.6 yards per rushing attempt last season, the Golden Bears have amassed 4.7 yards per carry this year and hold residence to running back Jaydn Ott – who slates in as fourth in the country in rushing with 118 yards per game.

“They can run the ball, but also pass the ball,” said redshirt senior linebacker Darius Muasau. “They got a great running back, good O-linemen, weapons in the skill positions and a very high-powered offense with a good, young quarterback.”

Following recognition as one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award, senior defensive lineman Laiatu Latu could be vital in UCLA’s effort to create an elixir to complete the team’s third task to officially “beat California.”

Latu’s 13.0 sacks rank second nationally, while he leads the nation in tackles for loss with 1.9 per game. UCLA’s defensive linchpin is inching toward former Bruin Anthony Barr who mustered 13.5 sacks over 10 years ago – and currently leads the program in the category.

As one of just five Bruins in history to be honored as a Lombardi Award finalist, Latu could soon receive the annual acclaim of the country’s most impressive lineman.

“He’s the heart and soul of this defense,” said redshirt junior running back Anthony Adkins. “He’s our emotional leader, he’s our verbal leader, he’s our physical leader, this defense goes with Latu.”

Kelly’s vision has been a compass pointed toward Latu’s potential from the get-go.

“We recruited the heck out of him coming out of high school,” Kelly said. “Ikaika (defensive line/outside linebackers coordinator Ikaika Malloe) knew because Ikaika coached him for two years (at Washington), and when he became available, … we knew he was a special player.”

In the twilight of Pac-12 After Dark, Saturday’s contest will deliver the final whistle on 108 years of Pac-12 history as we know it.

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Ira Gorawara | Assistant Sports editor
Gorawara is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, men's tennis and rowing beats and is a Copy contributor. She was previously a reporter on the men's volleyball and rowing beats. She is also a second-year communication and economics student.
Gorawara is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, men's tennis and rowing beats and is a Copy contributor. She was previously a reporter on the men's volleyball and rowing beats. She is also a second-year communication and economics student.
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