Win over UCLA is cru­cial to bowl hopes this sea­son for Cal

Cal needs a vic­tory over UCLA to­day if it wants to play in a bowl game

The Mercury News - - Sports - By Jeff Fa­raudo Cor­re­spon­dent

BERKE­LEY >> Cal reaches the half­way point of its foot­ball sched­ule to­day fac­ing this re­al­ity: Beat a team that is 0-5 for the first time in 75 years or face the likely prospect of an­other sea­son without a bowl game. A harsh assess­ment? Hardly. The Bears (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12) take on UCLA (0-5, 0-2) at Memo­rial Sta­dium in the an­nual Joe Roth Memo­rial Game in what fig­ures to be one of only two matchups in which they are fa­vored the rest of the sea­son.

Even with a vic­tory, the Bears must van­quish Ore­gon State (1-5) on the road a week from now and find an­other win among five op­po­nents (Wash­ing­ton, Wash­ing­ton State, USC, Stan­ford, Colorado) with a com­bined record of 23-6 in or­der to reach six wins and bowl el­i­gi­bil­ity.

But with a loss to the Bru­ins, the road ahead be­comes much steeper.

Cer­tainly the Bears can­not lose to a UCLA team that is 0-5 for the first time since 1943, right?

Not so fast. Even Cal’s coaches say the Bru­ins look noth­ing like a win­less op­po­nent. Af­ter los­ing three in a row by more than 20 points, first-year coach Chip Kelly’s squad gave No. 7 Wash­ing­ton a scare last week be­fore los­ing 31-24.

Cal of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Beau Bald­win knows it sounds like “coach talk,” but he said flip on the video­tape and “you’d be sur­prised if you said that’s an 0-5 team. It means noth­ing. They’re lean­ing to­ward play­ing their best foot­ball.”

Here are three keys to the Bears play­ing their best to­day

af­ter con­sec­u­tive losses to open the Pac-12 sched­ule: QUAR­TER­BACK PLAY, AL­WAYS >> Bran­don McIl­wain got his first start last week at Ari­zona and passed for 315 yards while run­ning for 107 more and two touch­downs. He also had four sec­ond-half turnovers, giv­ing him seven in two games. Four of those seven were re­turned for touch­downs.

The Bears hope to ex­tract the good stuff and elim­i­nate the mis­takes from Mcil­wain’s game, but

no one is wor­ried about his de­meanor.

“I haven’t no­ticed any dip in his con­fi­dence,” run­ning back Pa­trick Laird said. “He’s a ma­ture guy, but it’s not just Bran­don. Ev­ery­body has to work to­gether to cor­rect all the mis­takes.” RE­DUCE PENAL­TIES >> Cal was flagged 13 times for 115 yards of penal­ties at Ari­zona, and six of them were false starts. The Wild­cats trig­gered some of that by call­ing out false counts, so the Bears ad­dressed the prob­lem this week.

“We’ve got scout guys out here scream­ing at them be­fore the snap,” Bald­win said of the of­fen­sive line. “We need to put them in

the tough­est, stress­ful sit­u­a­tions in prac­tice so the game feels eas­ier.”

Promised guard Michael Saf­fell: “That will never hap­pen again. It will be cor­rected.”

PLAY WITH UR­GENCY >> The Bears try to ap­proach things with an even keel, an ap­proach that trick­les down from coach Justin Wilcox. Feel­ing too great a sense of ur­gency af­ter con­sec­u­tive losses might only serve to cre­ate a tense mind­set.

But the Bears need to play with ur­gency. An early lead can do won­ders to dis­cour­age an op­po­nent that hasn’t had suc­cess, and can en­er­gize a crowd hop­ing for some­thing to cheer about.

CHRIS CODUTO — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Cal quar­ter­back Bran­don McIl­wain is back for more to­day af­ter his first start last week against Ari­zona when he passed for 315 yards and ran for 107.

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