The Bruins attend Thanksgiving dinner at their hotel in Berkeley. Then, they would attempt to snap their first losing streak of the season and finish the regular season on a high note at Memorial Stadium.
The win would give UCLA (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12) its first regular season nine-win season since 2014, and its first under head coach Chip Kelly. It would also put the Bruins one win away from a school-record 10 wins — if they win the 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 taken the spotlight off the Bruins, who insist there is still plenty to play for.
Offensive lineman Raygon O’Neal said it wasn’t hard to get straight back on the court Sunday night, less than 24 hours after the loss.
“This is our hunger,” O’Neill said. “We wanted to get out here and get that bad taste out of our mouths.”
Kicker and Punter Nicholas Bar-Mira described trying to find an equal mindset after an emotional game.
“There will be those ups, there will be those ups and downs,” Bar-Mira said. “The key is to get back in the middle and be ready to play in the next game.”
The Bears (4-7, 2-6 Pac-12) have only two wins in conference, but snapped six games last week with a come-from-behind 27-20 victory over Stanford in the big game. Cal has played two teams in the current standings tough, losing by one score each to 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 a UCLA coach.
Cal coach Justin Wilcox’s teams will “always be competitive,” Kelly said. Saturday’s game will likely be Cal’s last game of the season, barring a long bowl shot appearance as a five-win team.
“It’s their last chance to play,” Kelly said, “and we expect them to throw everything at us.”
Quarterback Dorian Thompson Robinson, who was playing his last games of the regular season, called the loss to USC a hard one — but he wanted to finish the season on the right note for the 27 great players on the roster.
“Trying to send these guys off on the right foot,” said Thompson-Robinson. “And the underclassmen understand that. They know that. So we’re just trying to go to Cal and have a final shout out together on the field.”
When UCLA has the ball
Thompson-Robinson is the fourth-most efficient passer in the country — he has a 69.8% completion percentage — but he has thrown three interceptions and also had a tackle against USC.
He’ll be looking to bounce back against a Cal defense that allows the most passing yards in the Pac-12 at 287.7 per game.
Zach Charbonnet, who was kept under 100 yards last week for only the second time all season, will be looking to find triple figures 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 moving to Cal, this season. Isibor appeared in three games for the Bears.
Thompson-Robinson called Cal’s front seven “the big” and said the defense gives a different look on third down.
“The things we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks have been giving us a little bit of trouble, so just make sure we clean up the twist up front up front,” said Thompson-Robinson.
When Cal has the ball
The Bruins defense will look to bounce back from allowing 649 yards of total offense to USC against a Cal offense that has faded this season, with Wilcox releasing offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and offensive line coach Angus McClure before the Stanford game.
The Bears had just six points going into the fourth quarter last week before he helped them on turnovers to go 21-point in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Jack Plummer, who transferred after spending four years at Purdue, has completed at least 20 passes in each of his last seven games. But he played behind an erratic offensive line that had nine different starters this season.
The status of UCSD Defensive Coordinator Bill McGovern remains uncertain. McGovern has been spotted in training this week, but has missed the last four games due to an unspecified illness.
Cal finished last in the Pac-12 at 99.3 rushing yards per game, though freshman running back Jaydn Ott was impressed. The Outback leads 12 junior running backs in all-purpose yards, touchdowns, and rushing touchdowns.
Kelly described Ott as tough and hard-nosed, with the ability to finish runs with his speed but also at breaking tackles.
“He’s fast, he’s physical and if he gets to level two and you don’t bring him down, he may be through level three and gone,” Kelly said.
With the team spending Thanksgiving traveling to the Bay Area, Kelly said he was grateful for his players.
“It’s as good a band as I’ve ever been to be with every day,” said Kelly. “They are doing really well every day. They are consistent in their approach, their attitudes, their mindset.”
UCLA (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12) vs. Cal (4-7, 2-6 Pac-12)
When: Friday 1:30 pm
TV/Radio: Fox, AM 570
Line: University of California, Los Angeles, by 10