After two weeks of allowing opponents to score almost at will, the UCLA defense will meet its perfect match Saturday: an equally inept Cal offense.
California (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12 Conference) ranks 119th out of 130 FBS teams in scoring with 19.4 points per game. The Golden Bears rank 105th or lower in all major offensive yardage categories: total offense (121st), rushing (110th) and passing (105th).
But Cal’s struggles on offense, which included four games without starting quarterback Chase Garbers, are bested only by UCLA’s historically bad defense. UCLA’s 6.74 yards allowed per play this season would be the most for a Bruins defense since at least 1945, which is the first year in the record book.
The Bruins (4-7, 4-4 Pac-12 Conference) appeared to turn a corner during a three-game winning streak in which the defense gave up 4.7 yards per play against Stanford, Arizona State and Colorado. But after allowing 49 and 52 points to No. 6 Utah and USC, respectively, the glimpse at improvement is a distant memory.
“When we were winning, the best thing we were doing was that everybody was playing together,” outside linebacker Josh Woods said. “The effort and energy was there, we just weren’t executing and communicating to the best of our ability” against USC.
Sophomore safety Stephan Blaylock said the Bruins “lose life” as the game goes on. Opposing offenses rack up yardage and repeatedly drive down the field, while the Bruins dwell on their past mistakes.
UCLA’s yardage allowed this season is even worse than the 2017 defense that set a record for the worst rushing defense in school history at 5.8 yards allowed per rush. The Bruins are now one game away from sealing a different mark of futility: The passing defense allows a soon-to-be school-record 9.31 yards per attempt. The previous high for a season was 8.27 in 1994.
Blaylock, the strong safety who leads the Bruins with 78 tackles, deflected a question about whether he was disappointed in the defense’s performance this season. At this point, with the Bruins out of bowl contention and heading for the wrong end of the record books, sticking to the theme of building toward the future is all Blaylock could do.
“This is a learning lesson,” the Bellflower St. John Bosco alumnus said. “We’ll grow and just learn from everything we did this past season.”
In their second year under defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro, the Bruins have regressed in most major defensive statistical categories, allowing more total yards (460.3 in 2019 compared to 444.9 in 2018), passing yards (318.1 to 245.5) and points per game (35.4 to 34.1). The team has reduced its rushing yards allowed per game by 28.7%, dropping from 199.4 in 2018 to 142.2 this season.
Head coach Chip Kelly said the coaching staff needed to find better ways to disrupt USC quarterback Kedon Slovis last week before the freshman shredded the Bruins for a USC record 515 passing yards. Assistant coaches have not been made available to reporters this season to explain the struggles, leaving players to shoulder responsibility.
“We’re out there playing,” Blaylock said. “We’re out there playing a call and playing against another man so at the end of the day, it’s on us.”
Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson did not practice for the second consecutive day after he left the game against USC last Saturday late in the fourth quarter. The sophomore has battled ankle injuries this season and Kelly said after UCLA’s 52-35 loss to USC that Thompson-Robinson was removed for precautionary reasons after he was sacked on a failed fourth-down play. … Linebackers Krys Barnes and Lokeni Toailoa were among the players working with trainers on the sideline during practice. Both are trying to recover from injuries in time to play in their final college games Saturday.