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October 20, 2007

California at UCLA Preview

Game Ticker

Entering last week, California was the No. 2 team in the country and UCLA was coming off its second loss of the season. One week later, the Bruins have the upper hand in the Pac-10.

Now ranked No. 10, California looks to bounce back from its first loss and help its chances of repeating as conference champion while UCLA tries to remain undefeated in Pac-10 play when the teams meet at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.

The Golden Bears (5-1, 2-1) won their first five games, including their first two in conference, en route to the No. 2 spot in the Oct. 7 AP poll - their highest ranking since they were No. 1 on Oct. 16, 1951. Their national championship hopes, however, took a big hit after last Saturday's 31-28 loss to Oregon State.

Backup quarterback Kevin Riley nearly helped engineer a comeback, but his mistake in the game's final seconds cost the Bears a shot at a game-tying field goal. Cal marched to the Oregon State 12-yard line with 14 seconds left, and decided to run one more play before kicking.

With his receivers covered, Riley ran up the middle instead of throwing the ball away to stop the clock. He was tackled inbounds and time expired before the field-goal unit could take the field. Cal fell 31-28, becoming the 10th team in the Top 10 to lose to an unranked opponent this season.

"It hurts," said Riley, who started in place of the injured Nate Longshore. "I'm hurting and the team is hurting right now, but we can still win the rest of our games. In this college football season, you don't know what the hell is going to happen."

The final play overshadowed the fact that Riley fared well in his first career start, completing 20 of 34 passes for 294 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

Riley, who also ran for a score last week, could play against UCLA if Longshore is still struggling with a sprained ankle he suffered in a win over Oregon on Sept. 29. Longshore's status for this week remains uncertain.

Regardless of who's under center on Saturday, the Bears don't plan to linger on last week's defeat.

"We take this as a lesson," said linebacker Worrell Williams, a key member of last year's team that shared the conference title with Southern California. "We had visions of going undefeated and aspirations and dreams. But this is reality. The season isn't over. This is just an obstacle that we have to get through."

The upcoming schedule could be another obstacle for Cal, which visits UCLA and No. 12 Arizona State - the only two remaining undefeated teams in Pac-10 play - over the next two weeks.

The Bruins (4-2, 3-0) have won six straight conference games since a 38-24 loss at Cal last Nov. 4. This season, they're averaging 43.0 points per game in three games within the Pac-10, compared with 13.0 against non-conference opponents.

UCLA's offensive struggles outside the Pac-10 continued against Notre Dame on Oct. 6, as the Bruins managed only 282 total yards of offense in a 20-6 defeat. Quarterback Ben Olson was knocked out of the game in the first quarter, and won't return for three or four weeks because of a partial tear of the lateral collateral ligament in his left knee.

"We have to get our health back and get ready to play a great Cal football team," said UCLA coach Karl Dorrell, whose team has had two weeks to prepare. "We're in pretty good shape in conference. We have to get past this loss and find out how to be better in our conference."

Olson's backup Patrick Cowan is also sidelined due to a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. It's uncertain if he'll be healthy enough to play against Cal. If he can't, the quarterback job could fall to walk-on McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who completed 12 of 28 passes for 139 yards with four interceptions against Notre Dame.

The home team has won seven straight games in this series since Cal's 17-0 victory at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 16, 1999. UCLA leads the all-time series 48-28-1, and is 26-11-1 against the Golden Bears in Los Angeles.



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