BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — California quarterback Kevin Riley spent the bye week watching several Pac-10 games.
His impression? The Golden Bears can’t afford to fall any farther back in the conference standings. Their safety net disappeared two weeks ago in the desert when Cal lost to Arizona 10-9 on a touchdown in the final 75 seconds.
From here on out, the Bears have to be in playoff mode even if there’s nearly two months left on the schedule.
“If you start 0-2, it kind of ruins your hopes of a Pac-10 championship,” Riley said. “Watching some of the games, you could see that every game is going to be a fight, just like our game with Arizona. That’s what the Pac-10 is going to be like this year, every single game.”
Cal, which hosts UCLA on Saturday, is trying to salvage its season after consecutive losses at No. 21 Nevada and No. 9 Arizona. The Bears scored 52 points in each of their first two games but have managed only 40 since then.
At least Cal (2-2, 0-1 Pac-10) has history on its side this week.
The Bears have won five consecutive home games against the Bruins and have averaged 38.3 points over the previous six meetings between the longtime Pac-10 rivals.
UCLA is riding a three-game win streak that includes a 34-12 upset of then-No. 7 Texas on Sept. 25, however.
“I think it’s urgency for our entire season,” Cal running back Shane Vereen said. “We don’t want to feel rushed, we don’t want to feel pressure but I think we all understand that we need to get a win Saturday.”
The Bruins (3-2, 1-1) can keep themselves in the thick of things by ending their five-game losing streak at Strawberry Canyon. UCLA’s last win in Berkeley came on Oct. 24, 1998.
Coach Rick Neuheisel’s team should get a boost from the return of sophomore quarterback Kevin Prince. Prince did not play in the Bruins’ 42-28 win over Washington State because of an injured knee but was cleared after rejoining his teammates in practice this week.
Prince has been up and down all season but the Bruins have countered the inconsistency at quarterback with a stellar ground game anchored by running back Johnathan Franklin. UCLA has gained more than 250 yards rushing in each of the last three games, its best streak in 17 years. Franklin has rushed for 100 yards or more in each of his last three games and is 10th in the country at 125 yards a game.
That’s a product of the Pistol offense UCLA employs. It’s similar to the offense run by Nevada, which racked up 497 yards against Cal on Sept. 17, including 316 on the ground.
Neuheisel, who is 3-3 lifetime against Cal, expects the Bears to be better prepared to defend the Pistol this time around.
“They’re a very athletic defense,” Neuheisel said. “They’ve got good athletes all across the board. Nevada’s offense … can keep you at bay. Hopefully we can get close to that and hopefully do the same. This is going to be a very tall order for us.”
Cal coach Jeff Tedford’s team had trouble containing Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick the first time they faced the Pistol offense. This week, the focus shifts to UCLA’s backfield.
“(Prince) can still make some yards with his legs (but) it’s not Kaepernick,” Tedford said. “They have two great running backs who hit it hard. Even if you get one-on-one with them, if they break a tackle it has potential to be big plays. It seems like they’re really gaining momentum with it.”
Cal’s offense also gets a missing piece back with wide receiver Keenan Allen. Allen has played only a handful of snaps each of the past two games due to a high ankle sprain but still leads the Bears with a 17.6-yard average per catch.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)