A losing streak is guaranteed to end Saturday in the Sonoran Desert when Cal and Arizona meet. The more noteworthy skid belongs to the host Arizona Wildcats, owners of the nation's longest drought at 20 games.
More than two years have passed since UA last won a game, but the 2021 Wildcats have been close the last two weeks. Defeats of five points on Oct. 22 against Washington, after a double-digit-point lead slipped away, and seven points last week at USC, when a furious rally fell short, suggest Arizona (0-8, 0-5 Pac-12) isn't too far from getting off the schneid.
Cal comes into Arizona Stadium a loser of five straight against the Wildcats — all by single-score deficits and the most recent in 2018 — and winless in Tucson since 2004.
After a rough first half of the season, the Golden Bears (3-5, 2-3 Pac-12) have come alive with consecutive wins over Colorado and Oregon State. The latter was a dominant performance against a Beavers bunch that played its way into the early Pac-12 North title picture.
California at Arizona
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 6 at 3 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Cal -12
When California Has the Ball
In the win over Oregon State, Cal was at its best offensively in any game against FBS competition this season. Quarterback Chase Garbers went a smooth 17-of-26 for 262 yards with three touchdowns, on plays of 32, 38 and 38 yards, and threw no interceptions.
He also showed off his wheels, too, rushing for 58 yards and a touchdown. Garbers' mobility gives Cal a dangerous complement to Christopher Brooks and Damien Moore, the running-back tandem coming off a combined effort approaching 200 yards.
Back-to-back weeks scoring 39 and 26 points suggests the Golden Bears have figured things out on that side of the ball. The long passing scores last week, in particular, bode well for Cal against an Arizona defense that has allowed nine plays of 50-plus yards this season, tied with Rutgers for the second-most such yields among all Power 5 programs.
When Arizona Has the Ball
Arizona's most consistent problem during its current losing streak has been its inability to score. Before visiting USC last week, the Wildcats failed to reach 20 points at any point in 2021.
Arizona more than surpassed that mark with 34 against the Trojans. Quarterback Will Plummer played far and away his best game with 264 yards on 20-of-34 passing. He also rushed for a touchdown as the Wildcats averaged four yards per carry; not an impressive figure on its own, but an improvement from the team's season average.
Wildcat-formation quarterback Jamarye Joiner threw a 75-yard touchdown pass that showed some explosiveness in an offense severely lacking any this season. Joiner sustained an injury at knee USC and has an outside chance of playing against Cal.
While the showing in Los Angeles was a considerable improvement for UA, the Golden Bears bring a much more disciplined defense into Arizona Stadium. Cal is allowing the second-fewest rushing yards per game of any Pac-12 defense and ranks second in turnover margin. Nate Rutchena has a pair of interceptions since joining the lineup in October, supplementing the work of Daniel Scott with a team-high three picks.
Arizona's tantalizingly close calls in recent weeks point to a possible end to the losing streak before season's end, but Cal presents a difficult matchup. The Golden Bears appear to be hitting their stride offensively at the right time for a strong finish to the campaign, and the defense has been close to on par with others in Justin Wilcox's time as head coach.
Prediction: California 28, Arizona 17
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