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California vs. UCLA Football Prediction and Preview

Chase Garbers, California Golden Bears Football

Chase Garbers and the Golden Bears must defeat the Bruins on Saturday to keep their bowl hopes alive

Following its 62-33 blowout of USC on Nov. 20, UCLA head coach Chip Kelly said in his postgame press conference that his focus had already turned toward California.

The Bruins can lock up eight wins and improve their bowl outlook with a victory over the Golden Bears. But Cal comes in with its own postseason considerations at stake, needing wins over UCLA and in the rescheduled season finale against sputtering USC just to become bowl eligible.

The mutual stakes should make for an exciting regular-season finale in Pasadena and some potential #Pac12AfterDark energy one last time in 2021.

California at UCLA

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 27 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: UCLA -6.5

When California Has the Ball

Up-and-down play on offense throughout Cal's season has been on a decided upswing of late. The Golden Bears played two of their best offensive games in the wins over Oregon State and Stanford, bookending the loss at Arizona when Chase Garbers was among the multitude of Golden Bears sidelined due to COVID testing.

Garbers was electric in last week's Big Game with 246 passing yards, another 59 rushing, and a pair of touchdowns. His dual-threat playmaking is a nice complement to running backs Christopher Brooks and Marcel Dancy, who pounded Stanford's anemic rush defense for 223 combined rushing yards with a pair of Darcy touchdowns.

Cal faces a considerably better rush defense this weekend in UCLA. The Bruins rank No. 28 nationally against the run, leveraging the collective speed they show in their base 4-2-5 defense to try limiting big plays on the ground.

The give from that take is that the Bruins' pass coverage has been soft at times. Garbers will need to attack with Trevon Clark, Cal's outstanding home-run threat who averages almost 21 yards per reception.

When UCLA Has the Ball

Dorian Thompson-Robinson put forth a performance for the ages in UCLA's emphatic defeat of USC. Thompson-Robinson has played some of his best football in 2021, and he has an opportunity to shine at the Rose Bowl one more time.

His two-way playmaking bolstered the Bruins'rushing attack with Brittain Brown sidelined against USC, providing a secondary option to complement powerful running back Zach Charbonnet.

Charbonnet's been excellent at times for UCLA this season. He faces a considerable test this week from a Cal defense that ranks in the nation's top 25 against the run. Cameron Goode is one of the Pac-12's most talented ball-pursuing linebackers, and Luc Bequette is adept at plugging gaps at the line.

UCLA's passing attack has made effective use of tight end Greg Dulcich to attack the middle of the field, and Dulcich's athleticism often turns mid-range passes into long gains. That stretches out the defense for DTR to hit wide receiver Kyle Philips on the explosive routes.

Final Analysis

UCLA can finish this season with a flourish and earn its first nine-win campaign since 2014 if it wins out. The Bruins' collective experience has shown up in routs of Colorado and USC. 

Maintaining its performance week-to-week has been the most vexing issue for UCLA this season, but the Bruins seemed to have turned a corner over the last six quarters. While a full-strength Cal team has proven its mettle with a signature win against Oregon State and blowout of Stanford, the Golden Bears face a tough matchup at the Rose Bowl.

Prediction: UCLA 35, California 24 

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— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45 and subscribe to his newsletter, The Press Break.