UCLA football underwent a seismic shake-up following its 28-23 loss last week at USC, with head coach Jim Mora relieved of his duties.
Mora's firing was perhaps not all that surprising: The Bruins' loss dropped them to 0-6 away from home on the season and made the possibly of a second consecutive losing campaign a very real possibility with Cal coming to town for the regular-season finale. The timing, however, puts UCLA in an interesting position with Jedd Fisch filling in as interim head coach.
Fisch took over the offense last offseason and, helped by the return of quarterback Josh Rosen from a shoulder injury, reignited a previously stagnant team. Rosen comes into Friday's contest No. 2 in the nation in passing yards per game and having thrown for more than 800 yards combined in his last two games.
Rosen aims to put on another show for the Rose Bowl audience — and it could be his last there, if not his finale as a Bruin. Friday's result will dictate that, as both teams sit at 5-6 and will play for bowl eligibility.
Cal at UCLA
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 24 at 10:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FS1
Spread: UCLA -7
Three Things to Watch
1. A rosy Rose Bowl exit for Rosen
Whether or not Friday's game is Josh Rosen's last at the Rose Bowl, it is his last there in 2017. And in games played at the venerable stadium in Pasadena, it's been a great 2017. UCLA is 5-0 at home with some memorable moments, like Rosen's 491-yard passing night in a 34-point comeback to beat Texas A&M.
The opportunity for one more memorable night awaits. Rosen returned from concussion protocol that held him out of the Nov. 3 Utah game to light up Arizona State for 381 yards, and he put up 421 yards with three touchdowns, all to wide receiver Jordan Lasley, at USC.
Though the Cal defense has improved by leaps and bounds in head coach Justin Wilcox's (above, right) first year with Tim DeRuyter at coordinator, the Golden Bears rank No. 105 nationally against the pass.
2. Beau Baldwin's run-game approach
Baldwin came on board at Cal as offensive coordinator, bringing with him an impressive track record of cultivating high-powered passing attacks. The Golden Bears have not emulated the same high-flying attack that made Eastern Washington a perennial national title contender in the FCS ranks under Baldwin, but the coach has flipped the script effectively in the Pac-12.
Friday against UCLA, it could tip things in Cal's favor and get the Golden Bears into the postseason.
UCLA's run defense has been woeful much of the season, despite a solid showing last week at USC. Attacking the Bruins on the ground is key, and Baldwin's scheme has maximized the potential of running back Patrick Laird in recent weeks. Laird rolled up 214 yards against Oregon State, and 143 vs. Stanford, with touchdowns in both games.
3. Red-zone opportunities
Failed red-zone chances proved vexing for UCLA against USC. In a game that the Bruins lost by five points, UCLA lost a minimum of six points due to red-zone turnovers.
The Bruins face a Cal defense that has been good in the red zone, holding opponents below 54 percent on conversions. UCLA needs to be able to finish red-zone chances, but the same is true for Cal. The Golden Bears rank 75th in red-zone touchdown conversions at 59.5 percent on the season.
The sudden split from Jim Mora puts UCLA in a tenuous position heading into the season finale, but the combination of the Bruins' perfect record at the Rose Bowl and postseason consideration should have them motivated.
UCLA underachieved in 2017, which put the Bruins in this position to need a win. Cal dramatically overachieved, opening the campaign as the Pac-12 media's choice to finish last place in the North division. Now, the Golden Bears just need to exceed expectations one more time.
Cal's only road win on the season came Sept. 2 against North Carolina. Juxtapose that with UCLA's excellent play at home, and fortune favors Jedd Fisch's team.