Coming off a heartbreaking loss that dashed its Pac-12 championship hopes, No. 18 UCLA tries to regroup and finish its season on a high note when it travels to Berkeley, Calif., for a matchup with Cal on Friday.
The Bruins (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12) fell from College Football Playoff contention to out of the hunt for the league title with consecutive losses to Arizona on Nov. 12 and USC on last week.
The latter was a high-scoring, dramatic, back-and-forth contest in which UCLA was driving late with a chance to spoil its crosstown rival’s own playoff hopes, but Dorian Thompson-Robinson had a pass intercepted on the decisive play of the 48-45 contest.
“It hurts, but we want to end this thing on the right foot,” Thompson-Robinson said of switching gears on a short week to prepare for Cal. “We have 20-something seniors on this team, guys I played with here forever. Trying to send those guys out on the right foot, and the underclassmen know that, they understand that.”
Thompson-Robinson passed for four touchdowns and rushed for two in the shootout against USC, continuing to add to the best of his five seasons at UCLA and moving closer to various Bruins records.
Already UCLA’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns with 85, Thompson-Robinson is 474 yards shy of passing Cade McNown as the program’s all-time leader in passing yards. McNown finished with 10,708 yards through the air.
“One of (Thompson-Robinson’s) greatest qualities — and I say it all the time — is his toughness,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said. “He’s as tough a quarterback as I’ve ever been around, and that’s just the type of kid he is. … He’s going to play the game and give it all he has.”
Cal (4-7, 2-6) had its bowl hopes dashed amid a six-game losing streak, but the Golden Bears can conclude the season with some positive momentum and a winning streak.
They outlasted rival Stanford 27-20 last week thanks to a fourth-quarter rally.
Cal rolled off 21 consecutive points in the final period, which included Jaydn Ott catching a two-point conversion pass after Jackson Sirmon’s 37-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown, then Ott producing the win-sealing touchdown run with less than a minute remaining in the game.
Ott comes in with 842 yards rushing, sixth best among all freshmen in the nation. He became the first true freshman in program history to eclipse 100 yards in his debut, and he holds the conference’s single-game high this season with 274 yards against Arizona.
If he can gain 158 yards on Friday, Ott would become the conference’s first freshman to reach 1,000 since Jermar Jefferson of Oregon State in 2018, and Cal’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Patrick Laird in 2017.
Meanwhile, Golden Bears quarterback Jack Plummer looks to finish strong after underwhelming performances the past two weeks against Oregon State and Stanford. He finished with 147 yards and an interception in the loss to the Beavers, and he threw two interceptions in the red zone against the Cardinal.
“I’ve just got to take those out of the memory bank,” Plummer said. “I knew what was wrong seconds after the play was over. I don’t need to go back and watch the film to say, ‘Hey, I shouldn’t have thrown that.’”
–Field Level Media