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UCLA, Cal Are Left With Empty Feeling

Despite high-scoring offenses, sparse attendance is expected at game that conflicts with World Series.

October 19, 2002|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

BERKELEY -- It's the SoCal vs. NoCal matchup nobody is talking about.

Instead of rally monkeys, there will be caricatures of bears.

Instead of a sea of red, there will be empty seats in Strawberry Canyon.

Instead of newfangled noise sticks, there will be the traditional racket: Marching bands. Chanting cheerleaders. Colliding helmets.

And echoes. Plenty of those.

Memorial Stadium will be barely half full for today's game between UCLA and California, which begins an hour before the Angels and San Francisco Giants square off in the World Series opener.

The 40,000 or so fans in attendance no doubt would appreciate the Bears' performing true to form.

That is, scoring in abundance early. Cal (4-3, 1-2) has outscored opponents, 90-26, in first quarters and 73-29 in second quarters.

Maybe that way, everyone can safely start paying attention to Bonds and Baker and Salmon and Scioscia.

UCLA (4-2, 1-1), of course, has other ideas. If history holds, the Bruins won't fold if they fall behind early. They scored first in both of their losses but in only one of their victories.

Scoring, in fact, is the least of either team's problems. This promises to be another Pac-10 shootout.

First-year Cal Coach Jeff Tedford, the sleep-deprived former Oregon offensive coordinator, has turbo-charged the Bear offense and the arm of senior quarterback Kyle Boller.

Cal has scored more touchdowns than any Pac-10 team (34) and Boller has thrown for 18 of them. Most impressive, Tedford has invigorated the attack without causing it to become reckless--the Bears have committed only nine turnovers and hold a conference-leading plus-13 turnover ratio.

"Jeff is a wheeler-dealer," UCLA Coach Bob Toledo said. "He likes to have fun and throw in some trick plays. I like him. He's a good friend. He reminds me a lot of me when I was young."

Tedford, 40, is 16 years younger than Toledo, who also cut his teeth as an Oregon offensive coordinator. But he is so determined to turn around a program that had become the worst in the conference that he might be aging fast.

Tedford and several of his assistants sleep at Memorial Stadium Sunday through Wednesday nights, working until after midnight and rising at 6 a.m. Some of his offensive brainstorms come during the middle of the night.

Toledo drives home every night, but don't be surprised if the old dog tries tricks of his own.

UCLA scored from 53 yards on a gimmick play against Oregon last week and Toledo employs some kind of subterfuge every week. A difference is that Tedford has used gadget plays to score from the red zone.

"He runs trick plays down there inside the 20," Toledo said. "They score and score quickly. He'll out-trick me this week."

Cal is extraordinarily successful from close range, scoring on 28 of 29 trips to the red zone.

"Jeff really understands defenses," UCLA defensive coordinator Phil Snow said. "He finds a way to have three or four different plays that create problems for you or take advantage of a matchup. And then they're very good at executing those plays."

Boller completed only 47% of his passes in three years before Tedford arrived. This season he has connected on 57% for 1,699 yards. Running back Joe Igber is invigorated as well, already rushing for 582 yards after gaining only 399 during an injury-plagued 2001 season.

The turnaround from last season's 1-10 record could become the biggest one-year flip since a 2-7 record in 1946 was followed by a 9-1 mark in Coach Pappy Waldorf's first season.

At this point last year, the Bears were 0-7, losing by an average score of 45.7 to 17.5. UCLA beat them, 56-17, with Boller out because of an injury.

This year Cal is outscoring opponents, 38.7 to 26.4. The losses, by a total of 14 points, are to Air Force, Washington State and USC, all currently in the top 20. And the Bears beat then-No. 15 Michigan State and then-No. 12 Washington.

"The talent here was better than I realized," Tedford said. "And we are playing better together. Offense, defense and special teams, all three phases are going well. The team is like a family, and that is different than what happened in the past."

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