The Cal defense

The Cal defense is statistically very good.  It's true that Cal's opponents have not been very good, but then again, the Bruins defensive numbers are not as good, and Cal's opponents have only been marginally worse.

Cal has the number 6 scoring defense, under 11 ppg.  The total defense is 20th, under 290 ypg.  The rushing defense is 21st at 92 ypg.  Thus far, the passing defense has been where the Bears have been truly dominant, because although they give up nearly 200 ypg (still in the top 40), the passing efficiency defense is 5th at a 92 rating.

Tedford is well known for sleeping on his couch and watching endless hours of tape.  I have no doubt that he and his staff have studied the tapes with great interest, particularly the sucessful strategy employed by Washington, which consisted primarilly of stopping the run.  But Washington also had an emphasis on stopping the short passing game, and the Huskies also did a good job of getting their rush in a position to disrupt the passing lanes and knock down passes.

I would expect more of the same.  Certainly, a good coaching staff will adjust.  I'm sure that Dorrell & Co. have also broken down the Washington film and will do their best to address the deficiencies.  Whether it will work is, of course, an open question.

For the Bear defense, junior CB Daymeion Hughes is an excellent defensive back, and was named Pac 10 defensive player of the week for his efforts in last week's 28-0 shutout of Arizona.  Hughes intercepted two passes in the game, and has four interceptions on the season.

Jay Heater of the Contra Costa Times reports on the Bears' defense, which lost its top six tacklers from the 2004 season, but seems to be cruising along:

Bears defensive coordinator Bob Gregory has led his rebuilt unit to a No. 6 national ranking in scoring defense (10.6 ppg) and a No. 20 ranking overall (288.6 ypg).

The biggest loss from last season was All-American defensive end Ryan Riddle, the conference's sack leader with 14.5. To take his place, Cal imported junior college defensive end Nu'u Tafisi, who has four tackles for loss. However, Tafisi has a long way to go to match Riddle's talents.

[snip]

Tosh Lupoi, a starter in 2003, won back his starting position this season but has missed the past three games with a sprained knee. If Cal sophomore Phillip Mbakogu (18 tackles) continues his rapid improvement, the current team could rate an edge soon.

Donnie McCleskey was All-Pac-10 at [rover] in 2003 before being slowed by shoulder and knee injuries. McCleskey is back to 100 percent

[snip]

[Defensive tackle] Brandon Mebane is a rare talent. If anyone is watching, he should be in the running for All-American consideration. He simply blows up offensive linemen.

[snip]

[The other DTs are] Albert Ma'afala and 305-pound wrecking ball Matthew Malele. Ma'afala has been one of the surprises of the early season for the Bears.

[At OLB] junior college All-American Desmond Bishop...has led the Bears in tackles in four of the first five games.

[snip]

Senior Ryan Foltz, obviously more seasoned this year, returns to his starting outside linebacker spot while the other outside linebacker position has been manned by sophomore Greg Van Hoesen and freshmen Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder.

[snip]

The 2005 cornerbacks get the edge over the 2004 squad. Daymeion Hughes (four interceptions this season) is more experienced while Tim Mixon reclaims the starting cornerback spot he held in 2003 before blowing out his knee. Last season's starting corner, Harrison Smith, moved to free safety this year

[snip]

Of course, the 2004 defenders proved their worth over a full season while this year's defense just begins to face top Pac-10 teams on Saturday when it plays UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

But the Bears, who haven't allowed an offensive touchdown in 10 quarters, expect more low numbers.

"Having pitched a shutout (against Arizona) will be big in terms of our confidence going into the Rose Bowl," Mixon said.

Recruiting junkies will remember many of these names, especially Melele and Mebane, as sought-after recruits that the Bruins pursued but were unable to land.

This report is extensive, and I recomment reading the whole thing.  Of particular interest (and trepidation) is that the Bears defensive has not allowed an offensive touchdown for 10 quarters.  Yikes.

With this sort of talent on the DL, the Cal defense may well succeed in stopping the running game.  Nestor has commented on the changing strategy of opposing DCs:

the Huskies coaches seemed to have tweaked their defesnive scheme by moving their DBs up and not only taking away our running game, but breaking up the rhythm of our short passing game through most of first three quarters. Put it simply, until DO got his groove back, our passing game which often seems to primarily feature a horizontal attack using our TEs, backs, and wide receivers in short-medium range, was in disarray.  Lot of it had to do with DO simply not being in rhythm but also a lot of pressure the Washington defense put on our young receivers.

I would have to think the Cal staff will be watching a lot of the tape from Saturday's game and may take in or implement some of the defensive strategies Willingham's staff effectively used in our last game.  Which brings me to this EDSBS post on stopping Urban Meyer's passing scheme, which is heavily dependent on a horizontal passing scheme.   Orson and co, who are still recovering from their TTown funk, wrote about how the Tide defense effectively stopped the Gators short yardage passing game

The counter to this strategy can be accomplished in various ways.  First, the analogy to what Tennessee and Alabama did against Florida is helpful, but Meyer's offense and the so-called west coach offense are not the same.  As UCLA utilizes fullbacks and TEs much more than Florida, part of the strategy used against Florida would be misguided.  Also, UCLA does not run the spread option.  

However, the basic point is about stopping the short passing game, which Washington was able to do.

The remedy is to successfully stretch the field vertically.  But given that the UCLA WRs are extremely inexperienced, especially with Junior Taylor injured, this may be difficult.  Even one of the signature long passing plays to Everett was simply a short out, but Everett was able to juke a few defenders out of their shoes.

Defenses are increasingly attempting to bracket Marcedes Lewis, as he is clearly the number one target for Drew Olson, and the biggest receiving threat.  

However, TE seam routes can still be effective in attempting to counter this type of defense.  

The UCLA offense additionally seemed to repeatedly go to the screen play or simple swing passes to backs to substitute for the lack of a running game.  Some were successful, but as the game wore on, the Huskies seemed to improve at sniffing out and stuffing these plays as well.  

I don't know exactly how much man and zone the Bears typically play, nor whether they tend to run two-deep or three deep.  But a two-deep zone tends to be more effective at stopping the short passing game for the simple reason that there are five defenders available to patrol the short zones instead of four in a three deep zone.

However this opens up three holes deep, straight down the middle and deep down the sidelines.  And of course, success can typically be acheived against zones of all stripes by throwing underneath the deep men, but behind the short me.    However, this type of intermediate route requires a great deal of accuracy, and mistakes can turn into interceptions, or a poorly thrown ball can mean that the receiver will take a good deal of punishment from head-hunting safeties.

That's the very basic strategy that any good coach should attempt to use.  Whether or not this is what Dorrell and Cable will attempt, and how much success there will be, will of course decide the game.  There is of course a lot more to it, as the Bears will surely attempt to confuse and pressure Drew into mistakes, particularly if they can stop the running game and the short passes.

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