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Cal Numbers & Notes: v. Bear Defense

So let’s start look through some of  the numbers of our next opponent (focusing on their defense). Cal is coming into this game with a record of 4-2 and right in the thick of the race for the Rose Bowl with 1 loss in conference play. Yet there is a sense of discomfort up in Strawberry Canyon. Mario Gomez from CalSportsDigest has a little recap of the “up and down” first half of 2008 season (excerpting here since the article wasn’t behind a subscription firewall at the time I wrote this post):

California’s season has been up and down thus far through the first half of 2008. The win over Michigan State to start the season looked huge until the Spartans were plastered 45-7 by Ohio State this past weekend. They subsequently fell out of the top 25. The opening road loss at Maryland looked very bad on September 13; however, the Terps are now 5-2 and in contention for the ACC Atlantic division title. Nonetheless, last Saturday night’s showing in Tucson was arguably Cal’s worst performance of the year.

The Bears built a solid 10-point halftime lead only to be outscored 28-3 in the third quarter to lose 42-27. The loss not only knocked Cal out of the top 25, but also it came against a Pac-10 foe, a foe the Bears should have beaten. Now, at 4-2 and 2-1 in conference, the Bears face an uphill battle to secure one of the conference's top three bowl slots. Cal should be able to lock up a bowl berth regardless with three of the four remaining home games coming against Pac-10 teams with records at .500 or below. Yet just one week ago, it looked like Cal had a great shot to be in the top 15 heading into its matchup with USC on November 8.

With goals readjusted, quarterbacks issues still unresolved, no proven wide receivers, and the lack of an effective game plan, Cal must regroup midway and not fold as it did last season.

I wouldn’t get too giddy about Cal’s roller coaster ride though. Jon Wilner from the San Jose Mercury News gives us another perspective on Cal’s 2008 season:

On the whole, the Bears have played well this season. But they’ve had two miserable quarters: The first at Maryland and the third at Arizona.

In those 30 minutes, they’ve been outscored 42-6. In the other 330 minutes, the tally is 218-90 in their favor.

So can the Bruins count on Cal imploding for a quarter next Saturday? Well the odds are overwhelmingly against us (not a shocker that we are 18 point dogs) at this point. Cal is also looking at UCLA as the “perfect opponent” to rebound from last weekend’s loss. From Mario again:

UCLA is a perfect opponent for the Bears to rebound and get back in the win column. The Bruins are fresh off a 23-20 win over Stanford at the Rose Bowl, but they have struggled on the road. UCLA is averaging just 307.7 yards of total offense per game, including less than 100 yards rushing per game. Cal’s stout rush defense was exploited by Arizona, but UCLA should not be able to have the same success. True freshman running back Derrick Coleman has rushed for 191 yards this season for the UCLA. Khalil Bell has added 187 – only averaging 2.5 yard per carry – through an injury-riddled season. Quarterback Kevin Craft has been effective at times, but he can be mistake prone. He has thrown for 1,518 yards and seven touchdowns, but has completed just 58.5% of his passes.

So with those notes in the background here are the statistics matching up the Bruin offense v. the Bear defense:

Bruin Offense 07 Rank Per Game Bear Defense 07 Rank Per Game
Rushing Offense 9 90.86 Rushing Defense 3 109.00
Pass Offense 6 216.86 Pass Defense 7 200.50
Pass Eff. Offense 7 111.68 Pass Eff. Defense 3 102.43
Total Offense 9 307.71 Total Defense 4 309.50
Scoring Offense 7 20.43 Scoring Defense 3 22.00

This is a better Bear defensive unit than the one against which we pulled of a Dorrellian upset win last season. The Bears changed up their defensive scheme to 3-4 after running a base 4-3 set in previous seasons. One of the main reasons behind this change was to take advantage of good linebackers on the Bear’s roster (or another way to look at it would be to mask shortage of good “linemen”). From’s pre season preview:

STRONGEST AREA: The move to the 3-4 wouldn't be possible if Cal didn't have four potential starting linebackers. The Bears' three starting linebackers from last year return. Two 100-plus tacklers, Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder, will play inside. Mike Mohamed, who had 46 tackles as a true freshman in a backup role, will team with Follett at outside linebacker.

BIGGEST PROBLEM: Cal is attempting to mask its troubles by using three down linemen. End Tyson Alualu, tackle Mika Kane and tackle/end Cody Jones are returning starters, but lackluster line play was a big reason the Bears were last in the Pac-10 in sacks and tackles for loss. Davis can be a playmaker at the other end spot, but he has not played a full season in his career.

OVERVIEW: Cal returns enough experience and talent to be competitive, especially if the transition to the 3-4 goes smoothly. The linebacker corps isn't quite as good as USC's, but Cal can make a strong case for No. 2 in the league at the position. Junior Syd'Quan Thompson and sophomore Chris Conte form a solid cornerback tandem, but the secondary needs a replacement for free safety Thomas DeCoud - last season's leading tackler. The new free safety is expected to be Marcus Ezeff, who started four times at strong safety last season. Bernard Hicks is back, and he started the bulk of the games at strong safety.

Well so far this season the Bear rush defense had done pretty well until it was mauled for 140 yards by Arizona’s back up freshman running back. The tackling from Cal's secondary was also pretty sloppy. I don't expect that to be the case this weekend in Berkeley. I think it will be a huge challenge for the Bruin offense to get a running game going against a ticked off Bear’s defense.

As we have mentioned ad nausea one thing I would really like to see is coaches increasing the reps for Coleman at Bell’s expense. I think we will be better served by going with Bell’s explosiveness right out of the gate.

Also, I am not too sure about whether we want to get into a lot of the same trick packages we have already shown in last few games. I like the combination of Forcier of Craft out there with Forcier running the option. But I think at this point you can bet that Cal’s defense will have that play scouted out pretty well. If any of you can go back through your DVRs and isolate that package, it would be interesting to hear whether there were any one open for a short pass underneath. I think that package will work better if Forcier can show he has the ability to throw it, otherwise the defense will tee off him whenever they line up in that formation again. Just my 2 cents.

As for Craft, he must get off to a good start. We can probably expect him to be under duress from the Cal front-7 as they are current 3rd in the conference in terms of sacks (and I don’t need to go over our troubles in terms of giving up sacks). It will be imperative for Craft to make quick, smart decisions and have a better pocket presence than what we saw from him in that first half of the Stanford game. Also, I imagine Chow might put together a scheme moving him away from the pressure in designed rollouts, so that he can be situated from a better launch point to throw at his targets.

Again, the Bruin offense cannot afford to make any mistakes. To echo what CRN said during half time of Stanford game, our guys can’t try to make plays they don’t practice. We will move on to notes re. Cal’s offense tomorrow am. That will follow my notes on expectations/predictions re. this upcoming Ben Ball season in about couple of hours.