The UCLA Bruins travel to Northern California this weekend to take on the UC Berkeley Golden Bears in a game where each team is looking for their first conference win. The Bears started strong this season with three non-conference wins, but promptly hit the skids in game four with a loss to Oregon and then another loss last weekend to Arizona. The Wildcat defense proved to be too much for the Bears, who put up the fewest points in a game this season.
In their first three games, UC Berkeley didn’t allow their opponents to score more than 23 points in a game, but gave up a whopping 42 against Oregon, and 24 against Arizona, which was their 13th conference road loss in a row. While Oregon definitely capitalized on both an interception and a fumble by the Bears’ offense, they were also able to break away for extensive runs and toss long bombs downfield.
The Bears currently rank 24th in total defense in the country and sit at fourth in the Pac-12.
Last weekend against #10 Washington, UCLA seemed to find new life on both sides of the ball, narrowly losing to the Huskies by just one score. Let’s take a look at the defense of the UC Berkeley Golden Bears.
With three men up front, we will most likely see Luc Bequette and Tevin Paul as the defensive ends and Chris Palmer line up at nose tackle. Paul and Bequette have 15 tackles each in five games while Palmer has nine in four games and is the biggest guy on the line at 335 pounds.
The Bears are tied for 102nd in the country in sacks, but they rank 15th in the nation in first down defense. They only had one sack and 1.5 tackles for loss last weekend, so I wouldn’t rate the UC Berkeley defensive line as exactly powerful. With the improvements we’ve seen on our offensive line, especially with Boss Tagaloa assuming duties at center, I think we’ll be pleased with what quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and our stable of running backs can do.
Senior inside linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk is the star of this group, ranking second on the team in both tackles and interceptions, and is on both the Butkus Award and LOTT Impact Trophy watch lists. He is also second on the team in sacks and is leading the team with two forced fumbles. Interestingly enough, in Berkeley’s last two losses, Kunaszyk racked up 11 tackles in both games and forced a fumble in each. He ranks first in the Pac-12 and second in the nation in solo tackles and he seems to have hit a stride in the last two weeks that we’re going to need to watch out for.
Senior Alex Funches and juniors Evan Weaver and Malik Psalms are also going to be a major force to be reckoned with. Funches and Psalms have both recorded sacks and Funches leads the team with two while Weaver is the team leader in tackles. In Weaver’s two sacks, he was able to push the quarterbacks back for a total of 15 yards.
Three of the Bears’ starters in the secondary have intercepted passes, for a total of six. Redshirt junior Jaylinn Hawkins is fourth in the nation and leads the team with three. Redshirt junior Ashtyn Davis is right behind with two and redshirt sophomore Camryn Bynum has one. Statistics like that worry me with a freshman quarterback at the helm. Yes, Dorian Thompson-Robinson has improved, but he has had issues setting his feet and throwing across his body which has allowed opponents to intercept passes. The Bears are tied for 12th nationally in interceptions.
I really believe this is going to be our first win of the season. Not only are we looking at our first potential win, but our first potential road win since beating BYU in Provo in 2016. I’m still remaining cautiously optimistic because with the improvements we made last week, they need to remain consistent and materialize on the field again this Saturday. We’ve had plenty of bright spots this season, but the closest thing to a complete game didn’t happen until last weekend. If we can come out again and continue to improve, I believe that we’ll find ourselves finally celebrating Saturday night.