After last week’s debacle at the Mausoleum, UCLA now has the task of shaking off a terrible performance on defense for one last game at the Rose Bowl. The UCLA Bruins will host the UC Berkeley Golden Bears in the last game of the year since UCLA is not bowl eligibile for the second year in a row.
The Bears are ranked 57th nationally in total defense and, aside from allowing Utah to put up 35 points and Southern Cal to hang 41, all other opponents have scored three touchdowns or less. The issue with the Bears seems to be all on offense, which we will cover in tomorrow’s offensive preview.
Here is a look at the defensive side of the UC Berkeley football team.
Up front, the Bears are very competitive nationally, coming in at 29th in rushing defense and only allowing an average of 129 yards per game on the ground. This should make it a little tougher for UCLA’s running backs to get going, meaning the Bruins will more than likely rely heavily on the passing game to get points on the board.
It’s no mystery why the Bears’ rushing defense has been so successful—the front line is stacked with three redshirt seniors. Luc Bequette can line up either at nose tackle or right side defensive end, and Zeandae Johnson will check in at the other end position. Rotating in will be Lone Toailoa, who is also capable of playing both tackle and nose. Bequette is the top player in this unit, recording 44 total tackles, four of which were for a loss, and three sacks this year. Freshman Brett Johnson may also see some time on the field and he is capable of rotating in at tackle or nose as well.
The Bears’ linebacking unit is also experienced with all starters being upperclassmen. Senior inside linebacker Evan Weaver is leading the team in tackles with 164 including ten for a loss and he has also recorded 2.5 sacks and three pass breakups. Weaver has earned numerous accolades including midseason first-team All-American nods and reaching the semi-finalist round for the Chuck Bednarik Award and Lott IMPACT Trophy. He is also in contention for the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Redshirt junior transfer Kuony Deng is behind Weaver with 104 total tackles and combines with Weaver for the nation’s leading inside linebacking duo. He came to UC Berkeley from the Virginia Military Institute, where he was also on the school’s basketball team.
Outside linebackers include redshirt juniors Cameron Goode and Tevin Paul. Goode’s stats of note are his team-leading 11 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, but unfortunately has battled injuries his entire career and has not played a complete season yet. Paul has contributed 24 total tackles this year, and also has three sacks and two pass break ups.
The linebacking corps is another reason for UC Berkeley’s success on defense this year. The lack of youth on this side of the ball is definitely balancing out their struggles on offense and has kept them in some close games that were decided by a touchdown or less.
Redshirt senior safeties Ashtyn Davis and Jaylinn Hawkins highlight the Bears’ secondary. Davis has 44 total tackles, but has also added four pass break ups, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. Ball carriers around Davis are definitely going to need to concentrate on securing the rock. Hawkins has contributed two of UC Berkeley’s six total interceptions, which makes sense since he also played wide receiver in high school. Redshirt senior Trey Turner III will also see time on the field as well.
At corner, juniors Camryn Bynum and Elijah Hicks will start, with Bynum leading the team with seven pass breakups. Hicks has a decent resume as well, including 40 tackles and four pass break ups of his own. With a decent front line, UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson will be relying on his receivers to get past these guys and the task won’t be easy.
Senior Traveon Beck will be adding speed to the secondary. He missed three games this year due to injury, but is back and healthy and ready to add to his four pass breakups. He isn’t necessarily a tackling machine, but makes plays when necessary, However, his 5’10” frame could make for a mismatch in UCLA’s favor.
UC Berkeley’s strength is definitely on defense. As stated before, the Bears have had three games decided be a touchdown or less and it was the defense that kept them in the game. UCLA’s offense has had a lot of bright spots as of late, save the loss to Utah, and will have something to prove at home on senior night.