Welcome to Bruins Nation’s preview of U.C. Berkeley's defensive unit. Today we will look at the Golden Bears' statistics on defense through their 5-1 campaign this season, breakdown each level of the defense, and analyze how the Bruins offense might match up against the U.C. Berkeley D.
The Golden Bears defense is ranked #71 in the nation, allowing 394.8 yards per game. UCLA is #25 in total offense, rolling up 463 yards per game.
Cal's rushing defense is #59, allowing 158.5 yards per game. UCLA is #35 in the nation in rushing offense, racking up 197.7 yards per game.
The Golden Bears are #83 in passing yards allowed, yielding 236.3 yards per game. UCLA averages 265.2 passing yards per game, good enough for #31 in the nation.
UCLA appears to have the statistical advantage in both rushing and passing against Cal. The numbers themselves suggest that U.C. Berkeley has not yet faced an offense as potent as UCLA's this season although, statistically, Washington State is ranked ahead of UCLA in total offense, at #20, and Cal limited them to only 28 points.
The last two games, UCLA's rushing offensive has not been good. In light of the Golden Bears' #83 ranking in passing defense, UCLA should benefit from a more pass heavy offense this week.
U.C. Berkeley plays a 4-3 defense most of the time. Tony Mekari, although only a redshirt sophomore, started five games last season and played in all 12 games at both defensive tackle and defensive end. Mekari should start and see the majority of snaps at defensive tackle. The other DT should be redshirt sophomore, James Looney. A transfer from Wake Forest, where he played sparingly as a true freshman, this is Looney's first season at Cal. If he is anything like his brother, Joe Looney, who plays for the Tennessee Titans, the kid has tons of potential even if he lacks some experience.
Senior Kyle Kragen will start at one of the defensive end spots. Kragen missed the entire 2014 season will an illness, but played well in 2013, playing in all 12 games and starting five. Kragen leads the team in tackles (35), tackles for loss (6), and sacks (5). He is a handful and UCLA's offensive line will have its work cut out containing him. Senior Jonathan Johnson, a junior college transfer, had a career best six tackles against UCLA last season. Although Johnson is listed atop the depth chart, expect to see a lot of junior DeVante Wilson at the end position as well. The rest of U.C. Berkeley's two deep on the defensive line consists of seniors, so they are not a young group.
Redshirt junior Hardy Nickerson, Jr., son of the five-time pro-bowler Hardy Nickerson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, anchors the linebacking corps. Before this season, he played in 22 games, starting 14. Nickerson, who plays in the middle, has 32 tackles on the season. Junior Jake Kearney played 10 games last season, starting six. Expect him to start on the strong side. On the weak side, senior Jalen Jefferson will start. Jefferson has started 27 games prior to this season, and is the Golden Bears' most experienced starter on defensive. Cal's linebackers are a very solid and experienced group.
Drew Damiray will start at free safety. Damiray, a junior, has 34 tackles on the year, along with two interceptions. At strong safety is Stefan McClure, a senior who started 15 games in his prior three season at Cal. McClure has 28 tackles, two TFLs, and one sack this season.
At the cornerback position, U.C. Berkeley starts Darius White, a senior, and Darius Allensworth, a sophomore. Both have 24 tackles on the season. White has two INTs; Allensworth has one. White, a junior college transfer, started three games toward the end of last season (his first season at Cal). "College Sports Madness" named White PAC 12 Defensive Player of the Week after his INT and fumble recovery against U-Dub. Allensworth, a redshirt sophomore, played in all 12 games last season, but did not start in any of those games.
From top to bottom, the U.C. Berkeley defense is solid, but not spectacular. Kragen is an excellent player, as is Nickerson, and UCLA will need to contain them both to have success. If the Golden Bears do have a weakness, it is inexperience at the cornerback position. This is also borne out in U.C. Berkeley's #83 ranking in passing yards allowed. Crafty seniors like Jordan Payton and Devin Fuller could exploit U.C. Berkeley's CB's. I would expect UCLA to try to employ a game plan similar to the game plan it used against UVa (although the Golden Bears are better than the Cavaliers), with a quick, possession-style passing attack, while taking some deep shots to keep the CBs honest. Also, where is the Nate Iase wheel route?!?!
Thanks for reading the preview of U.C. Berkeley's defense! Two more days until they kick it off at the Rose Bowl.