After last season, Sonny Dykes wore out his welcome at UC Berkeley. The Bears tired of Dykes looking for jobs elsewhere and decided to cut him loose in favor of someone who actually wanted to be coach in Berkeley.
As a result, Justin Wilcox is now the new head coach of the Golden Bears after serving as the Defensive Coordinator at Wisconsin last season. Prior to that, Wilcox had been the Defensive Coordinator at Southern Cal for two seasons. Wilcox had followed Steve Sarkisian to Southern Cal from Washington where he was also the Defensive Coordinator. Wilcox has also been the Defensive Coordinator at Tennessee and Boise State. This is his second stint in Berkeley as he spent three seasons coaching linebackers prior to heading to Boise State. So, it’s fair to say that Wilcox is a defensive-minded head coach.
And, he has had a significant impact on the UC Berkeley defense. In 2016, the team averaged 42.6 points per game while they have only allowed 29.3 points per game so far this year. That’s an improvement of 13.3 points per game.
Wilcox has put together a staff which includes three former head coaches and a former UCLA assistant. His offensive coordinator is Beau Baldwin.
Don’t expect Baldwin to be at Berkeley for very long. When he was the head coach at Eastern Washington, Baldwin won an FCS championship and I expect that someone will soon hire Baldwin as their head coach, possibly as early as this year. It wasn’t just a flash-in-the-pan either. Baldwin’s Eastern Washington teams won 11 or more games five times.
Meanwhile, Wilcox’s Defensive Coordinator is Tim DeRuyter. DeRuyter spent the past five seasons as the head coach at Fresno State, but, before that, he was the Defensive Coordinator at four different schools over ten years including two years at Texas A&M, 3 years at Air Force, 2 years at Nevada, and 3 years at Ohio.
The third former head coach on the UC Berkeley staff is Jerry Azzinaro. Azzinaro served as the head coach at Western New England for just one season back in 1986. But, that isn’t the reason that Bruin fans might want to take notice of how the Bears’ defensive line plays this week.
Azzinaro’s last three jobs were with the San Francisco 49ers, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Oregon Ducks. He was hired by Chip Kelly as the Ducks’ Defensive Line coach when Kelly took over at Oregon and he followed Kelly to both NFL teams, meaning that there is a good likelihood that Kelly would want to bring Azzinaro with him to Westwood should UCLA hire him.
Finally, it’s also worth noting that former two-time UCLA assistant Marques Tuiasosopo is now the Bears’ quarterback coach.
Let’s look at the Golden Bears’ Special Teams.
Expect senior Matt Anderson to handle the placekicking duties for the Golden Bears. Anderson has made 34 of 35 extra point attempts this season and 16 of 22 field goal attempts. He has some range to his leg, having made kicks of 48, 49 and 52 yards so far this season.
Kickoffs will be handled by freshman Gabe Siemieniec. Siemieniec has averaged 64.3 yards per kickoff this season as the team’s kickoff specialist. He joins UCLA’s JJ Molson as another Canadian kicker playing in the Pac-12.
Redshirt junior Dylan Klumpf is the punter for the Golden Bears. Klumpf has averaged 42.9 yards per punt this season with a season long of 57 yards. He has also had 12 of his 42 punts fair caught while 8 have gone inside the 20-yard line. Klumpf also serves as the Bears’ holder for field goals and PATs.
Vic Wharton III is UC Berkeley’s punt returner. Wharton has returned 8 punts this season and averaged 9.4 yards per return with a long of 31 yards. If Wharton isn’t back there to receive expect to see Kanawai Noa or Jaylinn Hawkins, but neither has returned a punt so far this season.
While Hawkins has returned 3 kickoffs for a total of 44 yards and a long of 22, the Bears’ main kickoff returner is Ashtyn Davis. Davis has returned 36 kickoffs for an average of 21.4 yards per kickoff. Davis’ longest return this year was against Arizona for 44 yards.
On the whole, UC Berkeley’s kicking game seems to be average as does their return team. Personally, I wouldn’t expect this game to come down to special teams, but, then again, no one predicted that Southern Cal’s punt return for a touchdown last Saturday would prove to be as important as it was.