The Bears come into this contest allowing an average of 427 yards per game, not much better than UCLA’s 491.5. Both teams are fighting for bowl eligibility and my gut reaction is that this game is going to come down to the better offense. There’s no telling what interim head coach Jedd Fisch is going to pull out on Friday in Jim Mora’s absence, but I’m guessing he’s not going to change it up too much to keep the team stable and successful.
Berkeley’s defense is now being coached by Tim DeRuyter after last year’s defensive play was poor, especially in the run defense department. DeRuyter was once considered a defensive guru, something the Bears desperately needed after years of relying on the “Bear Raid” offense and little production on defense. We are the better team in the end and clean football with no mistakes will get us the win. Here’s the defense that Josh Rosen and the UCLA offense will be fighting for a chance at a post season.
Again, one of their biggest weaknesses last year was run defense and this has gotten better as they are now ranked 72nd in this category and allow an average of 172 yards per game (don’t even ask me where we are. It’s too sad to discuss.). The switch to a 3-4 scheme has actually panned out, a decision that easily could have backfired.
One thing we really need to look at is the Bears’ upset of Washington State earlier this season. The Cougars didn’t score a touchdown that entire game and Cougar quarterback Luke Falk was sacked nine times, usually when he was hanging on to the ball too long. There were, of course, other factors at play, like injuries on the Wazzu defensive line and the fact that Falk had major trouble hitting receivers, but this is a situation we could easily find ourselves in on Friday if we take these guys lying down. Head coach Justin WIlcox has been a defensive coordinator position in the past, so it’s no surprise that they were able to capitalize on weak spots in the WSU offense.
Luc Bequette, Tony Mekari, and James Looney will all be up front. Mekari came into the season a bit undersized for his position, but is complimented nicely by Looney. Bequette is stepping in for injured end Zeandae Johnson, who missed the last game due to an undisclosed injury and is thus far questionable for Friday.
The Bears lost their biggest playmaker on defense when Devante Downs suffered a season-ending leg injury in their win against Washington State. Additionally, Cameron Saffle, who moved from defensive end to linebacker in DeRuyter’s new scheme, suffered a season-ending injury back in September. Downs was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week twice this season and led the team in tackles, interceptions, sacks, forced fumbles, and fumble recoveries up until that point. He and Raymond Davison were the duo anchoring this unit, so Jordan Kunaszyk, Cameron Goode, and Gerran Brown have had to make up for this loss. Kunaszyk and Davison now lead the team in tackles with over 120 combined for the season and they have also had a total of three forced fumbles. While their big playmaker is out, this unit is still relatively strong and our offensive line is going to have to be on point to fend these guys off.
The UC Berkeley secondary has definitely had its ups and downs over the years. Back in 2014, they surrendered the most touchdowns ever by a Power 5 school. They suffered a ton of injuries last year with safeties Luke Rubenzer and Evan Rambo and cornerback Darius Allensworth missing multiple games due to ailments. Allensworth has come back strong and is Cal's active career leader with 21 pass breakups in his career. Additionally, there is young talent in Ashtyn Davis and Jaylinn Hawkins. Davis is also on special teams and participates in the Bears’ track and field team and has moved up the depth chart after playing the first half of the season off the bench. There is finally depth in this unit with senior Marloshawn Franklin, Jr. and freshman Elijah Hicks a the cornerback position and junior safeties Derron Brown and Quentin Tartabull. This unit is still coming in at #10 in the Pac 12 in pass defense, but with a new head coach and defensive coordinator, I’d expect to see improvement further down the road.
It’s obvious that this is a rebuilding year for the Bears. They’ve got a new staff, new schemes, and talent that is yet to be utilized, but, for now, I see us getting the win Friday. On paper, they have us beat in a few defensive categories, but I just don’t see Berkeley as the better team in this contest.