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Previewing Cal’s Defense

NCAA Football: Arizona State at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Utah (4-0) will take to the road this Saturday when they travel to Berkeley to play Cal (2-2). Cal has had an up and down season so far with a big win over Texas but also some disappointing losses against San Diego state and Arizona State. Looking ahead to Saturday’s game we will preview Cal’s defense and what Utah can expect.

Sonny Dykes is the head coach for the Cal Bears, but made his name as an offensive coordinator. Art Kaufman is the defensive coordinator and heads up the defensive coaching an play calling. Kaufman is now in his third season as Cal’s defensive coordinator.

Cal has never had a reputation for having a strong defense and this season is no exception. They are ranked 117th nationally in total defense giving up 492 yards of offense a game. The rush defense is a particular weak point for the Golden Bears, ranking 123rd nationally, and giving up 263 yards a game.

On the defensive line, the Bears typically use four down lineman with juniors James Looney (6-3, 280lbs.) and Tony Mekari (6-1, 285 lbs.) eating up space in the middle. At defensive end, senior Devante Wilson (6-5, 260 lbs.) and sophomore Cameron Saffle (6-3 245 lbs.) provide pressure, with Saffle leading the teams with 2 sacks and in tackles for a loss with 4.5. He is second on the team in total tackles with 28.

At middle linebacker, junior Raymond Davison (6-2, 225 lbs.) leads the team in tackles with 33, and has 1 tackle for a loss. Junior weak side linebacker Devante Downs is also productive, coming in third on the team in total tackles with 27, and has2.5 tackles for a loss and 1 sack.

In the secondary, junior Luke Rubenzer (6-0, 195 lbs.), a former quarterback, has made an impact at the safety position so far with two fumble recoveries and an interception to go along with 23 tackles. At cornerback, junior Darius Allensworth (6-0, 190 lbs.) is a dangerous player with an interception and 3 pass breakups.

The Utah offense needs to have a good game and put up some points to win this game. Last week’s performance by Troy Williams was great, and seemed like a coming out party of sorts, as he was really relied on to throw the ball for the first time since becoming a Ute. Williams and the offense will need to build on last week’s performance to keep up with Cal’s explosive offense.

While Cal is not particularly strong on defense as a whole, their rushing defense is what really stands out. The Bears are the only team in the Pac-12 giving up over 200 yards rushing a game and the only team to have given up over 1,000 yards on the ground this season. They are giving up a whopping 5.66 yards per cary to opposing teams and have allowed 13 rushing touchdowns.

This is where Utah’s running game becomes key to Utah winning this game. Utah showed last week the power run game is alive and well with Zack Moss and Armand Shyne running between the tackles. Against Cal, the offensive line should be able to pave the way for yards in a similar fashion, allowing Moss and Shyne to eat up chunks of yardage while Utah sustains clock eating drives. Cal is maybe at their best when games turn into shoot outs, and taking advantage of a weak Cal run defense would be key in limiting Cal’s offensive possessions.

Expect Utah to begin the game much the same way as they did against USC, with running play after running play, to wear down Cal’s defensive front and pull safeties into the box. Once the run has been firmly established, Whittingham will turn to Williams and Tim Patrick, who have established one of the most potent connections in the Pac-12. Utah should be able to move the ball both on the ground and through the air against Cal. The question is, will it be enough to outscore Cal’s offense? We’ll dive into the question later this week.