In 2011, the California Golden Bears ranked 25th in total defense. 2012, however, they have struggled a bit more. Only returning three starters from the stout 2011 squad has proved to be a major setback for defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Five games in to this season, Cal’s defense is 86th in scoring defense.
Although they have three new starters up front, the strength of Cal’s defense is the D-line. Sophomore defensive end, Mustafa Jalil, and Junior defensive end, Deandre Coleman, both check in over 300 pounds, and Senior defensive end Aaron Tipoti all get consistent push. Cal has two slashing nose tackles in Kendrick Payne and Gabe King, along with space eater Villami Moala, who comes in at a whopping 347 pounds.
Where Cal’s defense has struggled so far this year is the back seven. In a 3-4, the linebackers are key and both outside and inside backers have struggled at times with gap responsibility. They are talented, though, and swarm to the ball at all times. Even Jim Mora’s wife, Shannon noticed this. Jim says, “She couldn’t sleep. She goes, ‘God, these guys play hard.’ If my wife notices it, it’s noticeable.” While effort hasn’t been a problem, execution has been. Defending Noel Mazzone’s offense is about gap integrity against the run, and sound tackling after short passes. If the Cal defense gets thrown off by all the fluff of the UCLA offense, big plays are available.
Cal returns both starting corners from last season’s defense in Steve Williams and Marc Anthony. While both are talented, and experienced, they have struggled a bit with consistency, much like UCLA’s duo of Price and Hester. With Devin Lucien out for the year with an injury, UCLA doesn’t have a wide receiver that typically scares corners. Where UCLA will likely have to get a lot of production this week and throughout the rest of the season is in the slot. Just like they struggle in gap discipline up front, the safeties and linebackers for Cal have also struggled in zone responsibility. Coach Pendergast is likely to run more man defense as the season progresses if the Bears continue struggling in zone. This benefits UCLA this week as the Bears have two first-year starters at safety and UCLA gets much of it’s playmakers the ball out of the slot.
Ultimately, Cal has some very good athletes on defense, but through five games, they lack discipline, fundamentals, and experience. The Bruins should roll up 30 points on Cal’s defense on Saturday.