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Defensively Speaking: Cal

As we have all learned, a win is a win and to be grateful when we earn one. The Trojans earned last night’s victory over Cal with a final score of 41 – 17. The University of California Golden Bears started the game over-matched in talent and finished the game even more over-matched. This game largely boiled down to our one-dimensional passing offense vs. Cal’s quality defense. Kedon Slovis and the receiver corps are not to be trifled with and can wear down an opposing defense not by tempo but by offensive drives sustained by some eye-popping 3rd down conversions. But on a night when the passing offense shined how did our defense perform? I’ll answer that question especially considering our all-important upcoming UCLA game.

The Scheme:

  • Four man front on first downs, single high safety, strong safety near the box, nickel back and two CBs. CBs played man (sometimes man-up, other times matchup man with a cushion). Later in the game and a a sizable lead CP went to a two-safety look with pressure packages on 2nd and/or 3rd downs. His first 1st down defense was pretty vanilla with only a few exceptions. No line twists but he did slant his line early in the game and then late in the 2nd quarter.

What Worked:

  • After the first Cal’s scoring drive, 3rd down pressure packages started to take a toll on the offense. Let’s face it, once Garber had to leave the game Cal was never the same on offense. That combined with four dropped passes made our defense more effective.
  • Two interceptions were timely and needed. Nice play by Houston with his length and lateral range to tip one pass that was picked off. Palo Mao made a nice play on that ball but finished it off with poor ball security. Every game he seems to have to learn a hard lesson, but he is definitely playing better football.
  • Chase Williams made a nice play on a poorly thrown ball for a 3rd quarter pick while adding a great 32-yard return.
  • I know Rector got DQ’d for his 1st quarter TFL of Cal’s running back Chris Brown, but that was a nice tackle but technically a rules violation since he led with the crown of his helmet. Theoretically this would apply to any part of the opposing player’s body not just upper body head or neck or even defenseless. So, if you lead with the crown of your helmet and hit a player’s ankle that is disqualifying per the NCAA rule. Geez…Oh, btw Brown was done for the night even though he was hit in his chest.
  • Five sacks of Cal’s QBs was a major accomplishment and given Cal’s offensive line issues not wholly unexpected.
  • Overall defense upped their game and were “net effective” holding Cal to 17 points and 263 yards of total offense.
  • Our 3rd down defense was excellent holding Cal to 3 out of 10 attempts (30%) and no 4th down attempts.

What Didn’t Work:

  • Our first down defense was very poor to open the game. Frankly our defense on that first drive was poor on most downs. Rector’s disqualification caused some short-term adjustment issues as well. For much of the remaining first half CP was trying different pressure packages in different situations. Once Garber left the game, Cal was never the same. I have to say to design QB running plays for a recently medically cleared player (Garber) is nuts. Wilcox really blew that situation up.
  • Our overall first down defense was bad…very bad. Cal averaged 8.3 yards on first down for the entire game. Much of that was by the run too. I’ll get to that in a short while.
  • Penalties were outrageous…again. Eight total penalties for 75 yards leading to four Cal first downs is a steep hill to climb. This was Helton’s stated key area of emphasis in the off-season. Not working, Coach. Time to retool and it’s getting late.
  • Our run defense is just not stout at the C & D gaps. Why? Easy blocking scheme by double-teaming the 3i technique tackle, pull guard or tackle and kick out the DE or outside linebacker and our two inside backers routinely get tangled up inside or just plain blocked by the offside. This is what UCLA did to us last year all game long. It was embarrassing then and we better get our heads out of our hips or they’ll do it again. UCLA is a dangerous offense if we can’t stop the run game.
  • We are really slow off the snap. DLs just are waiting too long to move upfield and reading vs. penetrating. Penetration blows up most running plays. Reading and reacting creates lanes that require second level tackling also not a key area of strength.
  • Corner back play is a real crap-shoot. Never know what we’re going to see. Teams have to choose which to pick on; our lousy run defense or sporadic corner back play. UCLA will attack both. Time to man-up.

Shout Outs:

  • Rector, keep playing hard
  • Slovis was more than just efficient, he was deadly
  • Pittman is a man among boys
  • St. Brown is a pleasure to watch
  • Pili is playing his best football all season
  • Falaniko is a disruptive force
  • Jackson is getting even better. Good news for us and bad news for the ‘Ruins.

I’m looking forward to our upcoming game against UCLA. Should be chippy, physical and a good test. I expect a good outcome. Fight on!

Kevin Bruce

Kevin earned his MBA and BS in Business Administration/Finance & Econometrics from the University of Southern California, where he also played four years of varsity football, serving as co-captain and playing in three Rose Bowls. Kevin’s college honors included All-American (AP-Honorable Mention), All Pac-8 Conference - Linebacker (1st) and Academic All-American, two NCAA National Championships (football), NCAA Post Graduate Scholarship recipient and Trojan Diamond Award-outstanding graduating senior. He is a member of Football Writers Association of America and is a contributor to WeAreSC.com.

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