BERKELEY, CA - OCTOBER 20: Josh Nunes #6 of the Stanford Cardinal is sacked by Kendrick Payne #96 of the California Golden Bears at California Memorial Stadium on October 20, 2012 in Berkeley, California. - Ezra Shaw
Each week, we take a look at the various fronts of Washington's upcoming opponent. Today, we look at the defense of the California Golden Bears.
Cal has been a veritable factory of NFL talent under Tedford's leadership, and strong defensive play has been a welcome benefit of that circumstance, with the team's defense ranking in the top 25 for yards allowed per game each of the past two years. However, the unit has taken a remarkable hit in 2012, and doesn't seem to have found a way to compensate for losing talented seniors like Mychal Kendricks, D.J. Holt, Sean Cattouse and D.J. Campbell. Though there is too much raw potential on this side of the ball to expect Cal to roll over and die, you should neither expect them to give a superhuman performance --- remember, this is the same squad that gave up 31 points in a loss to Nevada at home in the season opener. The Huskies would be wise to approach this matchup with a mixture of equal parts confidence and wariness.
California employs a base 3-4 scheme that has had trouble finding success this year, in large part due to the abnormal number of injuries and defections that have hit the team's linebacking corps; by my count, four players that the Bears expected to have on its roster going into fall camp are out for the Washington game after transferring or being ruled out due to injury, with another three players listed as either questionable or doubtful for Friday's game. The one area in which the defense has showed some spine is in the red zone, as the team currently ranks third in the conference (behind Oregon and USC) in opponent scoring opportunities inside the 20-yard line. Outside it, though, the Bears have struggled to stop big plays from developing, giving up 46 runs of 10 yards or more (11th in the conference) and 27 passes of 20 yards or more (6th).
Defensive Line: Especially for a three-man front, Cal's defensive line does a good job of occupying the opposing line's blockers, which allows their linebackers to step up in the box and make hits near the line of scrimmage. However, they have shown a tendency to give up long runs: In giving up 46 rushes of 10 or more yards, they rank second-to-last in that category, with only woeful Colorado performing worse (though it should be noted that Cal has played nine games, compared to most of the rest of the conference's eight). One bright spot in this unit is fifth-year senior defensive end Kendrick Payne, pictured above, whose 3.0 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss rank first and third, respectively, on the team.
Linebacker: As detailed above, graduation and attrition have wreaked havoc upon this unit, which lists three sophomores and a freshman among its starters. Moreover, one of those sophomores, Chris McCain, who leads the team in tackles for loss (6.5), left the Utah game in the third quarter with an ankle injury, and was seen on crutches later on. He's listed as questionable to play on Friday, though he is listed atop Cal's depth chart, so take from that what you will. Inside linebacker Nick Forbes, a redshirt sophomore, has emerged as a formidable presence in this defense, as his 63 tackles ranks fifth in the conference.
Cornerback: The Bears employ a pair of experienced players at the cornerback position in fifth-year senior Marc Anthony and fourth-year junior Steve Williams, who have five interceptions and a pick-six between them. Williams has proven to be particularly astute in pass coverage; his 13 passes defended is tied for 10th in the nation.
Safety: Leading the charge for Cal in the backfield is fifth-year senior Josh Hill, a four-year starter who is the team's career leader in tackles and interceptions, and whose 60 tackles in 2012 ranks sixth in the conference. Playing beside him is redshirt sophomore Michael Lowe, who ranks fourth on the team with 60 tackles.