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California Position Previews — Defense

Each week, we take a look at the various fronts of Washington's upcoming opponent. Today, we examine the defense of the California Golden Bears.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

Players to watch
NT Viliami Moala, LB Hardy Nickerson, S Damariay Drew

Notable injuries/absences
LB Nathan Broussard (Knee—out), DT Austin Clark (Knee—out), LB Nick Forbes (Back—questionable), DT Mustafa Jalil (Knee—questionable), DE Chris McCain (Dismissed from team), CB Stefan McClure (Knee—out), S Avery Sebastian (Achilles—out), DE Sione Sina (Knee—out), LB David Wilkerson (Left team)

This might be the first preview I've written in which the word count of the list of injured players rivals that of my analysis. California has undergone a spate of untimely and serious injuries not unlike what the Huskies experienced in 2012; to date, nine(!) players who were expected to contribute significant minutes to the Golden Bears this year have been forced to miss all or significant parts of the season due to injury. Coach Sonny Dykes, who has coached at the collegiate level since 1995, recently addressed the Bears' epidemic of injuries, saying "I don't really know what to say ... I've never seen anything like it."

If playing against Arizona State's defense was like falling into a patch of stinging nettles, then playing against California's defensive front is like plunging headfirst into the soothing balm of a bathtub filled with aloe vera lotion. Thanks to the aforementioned rash of injuries, California ranks 123rd in total defense, having allowed 525.4 yards per game, including a Pac-12-worst 346.7 yards through the air. (The next-worst team in the conference, Colorado, gives up nearly 80 yards fewer.) If there were ever a prime opportunity for Washington's players to get their minds right, this week's game would be as likely a candidate as any.

The starting players of Cal's four-man front—DE Dan Camporeale, NT Deandre Coleman, NT Viliami Moala and rush end Kyle Kragen—are severely inexperienced, claiming just 22 starts between them at the start of the season. Simply put, they're just a bunch of guys, and UW's offensive line should have little to no trouble in creating lanes for Bishop Sankey to reach the defense's second level.

Cal finds itself playing without its leading tackler from 2012, linebacker Nick Forbes, who has sat out the entire season thus far with a nagging back injury. It's telling that the three starting linebackers—SLB Jalen Jefferson, MLB Hardy Nickerson and WLB Khairi Fortt—are the team's leading three tacklers this year, having accounted for 26 percent of the team's tackles. The problem, of course, is that they aren't making those tackles in the backfield or near the line of scrimmage: Cal's opponents average nearly 7 yards per play, and the defense's number of sacks (9.0) and turnover margin (-11) both rank in the conference's basement.

In the backfield, redshirt freshman free safety Damariay Drew has shown an ability to disrupt plays unlike any of his teammates, having broken up three passes and forcing a fumble.  For the most part, though, this unit hasn't shown an ability to cover talented receivers or tight ends, and one wonders if this game will (finally!) be the opportunity for Kasen Williams and/or Austin Seferian-Jenkins to make their long-awaited 2013 breakouts.


As always, thanks to College Football StatisticsESPN and USA Today's College Football Injury Report for the relevant data that went into this article. You can follow me on Twitter by clicking below.

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