Roll On: Previewing The Presbyterian Defense

Depending on your point of view, this is either the easiest or toughest Cal opponent to preview this year.  It's hard because there just isn't much meaningful literature, highlights, or statistical breakdowns of the Presbyterian Blue Hose.  But it's also the easiest, because ultimately this game isn't about trying to predict how the battle on the field will end up.

That said, there are some useful highlights of Presbyterian in action.  There's a solid 15 minute highlight video of their hard-fought 35-28 loss to FCS power Wofford, and you can get a sense for what their defense can and can't do.  The Woffordites ran the wishbone, and it was clear that Presbyterian just didn't have the athletes to keep up to plays on the edge.  A large percentage of Wofford's successful runs were option pitches to the outside, and even when disciplined defenders made the right read they were frequently beaten to the edge.  And when they didn't make the right read, things got ugly.

And considering the recruiting challenges they've faced with a transition to FCS football and losing their coach before signing day a few years ago, that's not a surprise.  But the moral of the story is that Cal's advantage in speed and athleticism will be large, even by the usual BCS vs. FCS standards.  But that isn't to say that Cal's offense will necessarily do whatever they want.  Presbyterian has some talent and they just might make Zach Maynard and (we hope) Allan Bridgford work for their yards through the air.

Personnel

Defensive Line: Sr. LDE Derren Evans, Jr. DT Xavier Boatwright, Sr. NT Brian Davis, So. RDE Keyadd Miller

Linebackers: So. OLB L.J. Perry, Jr. ILB Joe Wideman, Sr. OLB CeeJay Harris

Secondary: So. Rover Matthan Burton, Sr. FS Justin Bethel, Sr. BC Damon Lawrence, So. FC Cedric Byrd

The unquestioned star of the defense is free safety Justin Bethel, who was named to the pre-season Big South for his play in the secondary, and he already has two interceptions on the year.  But also deserves to make it for his play on special teams - dude has blocked six kicks in his career!  Pro scouts have been out to take a look at him so he's number one guy that can hurt the Bears.  Seniors Brian Davis and CeeJay Harris are the leaders of their units respectively.

The official depth chart indicates that Presbyterian runs a 4-3 defense, but they appeared to be running mostly 3-4 against Wofford, at least in the sense that three players got down in your classic 3 point stance.  That might have been an attempt to counter Wofford's wishbone runs to the outside with some linebacker speed.  The main message is that I get the sense they'll adapt their scheme to the opponent as necessary.

Against the run

2010 stats: 228 yards/game, 120/125 FCS teams.  5.1 yards/carry

Yikes.  While I do think Presbyterian has improved a good deal from last year's 2-9 record, it would take a huge leap forward to make those numbers less ugly.  And unfortunately for Presbyterian, both Wofford and North Greenville averaged over 5 yards a carry on the ground.  Like I said above, Presbyterian just doesn't look like they have the team speed to stop teams from gashing them for big games on the outside, and that's against non-BCS type talent.  Remember Keenan Allen against UC Davis last year?  I would anticipate it being kinda like that again.

Against the pass

2010 stats: 163.7 yards/game, 15/125 FCS teams.  6.83 yards/attempt

I was shocked to see these stats, which are downright above average.  The yardage total is a little low, likely because teams didn't have to pass the ball much last year after building big leads against the rebuilding Blue Hose, but the yards/attempt number is average and it indicates that Presbyterian has some solid players in the secondary with the discipline to break up some passes and the speed to prevent frequent big plays.

Make of it what you will, but the Blue Hose held Wake Forest's passing attack pretty well in check, with QB Ted Stachitas around a 50% completion rate, with his backups looking much worse.  Granted, I'd like to think that Maynard is a much better QB than anything Wake Forest can throw out there.  But the bottom line is that, based purely on the stats, the Presbyterian secondary might be a pretty not awful test for Maynard, and more importantly and Cal back-ups that might see playing time.  Hell, Clemson's backup quarterback last year couldn't complete half his passes either.

Stats of Dubious Value

. . .  is taking a week off, because evaluating them through the lens of FCS vs. BCS competition turns 'Stats of Dubious Value' into 'Stats of Zero Value.'

Conclusions

ManBearCal pretty much covered it yesterday.  We'll be looking for simple things, like our offensive line continuing to execute reasonably well except without so many penalties.  We're looking for a higher completion percentage from Zach Maynard, which means a little bit more accuracy and a lot less drops.  We're looking to see what Brendan Bigelow can do.  The amount of points is significantly less important than the execution of the actual plays . . . assuming we, you know, actually win.

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