I'll admit, it gets harder and harder to put a ton of time into these previews. Last week I said that Oregon State was referendum on the offense, and Cal's offense failed miserably. Specifically, to the tune of 4.8 yards/play, four turnovers, and three first half points. Even Sonny Dykes has lost faith in his offense, as he declined to attempt 4th and 2 or shorter three times early in the game, when victory was hypothetically possible.
Whatever the reason, Cal's offense has badly regressed from early performances against non-conference opponents. Right now, it doesn't matter what defense this team faces. It's about fixing what's going wrong on the Cal side of the line of scrimmage. Maybe Zach Kline will help do that. Maybe not. But with an offensive line that has been put through a blender, it might not matter.
So yeah, Washington probably has a pretty good defense, no matter what happened in the desert last week. It doesn't feel like a relevant detail. Everybody has a pretty good defense, and Cal is letting them dictate what happens on the field.
Conceptually, I like the idea of having Shaq play linebacker. He has the size, athleticism, and tackling ability to play linebacker, and it allows flexibility against the many pass happy Pac-12 offenses to have a linebacker with presumably great coverage skills. It's like you can switch between the base defense and a nickel package without actually changing personnel!
Except it doesn't seem to be working all that great. True, Shaq has a bunch of tackles, but he's not really making any big plays. And for a player with his talent, with a year of experience already under his belt, playing closer to the line, it seems like he should be making big plays. No interceptions, no forced fumbles, only half a sack.
Anyway. Timu and Fuimaono are producing at similar levels as Thompson - lots of tackles, but not many for a loss and minimal forced turnovers.
Against the Run
Against the Pass
FEI+ total defensive efficiency rank: 26th in the nation
Stats of Dubious Value
Here's a simple way to look at things: Cal has already played two of the three worst defenses on their conference schedule, and at home. Yup, Washington State and Oregon State (the 3rd, as I'm sure you would guess, is Colorado). And Cal struggled badly to score against both teams. So expecting a better outcome on the road against a better unit . . . well, weird things happen, but that doesn't make it wise to expect it to happen.
Maybe offensive line musical chairs will somehow pay dividends. Maybe Zach Kline is ready for a big game. Maybe all of the unforced errors that don't really have to do with the opponent (like, just randomly fumbling with no or minimal contact) will stop happening.
Being negative isn't my style. Fandom is supposed to be fun, after all. But realism is important to. This one could be ugly.