Avinash Kunnath: The Cal defense is back!
But the run defense was mildly competent this season! Cal did a good job at containing teams between the tackles and kept running backs from breaking out for huge gains the way it seemed to happen EVERY SINGLE GAME last year. That's a huge improvement.
Mustafa Jalil helped anchor things in the middle when he was healthy. Trevor Kelly, Marcus Manley and Austin Clark all worked by committee to keep things solid, and the defensive ends did a good job with general discipline. It was the biggest improvement on a defense that was better than last year's atrocity (caveat: slightly).
The Cal pass rush from our defensive ends though? Non-existent. Brennan Scarlett and Todd Barr didn't do much all season, then Harrison Wilfley, Tony Mekari, Jonathan Johnson, Noah Westerfield and Puka Lopa only managed an occasional pressure here and there. Westerfeld and Johnson showed the most promise, but it's still going to be a pretty unproven bunch going into next season.
@AGuyNamedNam Have to give props to Trevor Kelly, too. Most Jucos get run over during their 1st year. He was solid. Will be better next.— Scott Chong (@kodiakcgb) January 1, 2015
(LW note: Yeah. when putting together this post, I stole one of Scott's tweets to throw in here. #sorrynotsorry)
Leland Wong: The defensive line gets an "eh" grade from me. They showed up and they got more pressure and penetration than they did last year, but I think we still need to see some improvement from this group.
The defense was great at shutting down opposing run games and the performance of our defensive line had a lot to do with that. They did a great job of getting into the backfield or just clogging up all the gaps to stop the running back.
We direly need to develop a pass rusher and since we run a 4-3, I'm expecting that to come from our defensive ends especially. We only had Scarlett for 5 games, but even in those games, he never became the feared QB-seeking missile that we were hoping for. Perhaps that was because offense lines could double-team him as they were unconcerned about our other D-linemen; regardless, we will need to develop a stellar pass rusher from somewhere on the line, either Scarlett fulfilling the hopes we all have for him or another player stepping up to complement him.
boomtho: The D-line showed vastly different performance against the run and pass. Against the run, the D-line was pretty stout--Clark and Jalil were strong on the interior and generated good push, allowing the LB's to fill the gaps. Scarlett, when healthy, showed a nice presence against the run as well.
Against the pass, however, the D-line was awful. Nam used someone's term for "havoc rate"--and that shows that Cal was historically bad. It didn't matter whom we trotted onto the field, they couldn't generate pressure. Jonathan Johnson showed some nice ability toward the end of the year, but we really couldn't get to the QB all year. That's going to have to change heading into 2015 for our defense to get close to respectable.
Nick Kranz: This is probably the unit that I am most pessimistic about for next season for two reasons: 1) as has been noted above, the defensive line's inability to bring pressure was historically bad, and thus I'm realistic about how much better it can reasonably get in one year. 2) It's so unbelievably important to have a functional pass rush to protect the rest of the defense.
Just for context: Cal managed eight sacks in conference games this year (an average number is typically in the low 20s). In the last seven years (the data I have easy access to) only two defenses did worse: Arizona in 2011 with 6 sacks and Washington State 2008 with 6 sacks. That 2011 Arizona team got Mike Stoops fired, and the 2008 Wazzu team was one of the worst teams in conference history.
In the following years? Arizona jumped from 6 sacks to 13 . . . and still had the 2nd worst defense in the conference. Washington State jumped from 6 to 8 . . . and still had the worst defense in the conference. It takes time to develop strong, effective defensive linemen, and they constitute the spine that your defense is built around. In my opinion, Cal's defense got better at every position from 2013 to 2014 except along the defensive line . . . and the defense was roughly as effective because a credible pass rush is so important in modern football.
I hope I'm wrong. After 2013's defensive disaster, I was pessimistic that ANYBODY could make Cal's defense even average in a year. After 2014, I'm left with the same pessimism, mostly because this team is miles away from an effective pass rush.