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Cal vs. UCLA: Previewing the Bruins Defense

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So begins the rivalry portion of Cal's schedule. How will the offense fare against an aching Bruins D?

Too soon, Bruins?
Too soon, Bruins?
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After a bye week spent ruminating on the loss at Utah, the Golden Bears return to action this Thursday night. Cal will travel to Pasadena as the underdog, hopefully feeling rested and healthy and angry about the theft of our intellectual property. Jared Goff will attempt to put his five-interception hiccup behind him. Jim Mora will check under his bed to make sure Christian McCaffrey isn't hiding down there. The Bruins will...wear black for some reason?

It's a rivalry week—the first of the season for the Bears—which means anything can happen. Let's see if we can make some sense of the UCLA defense ahead of this one.

The Story so Far...

The Bruins had to feel confident with their defense coming into this season, even with the departures of DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Butkus Award winning LB Eric Kendricks. Jim Mora keeps the benches stocked with talent, and he was bringing in a proven defensive coordinator in Tom Bradley. Bradley's crew did its job through four weeks, allowing 18 points per game and taking down two ranked teams on the way to a 4-0 start. But a streak of injuries has...well...hurt quite a bit. Two of the three Bruins to start every game in 2014, LB Myles Jack (meniscus) and CB Fabian Moreau (foot) are done for the season, and Jack announced that he would enter the draft rather than return for another year. DT Eddie Vanderdoes tore his ACL in the opener against Virginia, and DB Marcus Rios (who picked of Jared Goff to seal the Bruins' win last year) has been out with a sinus infection.

The remains of this defense couldn't stop Arizona State, and was dominated by Stanford last Thursday. Christian McCaffrey put up 243 of the Cardinal's 310 yards. Rush defense has been a problem for the Bruins throughout, as they rank 113th in the country in rushing yards allowed. Without a McCaffrey of our own, Jared Goff will have to step up against one of the toughest pass defenses in the Pac-12, that's allowing just 176 yards per game.

Defensive Line

Starters: Jr #98 Takkarist McKinley, Jr #97 Kenny Clark, Jr #96 Eli Ankou

Without Odighizuwa and Vanderdoes, the de facto leader of this three-man line is NT Kenny Clark. He's made 23 career starts, and is the only remaining 13-game starter from last season. This being UCLA, though, there's no shortage of upperclassmen on the line or elsewhere on the defense. Ankou is tied with Clark for the team lead in TFLs with 3.5, but this unit has had trouble creating havoc and getting to the quarterback. They've combined for four sacks this season, two fewer than Cal's Kyle Kragen alone.

Linebackers

Starters: Jr #58 Deon Hollins, Jr #44 Isaako Savaiinaea, So #42 Kenny Young, Sr #51 Aaron Wallace

Needing someone to step up in the vacuum left by Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack, the linebackers may have found their leader in Isaako Savaiinaea. Though he didn't start a game until week five, Savaiinaea leads the team in tackles and is tied with Aaron Wallace and Deon Hollins for the team lead in sacks. This crew still needs to work on finding its way into some big plays and provide better support for its defensive line before Cal's running backs get a chance to settle in.

Defensive Backs

Starters: Jr #1 Ishmael Adams, So #2 Jaleel Wadood, Jr #21 Tahaan Goodman, Jr #3 Randall Goforth

Picking up on the theme, the secondary is looking for its upperclassmen to step up and replace losses, in this case cornerbacks Fabian Moreau and Marcus Rios. Having Randall Goforth back from shoulder injury in 2014 is a benefit, as he has slid over to cover for Rios while Tahaan Goodman joins the starters at safety. CB Ishmael Adams served a suspension for the early part of the season, but has been a contributor in the rotation since his return. Adams was in the news on Monday, as he was charged for his role in the incident that led to his suspension, but no indications have been made so far that he won't play against Cal.

Andrew's Take

This defense makes me think of Cal's problems staying healthy in 2012. It's hard to feel sympathetic for a rival, but it must be terribly frustrating to keep losing playmakers from what should have been a strong unit. We'll see whether the wheels have come off after two straight losses, or whether Jim Mora's recruiting skills can provide the Bruins with enough depth to support Josh Rosen and the offense. I could see the coaches trying to get Lasco back to form in this one, because UCLA is clearly vulnerable on the ground, but Jared Goff will surely be wanting to make amends for his last performance. My prediction? Cal fans start clearing their calendars for December.