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Cal football has a bottom-five FBS defense for the third time in four years


California v USC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Let’s give credit to the Cal defensive players. They’ve stepped up huge in some big games, and are probably the difference between a somewhat up and down year and a disastrous regression season.

But at some point, the data points start adding up and you have to start looking at the coaching.

After all the rebuilding, the recruiting, the revamping, and a slight uptick last season, this defense is historically bad. Again.

  • USC put up 459 yards of offense in the first half against Cal. That’s the most since 2005—the year they went to the title game. USC is not going to the title game this year.
  • Ronald Jones II put up 223 rushing yards, the most by any Trojan running back since Reggie Bush in 2005.
  • This is the FOURTH time this year Cal has surrendered 300 rushing yards or more (San Diego State, Texas, Oregon State, USC).

Cal’s 2013 defense was really, really bad due to many unforeseen circumstances. 529.6 yards per game conceded (next-to-last in FBS), 7.08 yards per play (7th-worst in FBS), 45.9 points per game (next-to-last in FBS).

Cal’s 2014 defense was better against the run, but the pass was still horrendous and the scoring kept coming. 367.2 passing yards per game and 42 touchdowns allowed, worst in the nation by 70+ yards and 5 touchdowns respectively. 39.8 points per game allowed (6th-worst in FBS) and 511.8 total yards given up (bottom-five in FBS).

Cal’s best defensive unit was in 2015, and even then they benefited from a crazy number of turnovers to start the year. On a per-play basis, they were still in the lower echelon. 102nd in yards per play, 89th in points per game.

Cal’s 2016 defense?

If you want a rosier picture from the advanced stats (which tend to weigh level of competition much better than conventional stats), those aren’t much kinder. 106th in defensive S&P+ in 2016, bottom-10 in success rate, bottom-15 in creating havoc plays, next-to-last in front seven havoc. Cal was only 82nd in defensive S&P+ last season after going 108th in 2014 and 104th in 2013.

Cal can point to injuries and fatigue for the USC loss, but the Bears defense has surrendered 43 points or more in every game this season but two. Aside from an amazing Utah game, the defense has made it pretty much impossible to win a football game without actually dropping 50 points.

Until this pattern changes, Cal’s ceiling is low. And you can tell Sonny Dykes knows it too. What will the defense look like next season? It has to get better, right?