Defensive Coordinator: Jerry Azzinaro
Week 5 Recap: Lost to #7 Washington 31–24
Pass Defense: 69.2 % completion percentage, 265 passing yards allowed and 1 touchdown
Rush Defense: 197 rushing yards on 55 attempts, 3.6 yards per attempt, with 3 touchdowns
Total Defense: 1 turnover (interception), 462 yards total offense allowed, 61 % third down conversion
The Bruins defensive line is very young—there are only two upperclassmen in the positional group. UCLA has three true-freshman and two sophomore defensive lineman in a consistent rotation. The starting nose tackle is true-freshman Atonio Mafi, once a Cal commit. Defensive ends Tyler Manoa and Otito Ogbonnia are also in their first collegiate season and contributing regularly. The inexperience from Bruins D-line players is evident in the pass rush. UCLA has a mere nine sacks on the season, ranked 81st in the nation. A 3-4 scheme asks its defensive lineman to occupy space at the line and muddle the up gaps to make the linebackers’ jobs easier. They aren’t required to rush upfield and pressure quarterbacks like a 4-3 defense would need. Nevertheless, defensive ends should sack the quarterback and it’s not getting done in Pasadena. Among the nine sacks UCLA has amassed, only three are from defensive-line players. Redshirt-junior Rick Wade and true-sophomore Osa Odighizuwa are the only defensive linemen showing up on the stat sheet for sacks.
UCLA is allowing 3.9 yards per rush and 185 yards per game to opponents after five weeks, which ranks for 94th in the nation. The Bruins have yet to hold an opponent to fewer than 150 yards rushing in a game so far this season. Washington’s offensive line dominated in the trenches against UCLA, especially in the run game. It marked the third time this season the defense allowed over 190+ rushing yards and in all five games, opponents have scored at least three touchdowns on the ground. The defensive line possesses desirable size with three players listed at six feet four inches or taller, but lacks alpha dogs with the willpower to anchor in their gaps and not get washed away by pulling offensive linemen. Cal can replicate the Huskies’ victory by bullying the defensive linemen with hard-nosed, old-fashioned run blocking and technically-sound pass protection for the quarterback.
The Bears will face a 3-4 defense for the third time this season—the familiarity game-planning against a scheme with four linebackers in their base package should provide some extra confidence for the offense going into the game. Inside linebackers Tyree Thompson and Krys Barnes play more traditional linebacker roles for the defense like reading the run gaps and stuffing them, covering running backs/tight ends, and calling plays. The outside linebackers (Keisean Lucier-South and Jaelan Phillips) fly around the field making plays in freelancing roles. Both starting outside linebackers were five-star recruits in their respective classes. Lucier-South leads the team in sacks and tackles behind the line of scrimmage; he is most effective when rushing on the edge and playing close to the line of scrimmage. Phillips splits reps with defensive end/linebacker–hybrid Odua Isibor. The Bruins outside linebackers are meant to act as extra rushers against the quarterback, but they are failing to collect sacks. Despite being the team leader in sacks, Lucier-South has only grabbed two. Getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks is not a strength of UCLA’s defense. The best way for Cal to take advantage of the defense would be to grind out the tough yards on the ground, spread out the UCLA linebackers, and unleash play-action bombs to Vic Wharton or Kanawai Noa downfield.
The starting defensive back unit is composed of seniors and sophomores. Fifth-year senior Adarius Pickett is the veteran of the secondary; the strong safety leads UCLA in tackles with 61 and has one of the teams’ two interceptions. Pickett played his best game of the season statistically last Saturday against Washington, gathering a team-high 16 tackles and his first interception of 2018. True-sophomore Darnay Holmes came to UCLA as a five-star prospect in 2017 and immediately became the best cornerback on the roster. Holmes is the star in this secondary and has the highest ceiling to become one of the NCAA’s best corners. After starting 11 games in his true-freshman campaign and leading the Bruins in interceptions with three, Holmes has taken over the No. 1 cornerback spot this year. The other starting sophomore is free safety Quinten Lake; he is a sound tackler and has the third-most tackles on UCLA with 35 in his first year as a full-time starter. Turnovers generated from the secondary is another part of the defense that UCLA struggles with; their two interceptions came when Holmes picked off Heisman-hopeful Kyler Murray on a deep pass Week 2 and Pickett snagged an overthrow from Washington quarterback Jake Browning. Conversely, Nathan Meadors—the senior cornerback starting opposite of Holmes—has only logged two interceptions in his 33 career games. Two interceptions across five weeks do not strike fear into opposing quarterbacks. Brandon McIlwain (or Chase Garbers?) won’t be losing sleep the night before they play UCLA.
How many points will Cal score against the UCLA defense?
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50 or more