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The Big Game Defensive Preview: Stanford (6–4)

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Cal goes up against a vulnerable Cardinal defense

NCAA Football: Stanford at Oregon
Linebacker Sean Barton comes up with a clutch fumble recovery in the waning minutes against Oregon.
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Scouting Report:

Scheme: Base 3-4
Defensive Coordinators: Lance Anderson

Week 6 Recap: Defeated Oregon State 48–17
Pass Defense: 48 % completion percentage, 236 passing yards allowed, and 2 touchdowns
Rush Defense: 168 rushing yards on 33 attempts, 5.1 yards per attempt, with 0 touchdowns
Total Defense: 1 turnovers (interception), 404 yards total offense allowed, 5/15 on third down

Defensive Line:

The Cardinal run three down linemen in their defensive base front. In the past two years, the Stanfurd Cardinal has produced quality defensive line talent drafted high in the NFL. Solomon Thomas went No. 3 overall to San Francisco in 2017 and more recently, nose tackle Harrison Phillips was picked in the third round by Buffalo. The exodus of top-tier talent is evident in their pass rush. They lack a dominant player up front whom offenses have to plan around.

Cardinal sack leader Jovan Swann has four sacks so far this year—well behind Phillips and Thomas’ numbers through their first 10 games. Swan has been the most consistent Cardinal defender in the backfield, recording 6.5 tackles-for-loss and constantly hurrying opposing quarterbacks.

Swan’s partners in crime on the defensive line are Michael Williams and big boy Dylan Jackson. Williams makes his living stuffing running backs in their rushing lanes and moving piles backward. He seems to be a part of every play and his stats back that up. He leads all D-line players in tackles with 35. Jackson, a 6-foot-6 and 265-pound senior, has not seen his size translate to production. In his ‘Furd career, he’s recorded just one sack and 3.5 TFLS. He is coming off a cold streak, having only six tackles in his last three games.

’Furd’s run defense is middle of the pack statistically. The defense can be vulnerable to bad days (like in Week 3 when Notre Dame rushed for 272 yards) but they also can have good days (such as in Week 9 when they only allowed 59 rushing yards from Washington State). For the most part, however, the Cardinal give up a ton of rushing yards. In every game but three, opponents have put up 100 plus yards against the Cardinal—and two topped 200 yards.

Linebackers:

This team’s defensive strength lies in their linebackers, specifically in the middle. Redshirt senior Bobby Okereke leads the Cardinal in total tackles with 69 (nice). The team captain is in his third season as a full-time starter on the second level. He’s recorded nine sacks and 18 TFLs in three seasons and has improved on those number totals in each year. Expect to see Okereke a lot on Saturday—he’s the emotional and physical leader of the defense.

The other middle linebacker starting in ‘Furd’s 3-4 defense is senior Sean Barton. The Utah native is coming back from a season-ending injury he suffered Week 3 in 2017. Barton has made the most of his final season playing college football, securing a career-high 67 tackles—good enough for second on the team. He also has a forced fumble and interception to go along with his high tackle count.

Outside linebacker Joey Alfieri has been a playmaker when he’s on the field, but for the past three games, that hasn’t been the case. Alfieri injured his arm in a Week 6 loss to Utah. He sat every game since and remains on the injury report. Despite reports of him being back at practice in a limited fashion this week, it’s likely he remains out against Cal.

Jordan Fox has been starting in Alfieri’s place since week 7. Fox has been a consistent contributor when given playing time in his three years. He’s made the most of his new status on the depth chart going from back-up to starter. Fox has posted 22 tackles, 2.5 TFLs and one sack since Week 7.

Casey Toohill starts at the other edge-defending outside linebacker position. Like most Cardinal players, Toohill redshirted as a freshman, saw consistent play time as a back-up, and eventually became a starter through seniority. Toohill as a starter this season has put up two sacks, three TFLs, and 23 tackles. His numbers don’t jump off the screen—shoot, they don’t even stand up—but he remains a pass-rush threat in a well-coached defense.

Defensive Backs:

’Furd’s pass defense has been susceptible to big numbers this season. The Cardinal is ranked 108th in the NCAA in passing defense, allowing 263 yards per game. The secondary has also allowed 13 passing touchdowns including an aerial touchdown in three-straight weeks. Seven different quarterbacks have gone over 200 passing yards against them this season.

The most productive player in the back end is a true sophomore—Paulson Abedo was a four-star prospect out of Texas in 2017 recruiting cycle. Abedo did not see any action in his freshman year, but he’s hit the ground running as a full-time starter in his second year. The six-foot-two cornerback is third on the team in tackles with 53. He also has one interception, four TFLs, and 15 pass break-ups. Abedo fits the typical Cardinal cornerback mold; he is tall, lanky and has tremendous ball skills. Abedo will line up on the outside, most likely working against Vic Wharton III or Moe Ways.

Alijah Holder is a similarly-sized cornerback as Abedo, possessing a tall frame and long arms. He doesn’t have as many interceptions or PBUs as Abedo does, but his tackle total of 46 is right behind him. Two players in the secondary are tied for most interceptions—reserve cornerback Alameen Murphy and starting free safety Malik Antoine. Holder has only two interceptions in four years of play time, so Chase Garbers shouldn’t have any problem throwing to his side of the field.

Previously-mentioned free safety Malik Antoine has been a stand-out player on defense for ‘Furd. Antoine’s speed allows him to roam the field with sideline-to-sideline range. He is in his first year playing safety and he has settled into the new position naturally. Both interceptions he’s caught this season were in one game—Week 2 against USC. The Trojans started 18-year-old J.T. Daniels at quarterback and Antoine picked on him twice.

Strong safety Frank Buncom has a nose for the football. Last season he was second on the team with three interceptions, only two behind third-round NFL draft pick Justin Reid. Buncom has taken over the duties in his absence. While his interception totals—only registering one in 2018—have been underwhelming, Buncom has been a dependable player in the backend. He has 38 total tackles this season and is coming off a great game against Oregon State. Pro Football Focus named him as the top safety in their Week 11 Pac-12 all PFF team.

Poll

How many points will California score against Stanfurd?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    0–10
    (16 votes)
  • 21%
    11–17
    (78 votes)
  • 57%
    18–24
    (207 votes)
  • 9%
    25–31
    (33 votes)
  • 7%
    32 or more
    (27 votes)
361 votes total Vote Now