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Week 2 Defensive Preview: BYU

The Bears travel to Provo to face a Cougars defense that shut down Heisman-candidate Khalil Tate last week in Tucson

Scouting Report

Scheme: 4-3
Defensive Coordinator: Ilaisa Tuiaki
2017 Pass Defense: 225 YPG, 66% Completion, 7.6 Y/A, 17 Sks
2017 Rush Defense: 148 YPG, 3.7 YPC
2017 Total Defense: 24.7 PPG, 373 YPG, 5.3 YPP, 41% 3rd Down, 17 TOs
ESPN 2017 Defensive Efficiency Rank: 66

2018 vs Arizona
Pass Defense: 17–34, 197 YDS, 1 Sk
Rush Defense: 35 CAR, 129 YDS
Total Defense: 23 PTS, 326 YDS, 4.7 YPP, 6/15 3rd Down, 0 TOs

Defensive line

This unit was the primary reason for the BYU Cougars’ victory last week in Tucson over the Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats came in with an offensive line with just seven career starts under their belt and BYU’s big, mature group took complete advantage of them. The Wildcats’ OL was a bit of a concern coming into 2018, but even more so after three projected starters (including 2017 All-Conference Honorable Mention C Nathan Eldridge) went down with injuries in fall camp. BYU rarely put more than five players in the box and still had no problem stuffing the Wildcats’ run game and even had one of those five (frequently DE Corbin Kaufusi) keep his eyes glued on QB Khalil Tate to take away the read-option keeper. This is a big group with plenty of depth at DT. It is not as athletic as the front of the North Carolina Tar Heels front that the California Golden Bears faced last week and will not get after the QB as well as the Tar Heels did. BYU rarely blitzed Arizona and often only sent three to rush with Kaufusi spying Tate. The 6’9” DE Kaufusi highlights the group along with the 340-lb NT Khyiris Tonga. The group is listed primarily as underclassmen on paper, but several of them have already gone on their LDS mission and are much older than anyone on Cal’s roster.

The Starters

DE Trajan Pili JR 6-2 247
NT Khyiris Tonga SO 6-4 340
DT Bracken El-Bakri SO 6-3 285
DE Corbin Kaufusi SR 6-9 275


DT Zac Dawe SO 6-4 280
DE Uriah Leiataua SO 6-4 265
DT Lorenzo Fauatea SO 6-4 300
DE Devin Kaufusi FR 6-7 255
DT Earl Tuioti-Mariner FR 6-4 280
DT Merrill Taliauli SR 6-2 310


This group is not as deep as the DL, but the starters played a solid game at Arizona spearheaded by OLB Sione Takitaki. Takitaki may be the best player on this defense and made a lot of key plays in last week’s victory He has instincts, he tackles well, and he can drop back in coverage. MLB Butch Pau’u is smart and physical—though not very athletic—and OLB Zayne Anderson is a converted safety and more of a speed/coverage guy.

The Starters

OLB Zayne Anderson SR 6-2 215
MLB Butch Pau’u SR 6-0 225
OLB Sione Takitaki SR 6-2 230


LB Adam Pulsipher SR 6-1 220
LB Riggs Powell SR 6-2 220


They played a lot of Cover 3 against Arizona and this unit does not blow me away. Still, they did a very nice job preventing Arizona from capitalizing on the many shots Khalil Tate took downfield. Similar to watching Cal’s play-calling vs North Carolina, the Wildcat’s game plan was head-scratching. Tate threw the ball deep into coverage at least ten times and rarely was successful. The Cougars knew Arizona had a speed edge along with a super dual-threat QB and loaded help on the perimeter and allowed the Wildcats to outnumber them in the box. Still, I was surprised to see very few QB stretches, draws, or any other runs designed to get Tate loose because nobody on this BYU roster could tackle him in space. CBs Chris Wilcox and Michael Shelton made a few nice plays and converted-CB Dayan Ghanwoloku moved over to safety this season. This is probably the weakest link of the defense, but still looks strong enough for this Cougars to have a solid season.

The Starters

CB Michael Shelton SR 5-8 175
FS Austin Lee JR 6-0 202
SS Dayan Ghanwoloku JR 5-11 200
CB Chris Wilcox JR 6-2 195


S Troy Warner JR 6-1 197
CB Beau Tanner SR 6-0 189
CB Keenan Ellis FR 6-0 175
S Sawyer Powell SR 6-1 195
CB D’Angelo Mandell FR 6-1 175

The match-up

No, this is not going to be easy, but I expect a much better performance by Cal’s offense on Saturday night in Provo. They key is QB play and I firmly believe Ross Bowers will be the guy taking the majority of the snaps. Even after last week’s poor performance, it was easy to see he is the most developed of Cal’s QBs in terms of making his reads and connecting in the intermediate- and downfield-passing games. Cal’s poor offensive showing had much to do with its conservative game plan to protect the lead by running the ball with its more mobile QBs in the game and to avoid turnovers. I am not saying this Cal offense is great by any means, but I still firmly believe it is considerably improved from last season. Cal’s offensive line will have a battle against BYU’s front in the run game, but will perform much better in pass-protection. Despite a poor passing performance against a talented North Carolina defense, the Cal WRs looked pretty good and they need to shine against this BYU secondary. We will probably see a much different gameplan from the Cougars since Khalil Tate is a completely different animal than anyone else, but there should be plenty of throws to make in the intermediate passing game against soft coverage. This is where Bowers can excel and guys like Vic Wharton, Kanawai Noa, and Ray Hudson can thrive. If BYU presses the line of scrimmage like North Carolina did to stop the run, the Bears need to beat them over the top. Wharton and Jeremiah Hawkins are capable of beating this secondary deep and I believe Bowers is the best QB to deliver these passes. No matter how Cal’s offense plays, this game should be low-scoring. Both teams, particularly BYU, work the clock and do not push much tempo.


How many points will Cal score against the BYU defense?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    (143 votes)
  • 48%
    (252 votes)
  • 22%
    (118 votes)
  • 0%
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    50 or more
    (6 votes)
522 votes total Vote Now