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Cal Football 2019: Washington Defensive Preview

Week 2 against the doggos!

Eastern Washington v Washington Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Husky defense have one connection to the UC-Davis defense we faced last week: they’re replacing a bunch of talent from last season. The defense loses 6 of its top 7 tacklers, top 2 sack recorders and leader for tackles for loss. The drop off of talent should not be that significant with the Huskies’ recruiting ability, but that also means there will be some positions to exploit due to inexperience. Let’s take a look.


Defensive Line

The defensive line is anchored by Senior Benning Potoa’e, listed at 6-foot-3 and 290 lbs, and Junior Levi Onwuzurike, listed at 6-foot-3 and 293 lbs. Potoa’e and Onwuzurike played significant minutes last season notching a combined 75 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. They’re very experienced and exactly know their roles on any types of coverage. Behind the two upperclassmen starters are some redshirt freshman in Sam Taimani and Tuli Letuligasenoa. Behind them the depth drops off to true freshman in Jacob Bandes, Sama Paama, Faatui Tuitele and Noa Ngalu. The size and experience is very top heavy with a significant drop off in experience after the first group of players.


The Huskies use their linebackers freely and in various setups, using them as outside linebackers in odd man front and as the edge rushers in an even man front. They have a deep stable of linebackers to pull from even after the two deep. Star Ben Burr-Kirven has moved on, to the NFL and plays down the road for the Seattle Seahawks, but that doesn’t mean the Huskies have a lack of talent at the position. However, they do have to make up his production of 176 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss , 2 sacks, 2 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles. Ryan Bowman and Joe Tryon are listed as the starters at Outside Linebacker. Brandon Wellington and Kyler Manu is listed as the inside linebackers. Bowman and Wellington will be tasked with leading the Huskies in tackling with a combined 58 tackles last season. However, the two of them did not play the whole season, Bowman played 12 games while Wellington only played 9. The backup to look out for is OLB Ariel Ngata, a former 4-star linebacker from Folsom, CA who looks to have forced himself into the conversation to play this season. The true freshman that may make some noise out of that group is Zion Tupuola-Fetui and former Cal target Laiatu Latu.

Defensive Backs

The Huskies lost some quality NFL talent in the defensive backfield this off season with Taylor Rapp, Byron Murphy and Jojo McIntosh all heading off to the NFL. Rapp and Murphy both made the roster for the Rams and Cardinals, respectively, but McIntosh was cut by the Redskins on the final day of preseason. The Huskies retain the service of Myles Bryant who was their third leading tackler last season with 61 tackles. He also added 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks all from the safety position. Freshman Cameron Williams is the other starting safety for the huskies in a young unit. Junior Keith Taylor and Redshirt Freshman Kyler Gordon start at corner with Junior Elijah Molden the starter at slot corner.

Play Breakdown - 3 plays that show the UW Defense’s strength to be wary of and weaknesses to exploit

Play 1 - Safety Blitz

  • The Huskies love to show blitz with their ILB to mask some of their pressures and force the offensive line to pay attention to them and not perhaps the corner sneaking up to the LOS.
  • The OLBs and DBs deciphered the snap count early on and got a jump on the snap for blitzes off the edge.
  • Most of their blitz pressures came on the edge from their OLBs and CBs.
  • Below: A look at a safety blitz that's masked as a Tampa 2 with Myles Bryant moving blitz at the very last second.
Notice how far the Safety(5) is lined up.
By the snap he's at the LOS attacking the RB.
RB gets just enough leverage to push Bryant’s weight out and slide him behind the QB.
Running lane for QB to scramble while keeping his eyes down field for a 10+ yard pass.

Play 2 - Power Run effectiveness

  • They struggled against power run plays.
  • With an effective run game, the DL tended to bite hard on a play action.
  • Below: EWU using a pulling guard to run to the left creating a huge hole with the left tackle at the second level before the RB even makes it into the gap.
Setup is as an RPO with 4 wide.
RG pulls with the LG and C down blocking. LT is free to push up and has his sights on the linebacker.
RB goes 4 yards before he's hit with the initial tackle

Play 3 - Multiple coverages and disguises

  • Very similar defensive play-calling to Cal. Multiple fronts and looks. Pressures change from different positions and not just from the defensive line. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are sending extra players on the blitz.
  • Now because the front 7 have multiple looks and disguises they sometimes struggled to adjust to pre-snap motions and communication the hand-off of assignments.
  • Below: Perfect timing and execution shows the NG and ILB disappearing from the QB’s vision and making it seem like they are accounted for by his OL.
Inside Linebackers are blitzing with perfect timing of the DL rush.
Lower ILB stays in a spy while the NG stays at the LOS and looks to play the passing lane over the middle
Notice the lower ILB and NG not pursuing and planting right at the original LOS while the rest of the pressure continues
QB thinks the middle of the field is open, sees the NG late has to adjust his throw and the pass is incomplete.


I fully expect the Bears to start the game with their workhorse running back Christopher Brown Jr. Wearing down the front 7 could go a long way in opening up some of the one-on-one opportunities for the the WRs and TEs later on in the game. Controlling the clock and limiting the time their offense has on the field will be the way to victory if our offense is struggling to put up points. In terms of the pass game, look for Beau Baldwin to use his size at the WR and TE positions to take advantage of the smaller DBs of Washington. Particularly using the likes of McCallan Castles, Jake Tonges, Makai Polk and Trevon Clark to attack S Myles Bryant. All in all, look for the power run game of the Bears to take center stage, play action passes to take the pressure off Garbers, and the pass protection to use a lot of attached Tight ends in 11 and 12 personnel.