Cal Football: Kuony Deng Knows It's Time For the Bears to Step Up Their Game

Jeff Faraudo

When Cal takes the field Saturday against Oregon State it’s a safe best linebacker Kuony Deng will hear the words defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon shared with his players.

In the wake of the Bears’ disappointing 34-10 loss at UCLA, Sirmon’s instructions struck a chord with Deng.

“At the end of the day, something coach Sirmon talks about, if all else fails our best players have to be able to tackle their best players,” Deng said. “I think he’s challenged a lot of our senior guys, a lot of our guys that we expect to go out there and make plays.”

Asked if he took the message personally, Deng didn’t hesitate.

“Oh, for sure,” he said. “Certainly, certainly.”

Deng, for sure, is one of Cal’s elite defensive players.

A year ago, in his first season with the Bears, Deng collected 121 tackles to rank third in the Pac-12. He made 7.5 tackles for loss and had 3 sacks.

Deng was a productive Robin to then-Cal star Evan Weaver’s Batman. Weaver led the nation in tackles, but Deng was good week after week.

He racked up double-digit tackles in six games, with a high of 16 against Utah. He had 11 tackles in last year’s matchup vs. Oregon State.

Deng’s lowest tackle total in 2019 was six.

Against UCLA, he had five.

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No one on the Cal defense showed particularly well. The Bruins rushed for 244 yards and the game was never close after halftime.

The Bears responded with a more physical week of practice.

“The intensity in practice has definitely been there,” Deng said. “The focus, the competitiveness, the physicality. We’re really stressing finish. Working a lot of tackling drills.

Referring to the return of the Bears’ defensive linemen to practice after two weeks in COVID-19 quarantine, he added, “It’s nice to have the line of scrimmage — that’s helpful.”

So the Bears take their 0-1 start to Reser Stadium against the Beavers, who have lost their first two games but beat the Bears a year ago in Berkeley.

The difference is OSU was pegged to finish last in the Pac-12 North and the Bears were picked second, with designs on challenging Oregon for the top spot.

That may or not even be possible, but certainly Cal has little wiggle room at this point.

A must win?

"It’s a short season,” Deng acknowledged, “and I feel like you want to make the most out of every opportunity. That’s how I’ll answer that question.”

Deng and Bears will answer the question Saturday afternoon in Corvallis.

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Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo

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