Cal Football Video: Bears' Defense Has Been Good, But Has It Been Good Enough?

Jake Curtis

Defense and special teams are the backbone of many successful football program, and Cal has not been quite as good in those areas this season as it would like, according to head coach Justin Wilcox.

It would be nearly impossible for the Bears’ defense to live up to the lofty preseason expectations set for that unit. The defense is still clearly the Bears’ strength and remains one of the best in the Pac-12, but with most of the key players back from last year’s top-notch defense, some were expecting something akin to the 1985 Chicago Bears.

Wilcox, a longtime defensive coordinator, has had a lot to do with creating the Bears’ productive defense. But he would like to see more consistency in the second half of the season after the 4-2 start.

“Getting negative plays is really important for us; we had a couple stretches when we didn’t do that as well,” he said in assessing his defense. “Same thing with taking the ball away, which is always an emphasis for us. This last week we were able to take it away a lot better.”

Cal had three takeaways against Oregon, which helped the Bears stay in that game, but Cal has just nine takeaways for the season.

Let’s compare Cal in 2019 with Cal in 2018 in several defensive categories.

Total defense

2018 – 317.2 yards per game (15th nationally, 3rd in Pac-12)

2019 – 372.5 yards per game (54th nationally, 5th in Pac-12)

Scoring defense

2018 – 20.4 points (22nd nationally, 3rd in Pac-12)

2019 – 18.3 points (18th nationally, 4th in Pac-12)

Rushing defense

2018 – 141.2 yards per game, 3.61 yards per rush

2019 – 158 yards per game, 4.07 yards per rush


2018 – 31 or 2.38 per game

2019 – 14 or 2.33 per game


2018 – 28 or 2.15 per game (6th nationally, 1st in Pac-12)

2019 – 9 or 1.5 per game (51st nationally, 8th in Pac-12)

Cal is giving up more yards but fewer points this season, and its run defense is not as strong as it was last year.

But the biggest difference is takeaways. Not only has Cal forced fewer turnovers this season, but it has yet to score a defensive touchdown after scoring five defensive TDs in 2018.

You must consider that all of Cal defensive statistics are hurt to some degree by Cal’s offensive shortcomings. With the Bears’ offense going three-and-out often, the opposing offense has a lot more opportunities to rack up yards and points.

Wilcox is also a bit disappointed the Bears’ special teams, especially punt coverage.

“Punt team hasn’t been as strong as we had hoped,” Wilcox said.

Cal was hoping for great things from its special teams with punter Steven Coutts returning after an outstanding 2018 season.

Health issues that limited the availability and effectiveness of Coutts this year have been part of the problem in punt coverage. He and Dario Longhetto have combined to average 38.53 yards per punt this year with six downed inside the 20-yard line.

Last year, Coutts averaged 42.46 yards per punt and had 37 downed inside the 20-yard line. That’s a sizable difference.

Greg Thomas had been a consistently accurate field-goal kicker until the Oregon game, when he missed both attempts, one from 32 yards and one from 46.