ATTACKING THE CAL DEFENSE and looking at SPECIAL TEAMS

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What are the tendencies of the Cal defense? What should we expect from them in this first game against MSU? Here are some answers:

Bob Gregory is the defensive coordinator and they are making a switch to a 3-4 defense to take advantage of the exceptional linebackers in the system. Yet, even last year they were the most productive unit on the field and the defense has once again shined this fall.

Consider this, in 2007, the linebackers combined for 334 tackles, 9.5 sacks (48% of the teams total), and 26.5 tackles for loss, which was 43% of the overall defensive effort. In

fact, the Cal defense has always been predicated on two things: being solid against the run, and forcing fumbles and interceptions at a nice clip. Last year they forced a fumble in 11 of 13 games. MSU will have to be smart in picking up linebackers coming through gaps and protecting the football.

Linebackers: Like I mentioned earlier, this is the strength of the defense and they are led by Butkus Award candidate Zack Follet. Although bothered by a bad groin this fall, Follett has led the team in sacks the last two years and has forced eight career fumbles. Worrell Williams is another backer that will have to be reckoned with after compiling 105-tackles, 8.5 sacks and three forced fumbles himself in 2007. Anthony Felder, who has had a sore knee this camp is another good backer. Keep an eye on DJ Holt who is a big time hitter and who has been impressive in both plugging the middle in goal line situations and intercepting passes. Devin Bishop is another talented LB who has been bothered by torn ligaments in his thumb. In fact this whole group has been banged up a little this fall with even Worrell suffering from an abdominal strain. However, they all should by healthy by game time and they are a solid group.Like I mentioned earlier, this is the strength of the defense and they are led by Butkus Award candidate Zack Follet. Although bothered by a bad groin this fall, Follett has led the team in sacks the last two years and has forced eight career fumbles. Worrell Williams is another backer that will have to be reckoned with after compiling 105-tackles, 8.5 sacks and three forced fumbles himself in 2007. Anthony Felder, who has had a sore knee this camp is another good backer. Keep an eye on DJ Holt who is a big time hitter and who has been impressive in both plugging the middle in goal line situations and intercepting passes. Devin Bishop is another talented LB who has been bothered by torn ligaments in his thumb. In fact this whole group has been banged up a little this fall with even Worrell suffering from an abdominal strain. However, they all should by healthy by game time and they are a solid group.

Defensive Line: Pass rusher Rulon Davis and Tyson Alualu are the penciled in starters but keep an eye on Cameron Jordan, who has great ability in rushing the passer from an end spot. The tackles are Mika Kane (who has been bothered by a bum ankle) and Derrick Hill. Cody Jones is the mix here as well. DE Ernest Owusu is a strong redshirt freshman who can pressure the QB. Prep All-American DT Trevor Guyton is turning heads in camp.

 

Defensive Backs: One corner is maintained by Syd’Quan Thompson, who has excellent anticipation of offensive reads, and who had two long punt returns in the spring. There is a battle at the other corner between Darian Hagan and Chris Conte. Hagan has exceptional closing speed to the football in the passing game, while Conte is quick in run support.Marcus Ezeff is the rover and has a knack for intercepting passes. Bernard Hicks is the free safety. If JC transfer Bryant Nnabuife get into the game, he can be had in pass protection because he comes up quickly in run support. Late note—Thompson is battling a sprained shoulder. MSU needs to lay a few shots on him for sure.

Special Teams: The Bears have solid special teams and keep an eye on punter Bryan Anger. This guy is a weapon and he just booms the ball with that leg of his. MSU will have to have someone with sure hands back there. Both place kickers Jordan Kay and David Seawright have been in a tight battle to start, Seawright might have the slight edge. Explosive Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen are the kick returners. Punt returning duties will include Thompson with help from Vereen or even Sean Young. MSU cannot give up any great returns by Best or Thompson and make sure they throw Anger off his game otherwise he will change field position. Will Thompson’s sprained shoulder affect his ability to return punts?Â

KEYS TO BEATNG THE CAL DEFENSE: MSU must play well early, score often and take the loud Cal crowd out of the game. Cal outscored opponents in the 1st and 2nd quarter last year and MSU must prevent a fast start by the home team. In the red zone the Bears plug the middle well against the run in goal line situations, but are prone to giving something up via the air to the tight end, etc. Protecting the football is key, as Tedford’s record with minus turnovers is pedestrian. Take what the defense gives you; Washington and Air Force scored the most points against Cal last year, and oh by the way, they did so by rushing for 360-yards and 312-yards respectively. In other words, they wore down the Cal defense. Air Force did lose, but they don’t have the same talent as Cal does. However, the others teams that beat them last year had good balance to what they were doing offensively and in fact had more passing yards. With the change to the 3-4 defense, MSU must adjust to what they are given since Cal probably anticipates getting the ball shoved down their throats.

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