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Q: Is Cal's D Good? A: Do Four Bears Sh....Ahhh, I Just Can't Go There

 

We’ve read much ado about Cal’s 3-4 defense. This ain’t a drill folks. The threat is real.


What’s different? Just three defensive linemen up front supported by four linebackers; two inside and two outside. The 3-4 sacrifices some beef at the line of scrimmage for added speed on the edges. The 3-4 helps Cal put its best athletes in a position to slow down the Ducks’ best athletes.



But scheme alone does not a defense make.

 

Just ask Cal coach Jeff Tedford. He takes a pragmatic view of deploying the 3-4 versus Oregon’s spread…stating this week that the scheme itself doesn’t guarantee Cal can shut down the #5 ranked running game in the nation. He does believe the added speed might help the Bears limit big plays. If that’s going to happen, it’s on the shoulders of four speedy, talented and experienced Cal linebackers.

Felder_medium Williams_medium Follett_medium Mohamed_medium

Anthony Felder (#7, 6-3, 241 lbs., Sr., WA) anchors the inside position. He was a Pac-10 honorable mention LB in 2007 and was among the leaders in the conference with 101 total tackles. He’s well on his way to triple digits again in 2008. One of Felder’s career highlights – sorry, this will sting a little – was his fourth quarter interception that set up Cal’s winning touchdown last year in Eugene.

Felder’s partner in pain on the inside is Worrell Williams (#1, 6-0, 250 lbs., Sr., CA), a physical three year starter with a proven knack for creating turnovers. Williams had 105 tackles in 2007 and was on the pre-season watch list for the Butkus Award.

Speaking of pain, Cal outside linebacker Zack Follett (#56, 6-1, 238 lbs., Sr., CA), has perhaps the Pac-10’s best nickname: Pain Train. Duck fans, we gotta get us one of these. Follett leads Cal in career sacks, tackles for a loss and forced fumbles. How good is this guy? Good enough to be on preseason watch lists for the Butkus Award, Lott Trophy, Nagurski Trophy and Bednarik Award.

Follett’s counterpart at outside linebacker appears to be Mike Mohamed (#18, 6-3, 229 lbs., RS So., CA), who Jonathan Okanes of the Bay Area News Group suggested earlier this week will be getting his first start of 2008. You could say Mohamed earned it in last week’s Cal win over UCLA. All Mohamed did was destroy the Bruins with nine solo tackles, two for a loss, a sack and an interception return for a touchdown. That’s how you get to be Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week.

These guys are good, no question. They aren’t always dominant.

Arizona and Maryland both piled up good rushing yards and three rushing TDs apiece versus the Bears. And neither of those teams has a rushing attack like Oregon’s. What they do have, however, are solid passing games (really solid in the case of AZ) which impacted Cal’s ability to sell out against the run.

To Cal’s advantage, Oregon’s O-line has not faced a team that runs the 3-4 so predominately. No doubt the big guys were drilling hard this week and watched a lot of Cal game film. Jeremiah Masoli’s reaction to a different look is also critical, since he must make the split-second option reads. Defenders won’t be in all the normal places, and that may be just enough to cause hesitation or confusion at times.

Attacking the 3-4:

Conventional wisdom suggests running directly at speed. That seems easy enough. Just hand the ball to LaGarrette Blount and watch the trauma unfold. Then again, Chip Kelly is far from conventional, and a staple of Oregon’s game is making the other team run non-stop wind sprints from sideline to sideline. There’s no reason to believe the Ducks will abandon their most effective plays just because Cal puts a fourth linebacker on the field.

Look for Oregon to establish a passing game early by moving Masoli outside the pocket. There his vision is unimpeded and he can execute a variety of run-pass options. Even a little passing will keep the Bears honest, and that opens up the play book for Masoli and Kelly.

A few other keys:

• Blocking by the wide receivers can result in the Ducks springing big plays.

• Chip’s going to test Cal’s defense early with serious misdirection. If the Bears get all hyped up and over-pursue, we might see a big play by Jeff Maehl or Terence Scott.

• Dropped passes – or hopefully the lack of. Oregon can’t afford to have drives stall by dropping balls.

• Blitz pick-up assignments. With four fast LBs, the Bears can and will come from all angles. Masoli has to be protected from a big hit that might cause a turnover, or worse.

If all goes to plan, we’re going to find out how just how well Cal’s fearsome foursome reads, reacts and tackles when the game is on the line and they’re gasping for oxygen.