The Cal Bears have settled in nicely to the new offensive philosophy of first-year head coach Sonny Dykes. True freshman quarterback Jared Goff leads the nation in passing as the Bears are averaging over 30 points per game through Week 2. The defense, on the other hand, is still a work in progress. They rank No. 106 in scoring defense as they give up 37 points a game so far and have had issues stopping anyone. With the high powered Urban Meyer offense of the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes coming to town, that defensive ineptitude will ultimately cost the Bears in their upset bid.
Even if the questionable Braxton Miller is sidelined because of his knee, the Buckeyes are stacked with athletic talent that can gash a defense in the blink of an eye. Running back Jordan Hall has been unstoppable in the first two games, racking up 234 yards on 34 carries, averaging 6.9 yards per attempt, with three touchdowns on the ground. He’s an explosive cog in Meyer’s offensive machine and has helped Ohio State average 262 rushing yards per game heading into the first road game.
That’s a bad sign for a defense that hasn’t been able to stop anybody so far this season. Last week, the Bears were sliced up by FCS Portland State to the tune of 553 total yards, including 245 on the ground. The Vikings averaged 6.3 yards per carry as they raced up and down the field, narrowly missing on scoring the major upset in Berkeley. The week before that, Cal gave up over 200 yards rushing to the Northwestern Wildcats as well, including 129 yards and two touchdowns for Treyvon Green.
Now, they take one of the better offensive attacks in all of college football and they’ll have to do it short-handed. When the season started just two weeks ago, Dykes was counting on defensive ends Chris McCain and Brennan Scarlett, defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil, linebacker Nick Forbes and safety Avery Sebastian to hold down starting spots this season. None of them played in Saturday’s near upset of Portland State thanks to injuries and only one (McCain) is probable for this weekend.
Scarlett (hand), Jalil (knee) and Forbes (back) haven’t even taken a snap yet this season because of their injuries and there is no set timetable for their return. Sebastian is lost for the year following a torn Achilles tendon and McCain is behind schedule on his comeback from a head injury. Their replacements combined for only six starts in 2012 and their inexperience seems to be bleeding through with a poor defensive showing in each of the first two games.
To make matters worse for their big matchup against the Buckeyes, the team’s leading tackler, linebacker Michael Barton (17 tackles) is out this week with a sprained knee and starting free safety Michael Lowe is questionable with an ankle sprain. It isn’t enough that the defense can’t slow opponents down, now they aren’t even healthy enough to stay on the field.
Dykes has his offense up and running in Berkeley and they are dangerous enough to get into a shootout with the visiting Buckeyes this weekend. Without the support of a semi-competent defense making a few key stops, however, their upset bid doesn’t stand a chance.