After four games, the California Golden Bears are 3-1. A good win against Fresno State, a heart-throbbing victory over Colorado, an easy but not perfect win over Presbyterian, and a hard-fought but disappointing loss to Washington. With a third of the season over, what does Cal need to do in order to climb up the Pac-12 rankings and get into a respectable bowl game?
I will take a stab at this question by look at each position from what we have seen to what we need.
What we have seen –
Cal’s defense is 2nd in the Conference in Total Defense, Rushing Defense, and Tackles for Loss. Much of that has to do with the solid performances of both Mychal Kendricks and DJ Holt at inside linebacker with 34 and 29 tackles, respectively. Those two have been solid inside but have had some problems when positioning themselves during pass plays (something that Mike Mohamed was very good at). There have been many outside linebackers for Cal including Ryan Davis, Dan Camporeale, David Wilkerson, Cecil Whiteside, and Chris McCain. The only person with notable stats from this group would be from Cecil Whiteside who has two forced fumbles and sacks. There have been too many missed tackles in the backfield that could have resulted in sacks or tackles for losses. Both Cecil Whiteside and Chris McCain have shown that they have great speed and athleticism but sometimes they over-pursue allowing opposing offenses to easily get away from them (this will not be acceptable against an offense like Oregon).
What we need –
David Wilkerson was injured for the Washington game, but he should be able to play against Oregon. Both Chris McCain and Cecil Whiteside should have a lot of minutes against speedy Oregon, but they will need to stay on their assignments or the game will look much like the disaster against Nevada last season. Mychal Kendricks and DJ Holt aren’t putting up big numbers like Mike Mohamed did a couple years ago but they are still solid and can definitely churn out a lot more big tackles. The talent is there at linebacker, but the players must play smart against their Pac-12 foes if they are to succeed.
Assessment of Linebackers so far: B, solid inside linebackers, but the outside linebackers still have lots of work to do.