California has some talent spread out through its defense, but does not have a unit that is considered to be strong.
The California defensive line was a major question mark going into the season and there are even more concerns now. The injury depleted unit has struggled to get any pressure on the quarterback, but there has been one bright spot.
Mammoth senior nose tackle Deandre Coleman has accumulated 7.5 tackles for loss with a couple sacks and has generally been solid. Lining up next to Coleman is Viliami Moala.
Moala is a legit 315-pound tackle who has been fairly good against the run, but brings very little as a pass rusher.
The Bears have gotten next to no pass rush from their defensive ends. Dan Camporeale brings experience to the unit, but he hasn’t made many impact plays. The other end, Puka Lopa, is only 240 pounds and for much of the season hasn’t looked like a Pac-12 player.
There is talent at the linebacker position. Middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson is an instinctive player who has totaled 51 tackles, but his lack of quickness makes him vulnerable in the passing game.
Kairi Fortt has arguably been the most consistent Cal defender. A well-built 240-pound linebacker, Fortt leads the team in tackles and has shown some play-making potential.
The other linebacker, Jalen Jefferson, has a similar build to Fortt and, like Fortt, he has been fairly steady this season. Watch for him to come on a few blitzes Saturday.
The secondary has two talented players in strong safety Cameron Walker and free safety Michael Lowe. Walker has flashed all-conference talent as a do-everything safety, while Lowe has shown to be a solid tackler.
The cornerback position is a mess. Junior Kameron Jackson has been around the ball and recorded a number of pass break ups, but he has still been burned quite often this season.
The other cornerback spot has been manned by multiple players, with little to no success. Look for Joel Willis to get the start, but he figures to be on a short leash.
In short, California has a few players who could start on most teams in the conference, but the lack of play-making talent, particularly off the edge, has been a major problem this season.
Players to Watch:
#14, FS Cameron Walker: Walker has been one of the better freshmen in the country. Initially recruited as a cornerback, Walker has been a natural at strong safety, showing a knack for making plays on the ball while continuing to improve as a tackler.
#91, NT Deandre Coleman: Since taking on a bigger role, Coleman has shown he is more than a big body. He has been able to consistently apply pressure and has been one of the few bright spots on a struggling defense.
#7, LB Jalen Jefferson: Overshadowed by Fortt, Jefferson is a big linebacker and one of the few players on the Cal roster capable of getting after the passer.
Keys to the Game:
Don’t come in over confident: Although California is one of the least talented teams in the conference, the Wildcats aren’t good enough to take any team for granted, especially a Cal squad that has a few athletes.
Be smart with the ball: Denker has been much better of late and a lot of that has to do with ball security. As long as he takes care of the ball and doesn’t force throws, Arizona should win handily.
Run the ball: A physical runner like Carey should feast on a team that has had a difficult time tackling anybody. This could also be another game where Daniel Jenkins gets some time.