BERKELEY -- Portland State holds a place "near and dear" to the heart of California defensive tackles coach Barry Sacks.
From 1986 to 1992, he coached the Vikings' defensive line. He met his wife in Portland. But, "game day is game day," Sacks says, "and Cal is Cal, and you know where we're going with that."
The black and green won't be the only thing familiar for Sacks this weekend. Sacks and defensive coordinator Andy Buh spent a collective 11 seasons at Nevada during the period when Chris Ault perfected the pistol offense, and on Saturday, they'll see it again, thanks to fellow former Wolfpack coach Nigel Burton. The current Portland State head coach spent two seasons as the Nevada defensive coordinator, and liked the pistol so much, that he brought it up north.
"They've done a nice job of emulating the pistol offense, as it was run back in 2009," Sacks says.
"They run it to a T," says Buh. "They run it just like Coach [Chris Ault] ran it while I was at Nevada. It's pretty impressive how they've taken that scheme over and they may be the only people in the country that are strictly doing pistol. They're doing it the right way."
It certainly helps that the Vikings have sophomore quarterback Kieran McDonagh back of center. The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder rushed 89 times in 2012 for 406 yards and nine touchdowns, while starting 11 games and completing 171 of 314 passes for 2,187 yards and 14 touchdowns, but did throw 13 picks.
"He's a big old dude," Sacks says. "It's like you [the publisher of this very site] and me put together, and maybe Kyle [McRae, Cal football media relations director], too, or, maybe Kyle and half of you and me. He's a big old man, and he get downhill and runs hard, there's lots of that film of that guy putting his horns up and getting after you. You're going to have to bring your lunch and get ready to tackle."
That baker's dozen of interceptions, though, could very well be a welcome sight for a very depleted Bears secondary, which is without true freshman Trevellous Cheek (hamstring) and starting free safety Avery Sebastian (Achilles tear; out for the season), and precious little depth beyond starting corners Kameron Jackson and Stefan McClure.
In place of Sebastian, Alex Logan will start at free, with Michael Lowe remaining at strong.
The injuries to the secondary, though, are far from the only ones. While Brennan Scarlett (hand) will likely dress, it's doubtful that he'll play. Middle linebacker Nick Forbes is still on the shelf with a back injury, Nathan Broussard is out for the year with a knee injury, and defensive end Chris McCain is unavailable due to a head injury suffered this week in practice.
"We don't really let it bother us, but we just tell the guys, ‘Hey, the next guy just needs to stand up, pick up the flag,'" says Buh. "Our expectations don't change, regardless of who's in there. Our guys know that. We're expecting big things out of the next guy, so it gives that person an opportunity to show us what he can do. In a sense, it's building some depth, some needed depth for us, because those guys are getting practice reps now, which is going to be needed, once we go into conference, anyways."
In the case of McCain, the next man up is Kyle Kragen, who will start opposite of Dan Camporeale, and be tasked with keeping edge contain against a system that has proven to be challenging, to say the least, for Cal defenses of the past.
"It's mostly the backs. The backs are incredible," says Sacks. "They're downhill, they're not going to play around. They're typical pistol backs. They go north and south. They hug the wall, as they call it, in the pistol. It's going to be one of those situations where I think, probably, as he gets his reads, maybe we'll take that dive away and he'll get out on the perimeter."
For Sacks and his interior defensive linemen, the key is hitting the quarterback, no matter what.
"Tackle the dive, and then, when they do pass, keep the quarterback inside the pocket and put pressure on him," Sacks says. "He's potentially got the football, so if he's potentially with the football, take that football away. Tackle the dive. That's their main job."
The interior will once again be missing the services of Mustafa Jalil, who didn't practice in shoulder pads all week, due to a nagging knee injury, which head coach Sonny Dykes says is medically cleared, but is still too painful for Jalil to be 100% effective.
"At some point in time, Mustafa should make it back," Sacks says. "Obviously, that's up to his body and how it recovers and heals, but I'm always right there, watching him. All those guys that are like that, we expect them back at some point in time."
In the meantime, the interior is being patrolled by redshirt senior nose tackle Deandre Coleman, who tallied four tackles in the season opener.
"DeAndre Coleman is a silent man, but silent waters run the deepest, and that's what he is: He's silent, but he's very deep," says Sacks, who also sang the praises of Viliami Moala, who will start in tandem with Coleman, and had three tackles on Saturday. "Vei Moala is an emotional guy. He's a ball of fire to watch on the football field. If you just put a camera on that guy, you would have a ball, because he's a Tazmanian devil out there. I just love it.
"Those guys are really good, Gabe King is full of personality and has come on very well in fall camp. Jacobi Hunter is another very quiet, very silent guy, but I've got to tell you something: He's going to be a young man to deal with in the future. He's playing as a freshman. He had 22 snaps against Northwestern in the opener, and played well, so those guys, I have big hopes for all of them. As things go on, I think those guys will develop as the season goes, because they're still learning the way we do things on defense."
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