Cal D-Line Preps for Experienced Buffs

What challenges does the Colorado offensive line present for the Cal defensive front? We talked with coaches and players this week to find out just what lays ahead for the Bears on Saturday.

BERKELEY -- Sophomore Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau is not Anu Solomon. He doesn’t run like the quarterback California faced last weekend in Tucson. He’s rushed 21 times for a net gain of 61 yards, as opposed to Solomon, who has rushed 39 times in four games for 167 yards. As a passer, though, Liufau is very similar, at least statistically, completing 64.0% of his passes for 6.5 yards per attempt. Solomon has completed 63.4% of his passes for an average of 8.3 yards per attempt.

Stylistically, though, Liufau is more of a pocket passer, and, thanks to his experienced interior offensive linemen, he’s had quite a bit of time to throw, like Solomon did in the second half last weekend.

“We’ve got to get pressure on the quarterback,” says Bears defensive line coach Fred Tate. “We can’t let him sit there and hold it. He’s a pocket guy. He can run it, and he will run it, but that’s not his first choice. He’s going to go through his progression and he’s going to sit there and do something. That said, we have to get to the quarterback. We have to develop a pass rush or a pass push to keep him uncomfortable and make him throw the football.”

Up front, the Buffaloes are led by sophomore center Alex Kelley, who played in all 12 games last season, not allowing a single sack or pressure and playing penalty-free ball.

He’s flanked by seniors Kaiwi Crabb and Daniel Munyer, who each started all 12 games last season.

“Kaiwi and Daniel have done a heck of a job for us, and are playing really well,” said Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre. “They’re excellent leaders in there. They communicate really well with our tackles on different things, the different stunts and the blitzes they see coming. Both of those young men have played really well, and I’m glad they’re on our team. They’re fun to coach.”

Munyer was selected as a preseason second-team All-Pac-12 lineman, and is one of six team captains. Crabb is versatile, having played left tackle and center before this season. Last year, he started 12 games at left guard, and as a redshirt freshman, he played in all 13 games.

Last week, it was the defensive line that pressured Solomon the most, coming up with all three sacks as the linebacking corps helped to plug run holes against the dangerous Nick Wilson.

Unlike the Wildcats, Colorado isn’t a rushing-heavy team, ranking seventh in the Pac-12 in rushing offense (160.0 ypg). The Bears, on the other hand, are the best rushing defense team in the conference, allowing 110.7 yards per game on the ground, in large part thanks to the interior of Mustafa Jalil and Austin Clark.

“They come off hard. They’re a veteran group,” says Clark. “They’ve all played a lot of games, but that’s no different than any other team we play. It’s the Pac-12, so everybody we play is good, so it doesn’t change much for us. We’ve got to execute better this week.”

It was in fact a loss of outside containment – which Cal had kept solidly throughout most of the game – that helped to lead to the game-winning Hail Mary play by Solomon to Austin Hill.

“We lost contain. Brennan Scarlett ran inside, we lost contain,” says Bears head coach Sonny Dykes. “Safeties weren’t aligned as deep as they needed to be. We’ve got to get them a little deeper than they were, so they can try to keep things in front a little bit. They got a little too much of a trail. We had five players there, and coaching, our job is next time, we’ll have six. We had five guys that were there, and we’ll figure out a way to get six guys there next time.”

To help the safeties and cornerbacks contain the deadly wide receiver duo of Nelson Spruce and one-time Cal target Shay Fields, the pressure will be on the defensive line to not only make Liufau uncomfortable, just like Solomon was in the first half, but to continue that pressure through 60 minutes.

“You look at that [Arizona] game and them throwing the ball on the perimeter and down the field, the ball was coming out quick, so we didn’t really do anything different [from the first half to the second],” says Tate. “We stayed with our run principle. We’ve just got to get more pressure on the quarterback, period, with a four-man rush. We shouldn’t have to blitz to get pressure. We’ve got to get pressure with the defensive line.”

The Buffaloes will present a very different look than the spread-it-out Wildcats, as MacIntyre runs a more pro-style attack.

“They’re a little more tight end-oriented, in terms of one tight end or two tight ends or tight end wing,” says Tate. “They’re a little more straight-up, zone, stretch, add some power, some quarterback run power stuff, but they’re not a ton different in the zone scheme, other than adding two more guys into the box.

“I’ve seen that scheme before. We won’t do anything, technique-wise, probably any different. We’ll have to play the power and the double-teams and stuff, but we’ve just got to go out and be physical and match their physicality, and we’ll be fine.”

Colorado’s two tight ends -- Sean Irwin and Kyle Slavin -- have combined for just four passes this year over four games, while Cal inside receiver Ray Hudson -- who’s the closest thing to a classically-styled tight end the Bears have – has caught four passes on his own, while Stephen Anderson -- another tight-end-style body – has caught two. More often than not, the Buffaloes will keep their tight ends in to block, helping out tackles Jeromy Irwin (6-foot-5, 295 pounds) and 6-foot-7, 295-pound Stephane Nembot, who started all 12 games at right tackle last season and playing the second-most snaps on offense of any player.

Even with that kind of protection – which has allowed the fourth-fewest sacks in the Pac-12 – Liufau still gets the ball out fairly quickly.

“That quarterback did pretty well against us last year, and we remember,” says Clark. “He’s older now, so at the end of the day, it’s still the same stuff. No. 22 (Spruce) is great, they’re going to try to get the ball to him, and they’ve got a good group of guys. We’ve just got to try to get to him and pressure him.

“Early on, for three quarters, I thought we played well [against Arizona], for the most part, at least for a half. We played about as good a defense as you could play, and we, as a D-line, we should have gotten there a little quicker. That’s on us. We’re going to try to fix that this week.” Top Stories