BERKELEY -- While the focus of many previews of this weekend’s clash between California and UCLA will be squarely on the battle between the Bears’ defensive line and the Bruins’ inconsistent offensive front, last week, it was Cal’s front five that took the beating, allowing four sacks and multiple pressures which didn’t help Jared Goff wait for windows to open in down field coverage.
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For offensive line coach Zach Yenser, it was, unquestionably, the worst performance the line has had all season.
“I told my guys, the most disappointing part of it all was that we just didn’t finish,” says Yenser. “I don’t think we came out and competed as hard as we wanted to, and that falls back on me.”
The line certainly did its fair share of falling back on Goff, who hasn’t taken that many sacks since Oct. 26, 2013 at Washington.
“I thought we were prepared,” Yenser says. “I don’t think we were confused on what they were doing or on blitzes or anything like that. I just think we came out pretty good. We came out and went three-and-out the first drive, and had a pretty nice drive the second drive, and then it just kind of […] You come off to the sideline, and it has been – we’ve gotten down early in games and guys are over there like, ‘We’re going to roll.’”
That didn’t happen on Saturday. Cal got down quickly thanks to Shaq Thompson’s 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown and, two drives later, saw a second Goff fumble returned to the Bears’ 25. One Cyler Miles pass to Joshua Perkins and 13 seconds later, Cal was down 14-0 with just over a minute and a half left in the first quarter.
“They came off the sideline, and I think the whole team was like, ‘We didn’t score.’ They were just in shock,” Yenser said. “Then, they just didn’t respond to it well. My guys, that’s my fault. It was by far, as a unit -- there were some good, individual performances here and there and efforts – as a whole, as a group, it was our worst game of the six that we’ve played.”
Left tackle Steven Moore admitted that he didn’t expect Huskies BUCK linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha to line up like he did – a strategy that earned him three of Washington’s four sacks.
“He was lining up wide, and that was something I hadn’t seen much of, this year,” Moore said. “I’ve got to get better at it.”
“I think, with some of the formations that we ran, I think we’ve got to expect him,” Yenser says. “We saw it on film. In a couple of the situations, we’ve got to get ourselves out of third-and-medium and third-and-longs. Stay out of those, so the defense isn’t just thinking, ‘Pass rush, pass rush, pass rush.’ That falls back on us. We control that. If it’s third-and-two, they’re not going to be in nine-technique flying up the field. We’ll run power.”
After two penalties on Saturday – an a third that was declined – by Alex Crosthwaite, he was removed in the third quarter for Matt Cochran.
“I wanted to try to get Matt in earlier, and Alejandro had two back-to-back penalties – the holding penalty and the tripping penalty,” Yenser says. “The whole [ineligible receiver] downfield thing, that’s part of our offense. If we’re running the ball, my guys think we’re running the ball and if we don’t throw it by the time we’re downfield, we’re going to get called on that. That just happens. And, it wasn’t just the holding penalties. I talked to Alejandro about it -- personal fouls and stuff that’s really going to hurt the team that is stupid -- holding penalties, that just comes with the territory. We can be better. Did you hold? Your hand was outside; get your hands inside. It’s usually your feet that’s the problem. It wasn’t just the holding penalties. It was just trying to get Matt in, trying to get a spark, somebody fresh.”
Cochran took all the first-team left guard snaps on Tuesday.
“Matt’s getting reps right now, just trying to get some guys some reps that haven’t gotten a lot of reps, and obviously Matt got some right guard reps during the game,” Yenser says. “Oso (starting left guard Chris Borrayo) was in the meeting with us getting reps, doing some walkthrough stuff, and some individual with us. We’re just trying to rest some guys and keep their bodies healthy.”
One drive in particular seemed to do in the line – the 18-play drive at the start of the third quarter – took a heavy toll, and informed practice on Tuesday.
“They went 20 straight,” Yenser says of his first-team line. “We finally, we had to work for that. The first drive at Northwestern was like a 19-play drive, and everything else has been pfft pfft pfft. That’s why I kept my guys in there for three periods. The ones stayed in the whole second half of practice. I said, ‘Hey, here’s 25 straight plays. This is what it feels like. We’ve got to be good when we’re tired. We can’t be tired, but we’ve got to be good.’”
When the line tires, that’s when penalties and stupid mistakes happen, and Cal can’t afford those mistakes against a stout UCLA defensive line that features sophomore end Eddie Vanderdoes and redshirt senior end Owamagbe Odighizuwa.
“Straight across, the three guys they’ve got listed as D-linemen, and you’ve got the four linebackers, they’ll come up and rush – they’re pretty flawless,” Yenser says. “The front seven, they’re horses. They play tough. They’re great with their hands. They’re great with their hands.”
The defensive line is backed with perhaps the best linebacking corps in the Pac-12, headlined by Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack.
“We know that we’re going to be in for a battle,” says Yenser. “We were in a battle last year.”
Last season, the Bruins notched 8.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks against Cal at the Rose Bowl, with two forced fumbles.
“I think my guys are ready to go,” says Yenser. “They had a good practice on Sunday. I think this one was pretty good here. They know what’s at stake. They know it’s in-state. They know these guys. They’ve played high school football with these guys. They’ve been on recruiting trips with these guys. They know these guys. They know these guys are top-notch athletes. I think they’ll step up.”
On Sunday, Yenser says, the linemen came in “pissed off” and ready to atone.
“The great thing about my room is the character of the guys. They came in pissed off, as they should be,” Yenser says. “That’s the great thing about those guys: They watch it, and they’re honest with themselves, and honest with each other. They get embarrassed if they let their team down or do something that they don’t do out here. That’s a good sign.”