Game Day Central: Oh What a Rush

Last year, Cal's defensive backfield and defensive line were the Bears' soft underbelly. This year, Fred Tate's unit expects to make things a bit easier on the back end, plus all of our preview materials for the season opener against Grambling State.

Game Day Central: California vs. Grambling State

When: 2 p.m. Pacific, Sat., Sept. 5
Where: California Memorial Stadium
Weekly Preview Presser: Message Board Thread
TV: Pac-12 Networks - Roxy Bernstein (Play-by-Play), former Cal QB Mike Pawlawski (Analyst), Drea Avent (Sideline)
Radio: KGO 810 AM - Joe Starkey (Play-by-Play), former Cal QB Dave Barr (Analyst), Todd McKim (Sideline)
SiriusXM Satellite Radio: Sirius (93) and XM (197)
Cal Student Radio: KALX 90.7 FM - BearTerritory writer Glenn Borok (Play-by-Play), David Straub (Analyst), Todd Vogel (Analyst)
Series History: First Meeting
Injuries:Griffin Piatt (doubtful, knee), LB Aisea Tongilava (broken toe, out)

BERKELEY – Last season, the California defensive line tallied just 16 sacks. It’s a sore spot.

“That pisses me off,” defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil says of the sack total. “It pisses me off that we didn’t work well as a group, like that.” 

On Saturday, at 2 p.m., Jalil and the rest of his defensive line compatriots will start on their path towards rectifying the complete lack of a pass rush. Thanks to two newcomers, the formulation has changed. This is a new group. “There’s been several surprises, this camp, as it went on. One: We didn’t know how Kyle Kragen would come back from being out a year, in terms of retaining some of his technique, and stuff like that," says defensive line coach Fred Tate. "He was a big surprise, and he’s going to give us something – a burst – up front, that we were missing.”

After missing last season due to a particularly debilitating pre-season bout with mononucleosis, Kragen is back and stronger than ever this year, by his estimation, over 20 pounds heavier than he was at his lightest, following his illness.

There are two more names on the two-deep that the Bears didn't have last season, also: James Looney and DeVante Wilson. The first: A transfer from Wake Forest, who had to sit out due to transfer rules last season. The second: A former USC signee who came to Cal from Riverside Community College.

“Looney was a surprise, and really, seeing what he can do for an extended period of time, versus 15 days in the spring, and bam bam bam bam bam bam, he’s still doing it, and still active and fresh, right now," says Tate. “I think DeVante Wilson was what we thought he was, when we recruited him. We’ve got some guys that are going to bring a more energetic front this year, in terms of pushing the pocket.”

Another pleasant surprise? The man simply known as "Honey Mustard"David Davis. Tate had only found out about his defensive tackle's new nickname once fall camp was over.

"Somebody asked me, and I said, ‘Hell, I don’t know what it means,’" chirps Tate. "I think Marcus Manley came up with it, and it just kind of snowballed from there.”

While defensive ends Noah Westerfield and Jonathan Johnson helped provide pressure off the edge last year, this season, Puka Lopa and Todd Barr are stronger and quicker than they've ever been, and with Looney and Jalil on the inside, this defensive line is going to have a lot of ways to apply pressure.

“Oh, very, very much different," says right guard Jordan Rigsbee. "Our inside D-linemen have improved greatly. You’ve got all the guys that have played last year – Marcus Manley and all these guys – who have made leaps and bounds in their game, then, of course, you’ve got Moose coming back, and Moose is finally healthy. That’s awesome. I’ve played against anyone that you could play against in the Pac-12, and I think Moose is as good, if not better, than anyone I’ve played against.” “Kyle Kragen has made strides in his game, and his pass rush," Rigsbee says. "Up until this year, I would say Kyle was a hard working, tough kid, stopped the run, strong. But, he’s getting out there, throwing two, three, four pass rush moves out there on veteran guys like Steve (Steven Moore) and like Brian Farley.”

Tate says that his Bears are champing at the bit to face someone other than their own defensive line though, and on Saturday, they get their chance against Grambling State.

"We won’t ever know how good we are until you face somebody," Tate says. "Grambling’s got an experienced offensive line. They’ve got guys coming back – three or four guys coming back – and they’ve got a junior college transfer in that deal (Terry Boyd and Jeremy Hill out of Hinds Community College), they’re going to give us a challenge, in terms of spreading the ball out, spreading the field, throwing the football, running some of the zone read schemes and stuff like that, so it’s going to be a challenge for us, and I hope our guys step up to it.”

The name that keeps popping up -- just like his hair -- is Looney. Former Cal defensive end -- and newly-minted student assistant -- Andre Carter -- said that Looney is just a hair away from being truly elite, and Tate agrees.“He’s so athletic, and he’s strong," Tate says. "What he’s got to do is play hard, all the time, and the ceiling is unlimited for him. I’m not going to put a number on it, where he could possibly be, but he’s one of the better athletes for a big man in the interior line that you’re going to see in college football. He’s in a conference where he’s not covered up so much, to where it’s all run, run, run. This is a pass-first conference, minus one or two teams. He should have some success.”

The Tigers' offense is a unique blend of zone read, spread and some power elements, which should help to prepare the Bears for the variety of offenses that they'll face in the Pac-12, at least, schematically-speaking.

“It will definitely be a good primer for what we’re going to see in the Pac-12, and we go against it every day out here," Tate says. "It’ll be really advantageous for us to go against somebody else, and see how we fare.

“It’s going to be more spread, but they do a little bit more with their spread, in terms of some of their power read, some more option stuff, and they do quite a bit of empty, so it’s going to be a challenge, with them spreading the ball over the field, and us constantly getting rush.”

Game Day Previews

FEATURE: Daniel Lasco - All That Matters

Scout NOW: Season Preview 

Bear Republic Podcast: Cal Names Captains

Scout NOW: What to Watch For - Grambling State

Previewing Grambling State Offense With Broderick Fobbs

Practice Report: Goff Ready to Step on the Gas Top Stories