BERKELEY -- Last year, Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday threw for an FBS single-game record 734 yards against the Cal secondary -- then, the worst in the nation.
The Bears' defense is now considerably different, with nine interceptions and 14 total takeaways in the first gour games -- both first in the Football Bowl Subdivision -- and have a reigning College Sports Madness Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week in Darius White.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1591935-five-takeaways-cal... White came up with a career-high two of the Bears' five forced turnovers on Saturday against Washington, with an interception that he returned 21 yards and a fumble recovery to go along with four tackles and 1.0 tackles for loss (-4 yards). White has a team-high three of Cal’s 14 turnovers this season, leading the Bears with two interceptions for a team-high 21 return yards and a team-high-tying one fumble recovery to go along with 18 tackles to rank tied for third on the team and 1.0 tackle for loss (-4 yards).
Also coming to bear on a veteran Washington State offensive line will be reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week Kyle Kragen, and defensive end DeVante Wilson, who head coach Sonny Dykes said will be practicing in full this week, but will be evaluated to see how well he comes back from a mid-foot sprain.
"He has been good. He's very tenacious," Dykes said of Kragen. "That's the good thing about Kyle -- he plays the gam the way it's supposed to be played. He plays hard every play. He's gotten stronger this offseason, and he's moving well. He's just been around. He's an experienced guy that's been around and has an arsenal of pass rush moves that he's developed. He's also played the run well, but the thing that's stood out is that he plays so hard. He's a second-effort guy who never gives up on a play."
The Bears will also get the services of safety Griffin Piatt, who, after making three interceptions in the first three games last season, went down with a knee injury in the sixth game, on Oct. 11, against the Huskies. He's back on the safety depth chart for the game against the Cougars, listed as "or" with Khari Vanderbilt, behind starter Damariay Drew at the field safety position.
What does his return mean to the secondary?
"It means everyone else's interception chances go down," laughs cornerback Darius Allensworth, who played mostly nickel last year against Washington State, a wild 60-59 affair. "As a whole, we're just more experienced, as a defense. Our will to win is better than it has been. We know how to practice now. We want the ball. We're like the offense -- we want the ball -- strips, interceptions, we're attacking the ball more."
Cal will be facing Cougars quarterback Luke Falk and two of the toughest receivers in the Pac-12 in Gabe Marks -- who missed last season because of legal issues, as well as injury -- and River Cracraft.
Marks -- who caught 74 balls for 807 yards in 2013 -- has 25 catches for 273 yards this season, while Cracraft has 17 catches for 230 yards and a touchdown.
"I think I've seen improvement from week 1 to week 3," Dykes said of Marks. "When you sit out a year, it takes a while to get back in the flow of things, but he's a very good player. He can make plays on the ball. He goes and gets the ball, Falk's got a lot of confidence in him, and that allows him to make physical plays.
"The relationship that Falk and Cracraft have, they're on the same page. Falk knows where Cracraft's going to be, and Craycraft knows where Falk wants him."
More Press Conference Notes
"I was satisfied with what they had to say," Dykes says of hit on Lawler, though he "didn't know" if there would be any punishment of Victor.
Lawler -- who went to Pomona (Calif.) Upland -- and Victor -- who went to Pomona (Calif.) -- were high school rivals.
Lawler, after his two touchdown catcheson Saturday, now has 20 in his career.
Along with Piatt, Cal will add Cameron Saffle to its list of healthy players. The true freshman defensive end suffered a torn ACL in high school, and has been slowly working his way back during practice. Last week, he got into some third-down situations, but Dykes said that Saffle is "cleared and ready to go" to compete in games, now, and will be getting more work in. Dykes noted Saffle as a "kid who's impressive, physically," and he was one of the players we noted before the season who could potentially see early playing time.
Offensive tackle Brian Farley is still an unknown, with his ankle.
"We'll know more as we see how he moves around," Dykes said. The ankle sprain he suffered in the first quarter against the Huskies is "not a particularly bad one," but Aaron Cochran is expected to continue to take first-team left tackle reps.