BERKELEY -- California will be as healthy as it's been in about three weeks when it faces off against Washington State on Saturday, with tailback Daniel Lasco at its disposal.
"Lasco's good," said head coach Sonny Dykes, who affirmed that his starting running back will play. "I think so. He's practiced all week. He's gotten all the reps in practice. I would expect him to play unless he doesn't feel good tomorrow, so we'll warm him up, see how he feels. He's felt good all week."
That's about what Dykes said last week at this time, but with a key difference: He's done everything in practice this week, every day.
"I don't see a scenario where he won't [play]," Dykes said.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1594160-one-on-one-cal-dt-... Starting defensive end DeVante Wilson "should be the same way," Dykes said, though he's done a bit less in practice than Lasco.
Starting left tackle Brian Farley -- who left the Washington game after the first quarter with a sprained ankle -- "will dress and have an opportunity to play," Dykes said, though Aaron Cochran has received the lion's share of reps at left tackle this week.
A huge boost to the secondary is coming in the form of safety Griffin Piatt. Dykes said confidently that the former wide receiver -- who went down with a knee injury after Week Six last year, after getting three interceptions in the first three games -- will play.
"He will," Dykes said. "He'll be one of the guys that's in the rotation playing. A lot of it depends on how well he moves around and how well he plays. I don't think he's going to play 80 plays or anything Saturday, but we'll bring him along slowly and see how he holds up and what his level of play is. He'll keep practicing more and more, and the more he practices, the better he'll play."
Linebacker Aisea Tongilava -- who went down a month ago with a non-football toe injury -- "is probably going to be longer than that," Dykes said. He could "potentially" be a candidate for a medical redshirt. "We'll see how it plays out," Dykes said.
Griffin Flies In
The return of Piatt cannot be understated, as the Bears will need plenty of bodies in the secondary against Mike Leach's Air Raid offense.
"I played mostly nickel that game, so I didn't see that many outside passes; I was fitting runs and things of that nature," said starting cornerback Darius Allensworth. "It's exciting to go out there. Halliday is gone, but they still have a good quarterback in Luke Falk. I've been watching him over the last couple weeks, and I've seen him in the spring game, because my best friend (Jamal Morrow) plays running back at Washington State. We're eager to get out there, and show what we have, showcase our talent."
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1593172-offensive-match-up... Last season, Darius White was thrown to the wolves against Washington State after missing almost all of fall camp with a shoulder injury, but Dykes says he's "a totally different player."
"He missed most of camp, and was just a guy we threw in last year because he was a healthy body," Dykes said. "That's really what he was. He was a guy that was a good athlete, who didn't really know how to play the position yet, and certainly didn't know how to play it the way we wanted him to. He got thrown into a game before he was really ready, and it wasn't really pretty, but he was one of the guys we had. Obviously, since then, he's developed into a good player. he's bigger, stronger, faster and he's playing with confidence. He knows what to do, and he's doing it."
Piatt was healthy last year when the Bears allowed 734 passing yards to Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday -- an FBS single-game record -- but with a secondary that now places atop the FBS with nine interceptions, a veteran presence can only strengthen the back end against Falk.
"We won, and people set records, but as long as we got the W, I'm happy with that," Allensworth said. "[Piatt coming back means] everyone's interception chances go down, because Griffin's back. It's great. We need more support, and more help in the back end, especially against Washington State, because it's going to be 80-90 plays, so we need as much help in the secondary as we can get. I joke with Piatt, every day in practice, 'When you coming back?' He's like, 'I'm coming. I'm coming back in a week,' and I say, 'I've got to get my picks before you come back, because you're going to pick all of them.'"
"They're playing with some confidence," Dykes said. "I think they're excited to see how they're going to perform."
Falk, unlike Jerrod Heard and Jake Browning, is not playing in his second or fourth collegiate start. Falk started the final three games last season after Halliday went down, and has completed 111 of 152 passes this season, with just four sacks and one interception.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1591935-five-takeaways-cal... "I would say we're excited to showcase what we have in the secondary," said Allensworth. "This will be a perfect challenge. Washington State throws the ball on first down, second down [...] their first-down run ratio is 25 percent, I've seen. It's exciting to showcase what we have as a secondary."
Getting Wilson back certainly strengthens a pass rush that had Browning on the run last week, and has scored a Pac-12-best 12 sacks.
"Those guys, it's been amazing," Allensworth said. "Coach [Fred] Tate has them right. Their pass rush has been the thing that's enabled us to get 12 sacks and nine interceptions."
Last year, the Cougars threw 70 passes, and the Bears didn't register a single sack.
"We need to get some pressure," Dykes said.
With the prospect of over 80 defensive plays -- contrasted with just 55 last week -- looming, depth will be paramount in the secondary.
"You've got to have it everywhere on a football team," Dykes said. "It's proven to be the case at running back, where we've had guys go down, and other guys have stepped up. I think it's happened at tackle, where we had two guys go down last week, and two other guys had to step up. That's going to happen to us at some point, defensively, so we've got to be prepared."
No Ranking Hangover
Last season, and the season before (when Cal posted a 6-18 record, combined), the Bears were 125th in the nation -- dead last -- in pass defense. Now, Cal finds itself not only in possession of one of the stingier defenses around, but ranked in the Associated Press and the Coaches Poll at No. 24.
"It's a great feeling. We try not to focus on it, but it's a great feeling, from when I got here and we went 1-11," Allensworth said. "We lost a teammate (Ted Agu) in the spring, then went 5-7, so to be 4-0 right now, it feels great."
Dykes said that the team has been "focused" all week, not taking its foot off the gas, despite the ranking.
"This was probably the best Thursday practice we've had this season," Dykes said. "The guys are tuned in. I thought it was a good day today, and thought we had two good work days on Tuesday and Wednesday. I think we've got a little pep in our step right now, and I think they're excited to play.
"I haven't seen any signs of that [complacency], at all. It's been to the contrary, but there's still a lot of time between now and one o'clock on Saturday to keep turning the screws."
While last year, Allensworth played the nickel back position, this year, it's Cameron Walker who's taken over there, after a season at safety and a season at cornerback.
"He brings experience, and if you ever watch Cam, he's always to the ball," Allensworth said. "He's 100-percent, all the time, and that's what we need as a defense. Cam is the perfect example of what we want as a defense."
That experience and the criticism the back half of the defense has had heaped upon it over the last two years are part of the reason why that group has turned out to be one of the Bears' strengths this year (Cal has allowed just two touchdown passes in four games), and in a game that, last year, saw over 1,200 yards of passing, that all will be put to the test.
"I feel, as a whole, we're more experienced, and our will to win is better than it's been," Allensworth said. "We know how to practice now. We want the ball. our main thing is getting to the ball. We're like the offense -- we want the ball. We go after strips. We're attacking the ball more."
Will the secondary be ready?
"We'll find out," said Dykes. "They need to be ready. It'll be a good test for them. They're as good as anybody in the country, throwing the football. They're good at what they do, they're efficient, they execute."