Preview: Derron Brown and Luc Bequette will be players to watch as Cal defends Hawaii

We break down what to look for on Friday as Cal defends Hawaii's new-look pistol offense on Friday at 7 p.m., Pacific.

MESSAGE BOARDS: Sydney Sendoff Transcript

Hawaii's best defense may wind up being its offense. 

The Warriors return top running back Paul Harris, who ran for 1,143 yards and six touchdowns last season, while catching 14 balls for 151 yards out of the backfield. Hawaii also returns second-leading rusher Melvin Davis, who rushed for 218 yards on 58 carries last season, and junior Diocemy Saint Juste, who was the starter for the 2015 season, before a hamstring injury sidelined him. Given that the Warriors went 3-10 overall, and 0-8 in conference to cost Norm Chow his job, Hawaii's offense may not inspire much gnashing of teeth, but their style of offense should.

The Warriors' new head man -- Nick Rolovich -- spent the last three seasons at Nevada, running the pistol. The option scheme places a lot of responsibility, defensively, on defensive ends and outside linebackers, as well as one safety, used to spy the quarterback. 

That quarterback -- Ikaika Woolsey -- completed 73-of-149 (49.0 percent) passes for 908 yards in five games as backup last season, with five touchdowns and six interceptions, while rushing for 84 yards rushing on 47 attempts, including a season-long run of 15 yards against Louisiana Monroe. Ikaika started all 12 games in 2014, going 210-of-416 for 2,538 yards, 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He also rushed 110 times for 203 yards. In his career, Woolsey has more interceptions (22) than touchdown passes (18), but moving from Norm Chow's pro-style attack to an offense that will rely more on misdirection could buy him some time. We saw a lot of blitzing during fall camp, so that may very well be how Cal plans to attack.

Ikaika is not the most prolific runner -- as a senior at Richmond (Calif.) Salesian in 2010, he rushed for 205 yards -- but he's just enough of a threat, along with Harris and Davis, to make the run game a factor, perhaps keeping Cal's high-octane offense off the field, and keeping a defense that's still a big question mark on it.

Two issues arise with Cal and defending the pistol offense.

First Issue: The safety spy. At this point, the two starting safeties -- Evan Rambo and Khari Vanderbilt -- haven't seen a pistol offense run by FBS athletes, although Vanderbilt did make three tackles against the veer option used by Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. Counterpoint to this: This is the first year that these particular FBS athletes have run a pistol. move of Malik Psalms to safety also will likely not see its full debut this week, precisely because of some of the tasks placed on the safeties defending the pistol.

“The move to safety’s going to be good for him," said defensive coordinator Art Kaufman. "He’s not ready yet, but he’s coming, and probably the ability to play safety and to do that position, he’s fine, but the decision making that he’s going to have to make is probably, at a new position that he wasn’t at in the spring, now he’s got to make decisions, and that’s just something that comes with time. It’s like a brand new quarterback or receiver, moving to quarterback. All of the sudden, he’s got to call all the shots. It’s similarly for him, because he’s been a corner all his life. I think he’s got a chance to really be good.”

Early on in game prep, Cal had issues with the pistol in terms of run defense but a switch turned on at some point over the last eight days. The defense began to hold strong even against the Bears' first-team offensive line and three-headed monster at running back, in full 11-on-11 scenarios. Over the final week of fall camp in Berkeley, Cal's linebackers fixed their issues filling gaps, and were much more stout against the run.

"I think it's better everyone understanding where their fits are," Kaufman said. "It's a combination of a run fit or a second-level guy or a first-level guy, and athleticism. One thing we've got, we're inexperienced, but we do have some athleticism, and that makes up for a lot."

The player I think is going to be absolutely crucial is going to be Derron Brown. A former safety who's been a terror off the edge when healthy this fall and spring, Brown can wreak havoc in the backfield, and he has the patience, speed and lateral quickness as a safety, but at outside linebacker.

"Derron Brown is, [...] whoo," Kaufman said, cracking a rare smile. "He's done a nice job. Guys who have the ability to know where to go, and to be able to get there fast make a lot of difference. Just like our two young ends [Chinedu Udeogu and Evan Weaver], they're a long ways away, but they've got athleticism, and they make up."

Defensive end DeVante Wilson echoed those sentiments about Brown.

"Blitzing through those A gaps and B gaps, he times it perfectly," Wilson said.

"He's quick," said offensive tackle Steven Moore. "He's hard to block through the gap. Him switching to linebacker was really good for us."

In addition, look for Jordan Kunaszyk to provide extra power in stopping the run.

"I know our newcomer, Jordan, is going to play a big role in this defense," said linebacker Devante Downs.

“The big thing for me has been his maturity level," Kaufman said of the American River College transfer. "You see a guy’s talent on film, and the biggest thing is probably his maturity level. He’s a physical guy, he’s always looking to get better, and that’s the biggest thing. issue: Defending the pistol requires assignment sound football. That means linebackers have to fit their gaps -- which they did not in Cal's only fall scrimmage -- and sealing the edge. That puts a lot of responsibility on outside linebackers, and if the Bears go with a two-linebacker set (or a six-DB dime set), the middle of the field could open up.

Rolovich -- a former Hawaii quarterback himself, and a a quarterbacks coach at Nevada under Chris Ault -- could try to re-energize a passing offense that threw for just 2,501 yards last season.

Senior receiver Marcus Kemp is the Warriors' best option on the outside, leading Hawaii with 36 catches for 563 yards last season, with two touchdown catches. While head coach Sonny Dykes believes that there is more depth in the secondary than there has been -- it may not be experienced depth, but it is talented, and longer on the whole -- the fact remains that the number of experienced hands who have departed was and remains one of Kaufman's biggest concerns.

These are all what-ifs, and that's really Hawaii in a nutshell. With an entirely new coaching staff, game prep by necessity has to be creative."It's kind of like Grambling, of last year," said defensive line coach Fred Tate. "You've got to get a general idea of what the head coach's discipline is. He was the offensive coordinator at Nevada, so you've got to look at that, study Hawaii, in terms of their personnel and not their scheme, to see who you're playing against, and then get a mixture, chase a few ghost plays here or there, but be vanilla and base enough to where you get in the game, and you say, 'This is what they're doing, and this is our adjustment.'"

While defensive end Zeandae Johnson tallied five sacks over the final week of fall camp in Berkeley, he tends to play a bit on the wild side, which doesn't bode well for the disciplined approach needed to seal the edge against a pistol offense.

The middle of Cal's defensive line, over the last eight days of fall camp, proved particularly strong up the middle, against arguably the strength of the Bears' offensive line. Look for James Looney and Luc Bequette to make an impact.

“He’s a little bit different [than Looney]," Kaufman said of Bequette, who DeVante Wilson called a "baby Looney," at Pac-12 Media Days. "I would say he’s somewhat like Looney. He’s not as athletic, but he’s probably more of a power guy, and he’s athletic for his size, but he’s a little bit more of a power guy, and Looney’s a finesse guy.”

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