What defensive challenges will Hawaii bring against Cal?

We break down what Cal's new-look offense will be facing when they face off against a re-imagined Hawaii defense in Sydney Australia.

Storyline 1 throughout this offseason for California has been: 'How do the Golden Bears move on from losing their six top receivers and No. 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff?'

http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1685873-countdown-to-kicko... Storyline 2 has been the arrival of new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, the fourth-youngest Power 5 coordinator in college football.

Storyline 3? Easy. The arrival of Davis Webb.

Slide tab 3 into slot 1, and you've got yourself a pretty sturdy kitchen table on which to build Spavital's offense.

After fall camp in Berkeley, Spavital was asked if Webb was as good as advertised. As Webb slid onto the couch next to his offensive coordinator, high above the California Memorial Stadium turf in the University Club, Spavital cracked: "“Nah, he’s been terrible."

The two share an easy rapport and a common tongue as sons of high school football coaches, and most importantly, they share a background: Both learned from Kliff Kingsbury. Those commonalities have allowed Webb and the new offense to hit the ground running.

"When you grow up as a coach’s kid, you pay a lot of attention to detail," Spavital said. "Davis watches tape of practice probably two or three times. One, he’s going through the whole thing with scheme, the next one he goes through is about his technique, and he’s starting to understand. He pays close attention to every single person on the field, and I think that just makes communication easier for me, because he’s up to speed, and he’s studied everything about it. He can tell you how Chad [Hansen] runs every single route. He can tell you why D-Rob [Demetris Robertson] is good at running. If you call a certain play, in his mind, he knows exactly where he’s going, because he’s studied the game so much, and that’s where communication is just so easy.”


On the other side of the coin is Hawaii, Cal's first opponent of the 2016 season. While the Bears have come out of an offseason of turnover rather unscathed (on the offensive side of the ball, at least), the Warriors have undergone a complete overhaul.

"It's a bit of an unknown," Bears head coach Sonny Dykes said last week, when asked about preparing for their date with Hawaii on Friday at 7 p.m. (Pacific) at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, Australia.

http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1698546-breakdown-defendin... With a completely new coaching staff, and not enough healthy personnel to get through a spring scrimmage, the Warriors are indeed a bit of a mystery, so, Dykes said, the Bears will look at the coordinators.

Head coach Nick Rolovich -- one of the hottest young coaches in the game -- has been a bit of a chameleon. Echoing the years of June Jones, Rolovich's 2010 and 2011 Hawaii teams averaged 353.1 passing yards and 101.1 rushing yards per game in his two seasons as the Warriors' offensive coordinator.

When he moved to Nevada, governed by the pistol for four years in Reno -- including pistol architect Chris Ault's last in 2012 -- Rolovich's offenses averaged 218 yards per game on the ground, and 211.3 yards per game passing.

New Hawaii defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa's career, though, is older than his boss, with 42 years of coaching under his belt. Lempa's tendencies are a bit easier to divine. His teams have consistently been in the top third of the nation in terms of passing defense, but they don't often go for the interceptions.

Through the Air

Lempa comes to the Warriors after contributing to the sixth-best passing defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision last season, in terms of yards allowed per game (171.5 ypg) through the air, with Boston College.

As the defensive backs coach for the Eagles (his third season in the role), Lempa coached a Boston College defense that surrendered the fewest yards in the FBS last season (254.3 yards per game) and ranked fifth nationally in scoring defense (15.3 points allowed per game).

"You go back and you look at Boston College, obviously," said Dykes. "That's where their coordinator came from, so you try to see what they did. They had a really good defensive football team."

A brief look at Lempa's last three FBS stops:

Year Team Passing Yards Given Up Per Game (national rank) Interceptions (national rank)
2003 Boston College 229.54 (74) 19 (13)
2004 Boston College 204.00 (47) 17 (9)
2005 Boston College 220.83 (62) 11 (70)
2006 Boston College 202.92 (59) 21 (3)
2007 Maryland 210.69 (33) 13 (61)
2008 Maryland 218.23 (77) 10 (75)
2009 Maryland 245.5 (97) 10 (76)
2010 Maryland 227.85 (78) 19 (11)
2013 Boston College 268.4 (111) 9 (92)
2014 Boston College 229.8 (66) 9 (91)
2015 Boston College 171.5 (6) 13 (42)

Looking at Lempa's previous FBS stops, interceptions aren't really where his bread is buttered -- although the Eagles had 13 last season (more than Hawaii's total turnovers gained: 11).

Lempa's defensive backs will go after the ball, and they won't stop when it settles into a receiver's hands. Last season, Boston College defensive backs tallied nine of the Eagles' 14 total forced fumbles. So, what have we seen Marloshawn FranklinAntoine AlbertLuke Rubenzer and Darius Allensworth doing this fall? Working on the strip, punching the ball out and being physical. That's two-fold preparation: Cal defenders are more focused on going for the turnover, and forcing the younger receivers to prioritize ball security.

Last season, the Warriors allowed 208.9 yards per game allowed passing, a respectable number, especially considering their overall record. That number, though, is a bit misleading. Opponents outscored Hawaii 267-114 in the first half of games last season, meaning that many second halves were run-the-clock affairs.

Take, for example, the game against Ohio State, which shut out Hawaii, 38-0. In that game, the Buckeyes completed 20 of 34 passes for 181 yards, and rushed for 182 yards on 49 attempts. In the first half, Ohio State dropped back to pass 24 times, and ran the ball 26 times (counting sacks as dropbacks). That ratio went to 14 dropbacks to 21 rushing attempts in the second half.

http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1698397-demetris-robertson...Even looking at that number -- 208.9 passing yards per game -- without game strategy context, the Warriors have still lost their two most productive defensive backs from that group.

Cornerback Nick Nelson had 15 passes broken up in 13 games started as a sophomore, with one sack and 53 total tackles. He transferred to Wisconsin.

Cornerback Ne'Quan Phillips, who started nine games and played in 11, is also gone, having exhausted his eligibility. He broke up six passes last year and tallied 48 tackles, along with 4.0 tackles for loss

Redshirt senior corner Jalen Rogers does return, after tallying 40 tackles and six passes defended last year, with five breakups. Apart from him, though, no Hawaii defensive back got in the way of more than three passes, and the Warriors as a team only tallied three picks. 

The aggressive, ball-hungry defensive backs that are Lempa's trademark will be of concern, particularly with some of the younger receivers, like Vic Wharton, Robertson, Kanawai Noa and Melquise Stovall, but I think that's where you see Jordan VeasyChad Hansen and Ray Hudson come in.

"That dude's impressive," right tackle Steven Moore said of Stovall, who gives Cal's offense a home run threat from just about anywhere on the field, particularly in the screen game." When he gets the ball in his hands, he can do whatever he wants. He's one of the shiftiest guys I've seen."

http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1683878-countdown-to-kicko... Defensive end DeVante Wilson agreed: "He's going to have a big impact this year."

Hudson hasn't had the best hands in his career, but as a big body over the middle, Hawaii's completely reconstructed linebacker corps (the Warriors lost four major contributors to graduation) is going to have some trouble, though it should rely on Jerrol Garcia-Williams, who still finished second on the team with 89 stops last season, despite missing the final three games.

"You're not going to see many 6-foot-3, 235-pound wide receivers," said Cal head coach Sonny Dykes.

If you put Hudson, sticky-handed and physical Jordan Veasy, and freshman Jordan Duncan, for that matter, over the middle and up the seam, particularly with the mesh cross plays we've seen from this type of offense in the past, hitting dink-and-dunk passes, you can open up the edges enough for Stovall to take a screen up the sideline for a big chunk, and then hit Hansen, Robertson and Brandon Singleton over the top.

On the Ground

http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1695838-cal-fall-scrimmage... Hawaii allowed 239.8 yards per game on the ground, and that was against a team that prided itself on its linebackers. From that group, Hawaii has lost two of its four starters from a 3-4 hybrid system. Lempa, in installing a 4-3 base, moves the Warriors out of the 3-4 hybrid. That's going to at least nominally help with depth issues, much as Cal's reliance on the nickel and dime formations have helped ameliorate the offseason losses at linebacker -- graduate transfers Hardy Nickerson, Jr., and Michael Barton, as well as the graduations of Jalen Jefferson and Nathan Broussard.

Linebackers, though, are only a part of the equation when it comes to rushing defense. Hawaii does return all three starters from the defensive line, but that's where the new scheme causes a bit of an issue.

As Cal fans saw in 2013, switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 means that some defensive ends have to move inside (like Mustafa Jalil) and some outside linebackers have to bulk up and put their hands in the dirt. In the first season of that transition, there are going to be growing paints. Instead of having six solid defensive linemen you can rotate in a 3-4 system, you really need eight, and as Cal has shown, being in a conference with a plethora of spread offenses, you really need about 12.

Hawaii just doesn't have that kind of personnel, and they're going to be facing a very large and very veteran offensive line that is the strongest unit for the Bears, led by Moore, a candidate for the Outland Trophy and the Vince Lombardi/Rotary Award.

http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1698899-lynch-joins-cal-pr..."He's been a really good leader for us," said offensive line coach Brandon Jones. "I had a lot of good conversations with him over the summer. He's the one who organized all the workouts. He's by far our fearless leader."

"Every year, he becomes just a different player," Dykes said of the 6-foot-6 Moore. "He's completely different, physically, now, than he was four years ago. He's completely, 100 percent bought in. His work ethic is as good as anybody in our program. He's incredibly tough. He's been playing a lot of football for us, and played it well. I think he's going to be one of the premier offensive linemen in the league."

Colorado transfer Kory Rasmussen is the big name up front. As a junior, Rasmussen was a nine-game starter at nose tackle who appeared in all 13 games, racking up 43 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks.

In all, of the 25 sacks the Warriors tallied last season, 12.5 return, including 7.0 along the defensive front. 3.0 of those returning sacks come from linebacker Jahlani Tavai. At 6-foot-4, 235, he has size, speed and experience (playing in all 13 games last season, with 56 total tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks) but the team's leading defender, linebacker Julian Gener -- who had 95 total tackles, including 13 of Hawaii's 83 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks -- is gone, playing for the Ottawa Redblacks.

Cal won't start an offensive lineman under 6-foot-3 (and only one -- Chris Borrayo, an Outland Trophy and Vince Lombardi/Rotary Award Watch List member -- is shorter than 6-foot-4).

Of the players who should see reps up front in the first game -- Borrayo, Patrick Mekari, Addison Ooms, Jeremiah Stuckey, Moore, Dominic Granado, Dwayne Wallace, Kamryn Bennett and Vince Johnson -- all check in at 295 pounds or heavier, and all but Bennett and Borrayo are 6-foot-4 or taller. Make no mistake: This is a big group.

"We're going to be good this year, especially with the running backs we have," said Moore. "We're going to be able to run the ball. It's going to be different. Our O-line is going to be a really big offensive line, too. We've got a bunch of big dudes."

http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1690209-enwere-ol-is-cal-s... Last season, Hawaii's defense was 58th in the nation in tackles for loss (averaging 6.4 TFL per game), but 75th in sacks (25), so they don't create much pressure to speak of, off the edge. For comparison's sake, Cal ranked 60th in sacks (28) and 101st in tackles for loss  (5.2 TFL per game).

On the flip side, the Bears were 29th in the nation in tackles for loss allowed (5.08 per game) and tied for 63rd in sacks allowed (27). Consider that those numbers are season totals, not reflective of how much better the Bears were once the vertical pass set was abandoned.

Cal allowed just seven sacks over the final six games, after having allowed 20 over the previous seven, and allowed 19 tackles for loss over the final six games, compared to the 47 they gave up in the first seven games of the season.

The Bears' three-headed monster at running back -- junior Tre Watson, junior Vic Enwere and senior Khalfani Muhammad -- have a combined 82 games played with 461 career carries, and last year, combined for just 57 negative yards, while running for a net 1,595 yards -- all rushing for over 500 yards, individually.

By all reckonings, this offense is going to run the ball more than Cal did last year under under offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. That, offensive coordinator Jake Spavital learned from Dana HolgorsenHis father Steve Spavital calls it Dana Ball. Given the strength of the offensive line, it's a good bet that there won't be many negative carries.

Perhaps a key for the Bears in Sydney: Jones doesn't have a real timeline for determining a true starting center. Ooms and Granado -- who started all of last season at center -- have both taken first-team reps, with Granado taking more as camp went on, but Ooms still seems to be the guy. Ooms is a little light in the lower half, but Granado has had more bad shotgun snaps.

Jones said "it wouldn't be right" to play Texas A&M transfer Jeremiah Stuckey at center because he's not a vocal personality. He may have the skill, but given the fact that communication from the center is so important in this offense, Ooms and Granado get the nod, while Stuckey -- who worked all across the interior this summer -- will be a swing guard, spelling Borrayo and Wallace. Stuckey did play center at A&M last spring, but their offense "isn't nearly as complicated as coach [Jake] Spavital's," Jones said.

Mekari coming in for the injured Aaron Cochran (sprained right knee), on the other side of the spectrum, is not a worry at all. While Mekari doesn't have Cochran's 6-foot-8, 350-pound size, he's one of the most polished -- if not the most polished -- technical offensive lineman on the roster, and Jones said as much last week.

"Moving him to left tackle has really benefitted him," Jones said.

And, it looks like it will benefit the Bears in Sydney.


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