Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

Emptying out the scouting notebook from last year's defensive film of Cal vs. San Diego State

We take a detailed look at Cal's defensive film from the last time the Golden Bears faced off with Donnel Pumphrey and San Diego State. Seeing as San Diego State's first opponent this year was New Hampshire (a 31-0 win), reviewing the Aztecs' first game film (it wasn't televised) won't be of much value. What we can learn from, however, is San Diego State's last go-around with California, a 35-7 affair last year in Berkeley.

"Not a whole lot [to take from the New Hampshire game]," said head coach Sonny Dykes. "It was workmanlike. It was what you'd expect a team like San Diego State to do against a good 1AA team. I think New Hampshire's a good 1AA team, but like I said, I thought it was workmanlike. They executed on offense and defense, and looked good on special teams. Kind of got off to a little bit of a slow start, offensively, but they got it going and got it figured out and looked like a team that's won 11 games in a row."

Some thoughts from watching the film from last season:

  • Early on, last season, Cal essentially ran a 5-2-4 against San Diego State's run, with the stand-up backer on the edge dropping back into pass coverage on passing plays, reading the running back. 
  • Speaking of that running back, Donnel Pumphrey will split out into the slot if he goes out for a pass on a wheel, and was covered by an outside linebacker. The thing to remember here is that this was before the point in the season when Cal really went to a permanent nickel formation, so what you see that edge linebacker do is what I think you'll see from the nickel on Saturday, if the Bears don't return to their true 4-3 base (given the loss of personnel, I don't think we'll see a ton of that).
  • Dykes on Pumphrey: "He's rushed for over 5,000 yards in his career, and had over 2,000 [all-purpose yards] last year. You have to go way back to find somebody who's been more productive as a college running back. He's always looked like a good player to me. He's had 14, if I'm not mistaken, 100-yard games or something like that. He's produced against everybody ... In the game against us last year, he ran hard, he was elusive, just a really good football player."
  • Instead of sacrificing a linebacker (or two) from the middle to come up to the line, I think the Bears will have a nickel to keep an eye on a tight end or Pumphrey, leaving the two linebackers to cover the middle.
  • Speaking of the personnel differences, we also see a six-man front with two outside backers -- Jalen Jefferson and Jake Kearney (both gone, due to graduation and injury retirement) -- coming up, and with Hardy Nickerson (transferred to Illinois) left in the middle of four defensive backs, getting run support from the corners, who pinched in.
  • That MIKE backer -- formerly Nickerson -- is going to be important, especially if a receiver gets left uncovered by the corners pinching in, due to the Aztecs' lack of a passing game. The lack of linebackers this year makes San Diego State's 22 personnel group concerning, given the physical mismatch between a tight end and a nickel back. With two linebackers to fit the 22 personnel, the Aztecs offensive line sucks in the defensive tackles, forcing the linebackers to slide in to fill gaps, while the back in motion from the slot takes the ball around the outside edge. 
  • Darius Allensworth was playing nickel at times last year, and didn’t quite know what to do covering the slot, but he had decent instincts. Cameron Walker -- this year's nickel, who played nickel and dime back last season against the Aztecs -- had two tackles, and several missed opportunities in the backfield. Walker gambled and lost a few times, but did come away with a sack last time out.
  • If you have Walker now as a true nickel in there covering that tight end, consistently, or tracking Pumphrey (or whoever moves in at tailback) I think that’s a better strategy than stretching the depth at linebacker by going three-wide and bringing one or two down, but that's not necessarily what the Bears have in mind. During this week's teleconference with Dykes, he said: "They're going to run a lot of the same stuff, and we're going to run a lot of the same stuff, as well. When we play two-back teams, we'll be more inclined to get that personnel grouping on the field with an extra linebacker. I don't think it's going to change what we do at all."
  • After going through last year's tap, Allensworth was perhaps the most consistent player in run support, in the slot and dropping deep in coverage, and the fact that he’s now finishing plays more – getting a breakup or a pick, instead of settling for the tackle – should be a boost to the back end, though the Aztecs -- who 
  • DeVante Wilson was exposed off the edge, too easily blocked away with a simple drop and punch, creating a huge hole for Pumphrey in the B gap, and the pursuit speed just isn’t there in later plays. Maybe now that he’s a bit leaner, he’s got an extra kick in his step, but he very much didn’t last year.
  • Tight end will pull back in to take up a linebacker up the middle, essentially giving SDSU a seven-man blocking surface
  • The fullback should be a concern, with the nickel back (instead of the true linebacker) covering the running back, given the size and strength differential. That leads me to think that Derron Brown is going to play a big role in this game as that third linebacker, who can act as that nickel back on swing and wheel routes, but as a true linebacker in run support
  • We’re going to see a lot more exotic blitzing from Cal, this week, than we saw against Hawaii, simply because of the amount of blockers that San Diego State will employ, and when Cal blitzed on overload situations, thy were able to create a lot of pressure and get into the backfield. The one issue with that is the speed with which the handoffs occur. If it’s a passing down, great. If it’s a quick handoff to Pumphrey, they could get burned, but we did see Cal employ that overload blitz from the right side (left tackle) against a two-back set, and it worked very well, with the running lanes sealed up, as well.
  • The thing that honestly sticks out the most about watching the defensive film from last year is the amount of turnover, and not the good kind. Nathan Broussard, Kyle Kragen, Kearney, Stefan McClure, Jefferson, Michael Barton, Damariay Drew, Caleb Coleman, Darius White, Todd Barr – all gone.
  • The screen game wasn’t incredibly productive for San Diego State last season against the Bears, and given the amount of perimeter blocking Cal has worked on throughout fall camp – both on offense, and by necessity, defense – I think it’ll continue to be rendered moot.
  • Seven-man line with two tights, with one back, eight yards behind the QB under center, two receivers, naked boot, swing to the receiver coming across the line to the field side of the line, Cal was right on it, disciplined. It was Drew making the tackle. This play gets complicated now because of a more mobile quarterback under center, and the fact that Drew is no longer available.
  • Devante Downs did not have a good game last year, particularly trying to tackle Pumphrey.
  • San Diego State was 5-for-5 in the first half in third-and-short situations.
  • Neither the defensive ends nor the stand-up pass rushing linebackers got any kind of pressure on the quarterback, save for Jonathan Johnson late in the third quarter.
  • I’ve lost count of the missed tackles, and the guys who did form tackle – McClure, Drew and White – are gone. 
  • Chase Price and Dakota Gordon really hurt the Bears up front, as a change of pace from Pumphrey for the former, and as an up-back/fullback for the latter.
  • Late in the game, up 35-7, the Bears went to a 3-3-5 alignment, with Walker as the nickel back, serving as an extra pass rusher as the Aztecs went to the air, and while he got pressure, the ball got out in time for a first down. That was only a one-off play.

Of course, the loss to Cal last year was followed by a 37-21 loss to Penn State, and after that, 11 straight wins. The San Diego State we see this Saturday is a bit different than the Bears' Week Two opponent from last season.

For one, Price and Gordon are no longer a factor -- both graduated. The second biggest difference is the fact that they have a new quarterback, in Christian Chapman. 

Chapman completed 29 of 49 passes (59.2%) for 436 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for a passing efficiency of 141.10. Notably, he rushed 16 times for 72 yards (4.5 ypc).

Chapman came off the bench against the Bears last season, going 4-for-13 for 37 yards and an interception, but didn't start until the final two games of the season, though he saw action in each of the final seven games.

"He's pretty mobile," Dykes said. "He moves around well, he scrambled for some big first downs in the game Saturday, and I think that's one thing that's probably different than their last quarterback. I thought he operated their offense well, made a couple of long, down-the-field throws, and looked like a good player." Top Stories