After struggling early against Air Force, the Cal defensive line has calmed down and dominated its opponents. The Bears have allowed just 241.5 yards of offense in the first two games (No. 1 in Pac-10) while allowing 14 points per game.
Three seniors and two starters from last year sit on the defensive line. Defensive tackle Lorenzo Alexander (6-3, 300), who has been All-Pac-10 honorable twice in his career, leads the charge. Alexander does a good job of clogging up the middle. The senior requires the attention of two offensive lineman and has grabbed five tackles this year.
Nose tackle Tom Sverchek (6-3, 300) joins Alexander in the interior and present offenses with 600 pounds to shove out of the way in the middle. Svercheck has three tackles and a co-team high 1.5 sacks.
Speed rushers lineup on the ends as senior Ryan Riddle (6-3, 250) and sophomore Steve Kelley (6-1, 240) grab starting honors. Riddle is explosive and has the ability to record multiple sacks in one game. The senior has nine tackles, a team high four for loss, and a co-team high 1.5 sacks. Kelley moved from the linebackers to the defensive line during off season camps and has performed well in the new role. The sophomore has four tackles and one sack this season.
Much of the leadership on the defensive side of the ball resides with the linebacking crew. The unit returned all of their starters from last year.
Outside linebacker Joe Maningo (6-1, 230), if healthy, is one of the top linebackers in the conference. He tracks the ball well and has great sideline to sideline movement. The senior’s 10 tackles are good for fourth on the team, but his leadership skills are what the coaches love about him.
Middle linebacker Sid Slater (6-2, 230) took the starting spot from fellow senior Wendell Hunter (6-1, 230) who has an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection last season. Slater is performing well in his role as he is second on the team in tackles with 18. Hunter has yet to record a tackle this year.
Outside linebacker Ryan Foltz (6-2, 210) has good speed and is a good fit for the Bears aggressive defensive schemes. Flotz has grabbed six tackles. He splits time with junior senior Francis Blay-Miezah (6-2, 230) who has four tackles, one for loss.
Although the Bears have primarily faced run oriented teams the Golden Bear secondary have been impressive when thrown against. They returned four starters from a year ago and are allowing just 132.0 yards per game through the air which is good for sixth in the nation.
Cornerback Harrison Smith (6-2, 200) is a physical player who loves to dish out the nasty hits. He leads the team in pass breakups with two while also adding four tackles. Junior Tim Mixon (5-8, 180) has a great upside and turned in an outstanding start of the season in 2003 before injuring his knee. Despite his small stature he sticks to receivers like glue and plays the ball well. The sophomore is slowly working his way back into the lineup and if he stays healthy he could earn a starting role.
Cornerback Daymeion Hughes (6-2, 180) watches the other side of the field where he has harnessed six tackles and one pass breakup. His first interception of his career came off of Derek Anderson last year when he returned the ball 72-yards for a touchdown against OSU.
Free safety Ryan Gutierrez (6-0, 190) is one of the most underrated players in the Pac-10 and is flying under the radar due to the talent around him. The senior is third on the team in tackles with 15, 1.5 for loss, has one pass breakup, one forced fumble and one recovered fumble. Senior Matt Giordano (6-0, 190) splits time with Gutierrez and has put up big numbers. He leads the team in tackles with 19, has the team’s only interception, and has forced one fumble.
Preseason All-American rover Donnie McCleskey (5-10, 195) has high expectations after an outstanding sophomore season. The junior is looking to repeat his first team All-Pac-10 a year ago. He has a good nose for the ball and is very active in the backfield. McCleskey is fourth on the team in tackles with nine, two for loss, and has one sack.