Discover more from The Mighty Bruin
UCLA Football Preview: Bears' Defense Will Start a Lot of Young Guys
The UC Berkeley defense lost more than half their starters compared to last year's game against the Bruins.
Contrary to Teri’s article from Thursday, the Utah Utes will not be coming to Pasadena today. Instead, the UC Berkeley Golden Bears will visit tomorrow morning. While the Bears haven’t played yet this season, Bruin fans should expect the UC Berkeley defense to look similar to last year’s team.
That’s because head coach Justin Wilcox was a defensive coordinator before becoming a head coach and the coaches on the defensive side of the ball are basically the same.
At the same time, the UC Berkeley defense returns just five starters from last year’s UCLA game. More interestingly, it seems that most of the new starters will be on UCLA’s left side. Let’s look at this year’s team.
The single biggest difference from last year may be a shift of the starting defensive alignment. Last year, UC Berkeley opened the game with a 2-4-5 defense, even though they also played a more traditional 3-4 as well.
That means that, technically, the only returning starter on the defensive line is senior defensive end Zeandae Johnson, who will be on the defensive left side. Johnson is a sixth year senior who made 29 tackles last year including 3.5 sacks. This guy will probably give Alec Anderson and Duke Clemens fits on UCLA’s right side.
Junior Aaron Maldonado will start at nose for the Bears. The 6’3”, 275-lb. Maldonado did play last year against UCLA. He just didn’t start because of the 2-4-5 defense that UC Berkeley opened the game with. In 2019, he had five tackles in eight games including two sacks.
On the other side, Brett Johnson picked up his only solo sack of the season last year against the Bruins. As a true sophomore, he remains the least experienced of the Berkeley defensive linemen, even though he played in all 13 games last season.
The saving grace for UCLA might be the fact that the backups are all underclassmen. So, the Bruins may be able to capitalize when Justin Wilcox rotates the younger guys into the lineup.
Much like the defensive line, the UC Berkeley linebackers are a group mixed between upperclassmen and underclassmen. Again, the experienced guys are on the left side of the defense. Here, you will find redshirt seniors Cameron Goode and Kuony Deng.
Goode and Deng were two of the Bears top four tacklers last season. Deng had seven tackles against the Bruins last year, while Goode had six tackles including two sacks.
But, the biggest loss for the Bears occurred on the right side where inside linebacker Evan Weaver, who led the team in tackles on the year and against UCLA, graduated. In his place, UC Berkeley will start Evan Tattersall. In his first two seasons at Berkeley, Tattersall has played in just 15 games and tomorrow’s game should be his first collegiate start.
The Bears also lost outside linebacker Tevin Paul to graduation and sophomore Braxton Croteau will start his first game as Paul’s replacement. Last season, Croteau had seven tackles including two solo tackles and half a sack, playing in all 13 games.
All but one of UC Berkeley’s backup linebackers are freshmen. So, again, the Bruins may be able to capitalize when the starters get a break.
The secondary is where the Bears have the most experience. Three of the four starters in the secondary are seniors and the fourth starter is a junior. Redshirt seniors Camryn Bynum and Josh Drayden will start at the corners while true senior Elijah Hicks and redshirt junior Daniel Scott will start at safety.
Bynum had 63 tackles and one interception last season while Drayden made nine tackles in just four games. Meanwhile, Hicks added 44 tackles and Scott had 16 tackles and one interception.
All of the backup defensive backs for the Golden Bears are underclassmen.
This game looks to be an excellent opportunity for UCLA to push an uptempo offense. Doing so could tire the Golden Bear defenders and result in a rotation to the younger less experienced guys and could result in defensive mistakes of which the Bruins could take advantage.
This leaves me with two questions for UCLA coaches. First, can the Bruins hold on to the ball long enough to tire out the Berkeley defense and force Justin Wilcox and staff to rotate the younger guys in? Second, can the Bruin defense get off the field quick enough to give UCLA an advantage when it comes to time of possession?
Personally, I’m doubtful of either. Again, I hope I’m wrong.
Go Bruins!! Beat Berkeley!!