Colorado freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau had been struggling for most of the season. But when a player takes on Cal’s defense, he can look like a superstar. When Colorado faced Cal football, Liufau took advantage of an inconsistent and vulnerable Bears secondary to play the best game of his college career.
In his first five starts, Liufau had just 986 yards and threw five touchdowns to five interceptions. Against Cal, the freshman torched the defense, throwing for 364 yards, three scores and a 170.8 passer rating — all of which were career highs.
The Bears’ pass defense has statistically been one of the worst in the country. Allowing 344 passing yards per game, Cal is ranked dead last at No. 125 of FBS teams. In fact, the Bears are ranked in the bottom 10 in nearly every statistical passing category such as completion percentage, completions, opponent’s passer rating and yards per attempt. When it came to the cornerbacks, Cal was especially thin, which was not helped with the Bears’ struggles with rushing the passer and the lack of run defense. In 2013, the Bears gave up 184.4 rushing yards per game.
Because offenses can effectively run against Cal, the safeties have to pay attention to the ground attack and run up to the line of scrimmage to help when needed. A strong running game means safeties have to react to the run instead of staying back and protecting against the deep pass. As a result, this increased the likelihood that the safeties had to move out of position and leave their zone. Once this happened, the cornerbacks without safety help found themselves playing one on one against the opposing receivers with nothing but green grass behind them.
Undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges for the Bears was dealing with the barrage of injuries. Two of the most notable were Stefan McClure’s knee injury against Washington State and Avery Sebastian’s torn Achilles on opening night — both season-ending injuries.
Because of the injuries, cornerback Cameron Walker had to move away from his natural position at cornerback and play a lot of snaps at safety. Since Walker was occupied with adapting to safety, the Bears had no choice but to call on their young prospects with limited experience such as Cedric Dozier and Joel Willis. Dozier has demonstrated considerable speed to avoid getting beat by receivers on deep routes.
Backing up Walker is Dozier, Vachel Samuels and Willis while Darius Allensworth,Caleb Coleman and Trey Cheek are expected to come off the bench for McClure. Allensworth was a four-star recruit who redshirted his freshman season but has shown potential to be a solid and aggressive hitter.
Although both Willis and Dozier had some decent showings last year, they may both fall behind the depth chart to Darius White, a junior college transfer. White, considered the best junior college corner in the country and one of the best tacklers, will immediately enter the competition for starter or nickel. White became known for his combination of speed and athleticism and his ability to cause turnovers and to locate the ball, and he can often bait the quarterback into panicked throws.
Walker is expected to start as the No. 1 corner, with Stefan McClure starting on the other side. Both have shown an ability to keep up with receivers through a combination of speed and reacting quickly to routes. But this can quickly change if Avery Sebastian is not available as either Walker or McClure will have to move back to safety. Medical reports indicate that Sebastian is expected back, but it remains to be seen if he will be game-ready come opening day.
Walker and McClure have both played at safety and can both pursue the ball and deliver a textbook tackle. In terms of experience, McClure has seen the most snaps, as he played 11 games in 2011 and made big plays on the ball in the air to make himself into a fan favorite. Because of McClure’s speed and aggressiveness, he proves to fit nicely in a system relying on coverage in the secondary.
But two ACL injuries have greatly set back McClure’s progress. Because of McClure’s setbacks, Walker took over safety responsibilities and left the young and inexperienced backups playing considerable time at cornerback.
Last season showed that the cornerbacks need to drastically improve if the defense is to have any shot at stopping opposing offenses. In order for the pass defense to be successful this upcoming season, the cornerbacks will not only need to get healthy, but they will also need the rest of the defense to play better and protect them from constantly getting beat by wideouts.
Contact Richard Lee at [email protected].