In the heat of the moment he was an easy scapegoat, but it was never Andy Buh’s fault. One does not just lose the entirety of the secondary to injuries and still expect a stingy defense. One cannot guide a mish-mash group of walk-ons and freshmen to competency, no matter the genius and talent of the coordinator. In retrospect, the unprecedented quantity of injuries last season leaves Buh, a first-year defensive coordinator, a legitimate justification for Cal football’s horrendous defensive numbers of 2013.
But numbers are not so kind as to give context, and this is what the numbers say: 124th of 125 FBS teams in points allowed; 119th in yards per play allowed; 121st in yards per passing attempt allowed. Aggregate any defensive statistic, and you’ll find the 2013 Bears hanging out around the bottom, among the likes of UTEP and UAB. Andy Buh probably deserved another chance — there was also no way that was going to happen.
And so many have said this offseason that brand new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman — he of the myriad turnarounds at Cincinnati, Texas Tech, etc. — will take this (until recently) completely healthy and slightly more experienced defense and actually guide them toward competency. They have the talent — fans say — it was just that the Bears suffered a historic rate of injuries. And surely, that won’t happen again.
That line of thinking received an ominous blow at head coach Sonny Dykes’ press conference after Wednesday’s practice, when Dykes announced that projected starting middle linebacker Nathan Broussard tore his ACL and would miss the entirety of the 2014 season. Dykes also announced injuries to safety Quentin Tartabull and running back Jeffrey Coprich, but both figured to contribute mostly in limited roles. Broussard was the big deal here, someone who received a substantial amount of praise from Dykes at the team’s recent Pac-12 media day.
“I think he has a chance to be a very good football player,” Dykes said.
It’s an extremely unfortunate development for Broussard, who had just recovered from tearing an ACL the previous year in workouts and may end up never playing another snap of football. Broussard received only occasional playing time in 2012 and hardly made it out of the noncontact portion of fall camp, so it’s difficult to find too much tape on what kind of player he may have been. But with good size at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, and apparent mobility, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to see Broussard as someone capable of making an impact at the linebacker position.
Now the Bears turn to a trio of younger linebackers — Hardy Nickerson, Devante Downs and Michael Barton. All are at different stages of development, but Nickerson and Barton demonstrated flashes of talent last year and figure to be improved after a season of more playing time than they likely expected.
Cal’s not quite in the woods yet, but the ideal of an injury-free team Dykes touted a few weeks ago is showing the first signs of crumbling. Of course, this is football, and no team ever goes injury free for an entire year. Soon, though, it may become evident that last season may not have been as flukey as some may have thought, and Kaufman’s going to have quite the challenge on his hands. It’s hard to blame Buh if he’s sitting somewhere, smirking to himself.