It’s the gift that keeps on giving — defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter and the Cal defense have had one heck of a year. The linebackers have been rocking and rolling opposing offenses so efficiently that Elvis Presley is rolling in his grave. The defensive line has breathed fire down quarterbacks so fast that Donkey from “Shrek” is considering a transfer to Cal. And the secondary has been so dominant that Kevin Durant might suit up at safety for the blue and gold next season.
Here are Cal football’s top defensive performances of 2018:
- Oct. 6 @ Arizona (L, 24-17)
We kick things off down in the desert, about 100 miles south of where Cal will take on TCU Dec. 26 for the Cheez-It Bowl. Sandwiched in between two of the defense’s rougher performances this autumn was one that might be overlooked in the grand scheme of 2018. 14 of the Wildcats’ points came on interception returns, as the Bears shut out Khalil Tate and Arizona’s offense for the final three quarters and change. Cornerback Camryn Bynum recorded a big pick off Tate, who finished with just 181 total yards from scrimmage in a gritty affair.
- Sept. 8 @ BYU (W, 21-18)
Not even the Cougars’ whiteout crowd in a prime-time Saturday evening matchup could slow down Cal’s early-season fireworks. The Bears’ two-quarterback system outgained BYU’s overwhelmed offense by nearly 100 yards, as Traveon Beck and Jaylinn Hawkins both picked off Tanner Mangum in the second half of play. Cougar workhorse Squally Canada would be held to less than 50 yards on the ground as the Bears improved to 2-0 on the year while making a statement on national television.
- Nov. 24 vs. Colorado (W, 33-21)
What’s the football equivalent of scoring eight runs in the first inning in baseball? If you blinked at the start of Cal’s senior day win over Colorado, you missed the onslaught. Elijah Hicks and Ashtyn Davis posted back-to-back pick-sixes within a 45-second span just two minutes into this one, giving the team a 14-point lead before its offense even took the field. The Bears would go on to force five first-half Colorado turnovers, as the Buffaloes failed to find a rhythm offensively until it was too late.
- Oct. 20 @ Oregon State (W, 49-7)
Whatever the Bears ate for breakfast the morning of Oct. 20, I’m going to need for my finals. Riding a three-game losing skid into Corvallis, Cal came out firing on all cylinders, surrendering just a single score against a banged-up squad of Beavers. The Bears would ultimately outgain their opposition, 539 yards to 241, as Jordan Kunaszyk rattled off his fourth straight game with double digit tackles, helping his team snap a three-year conference road losing streak in undeniable fashion.
- Sept. 1 vs. UNC (W, 24-17)
In a game that saw the Bears rotate three different quarterbacks under center, the team’s defense still managed to snag headlines, pitching a shutout in the first half and bothering UNC’s Nathan Elliott all afternoon long. Hawkins picked off Elliott not once, but twice from his strong safety position, while Evan Weaver notched the first of his nine double-digit tackling games in 2018 with 13.
- Nov. 3 @ Washington State (L, 19-13)
There’s a legitimate argument that this performance was the defense’s best in 2018, albeit in a loss. Once a dark horse-Heisman candidate, Gardner Minshew and his mustache were held to their lowest passer rating of the year at the time, while failing to produce multiple touchdown passes for the first time as well.
- Oct. 27 vs. Washington (W, 12-10)
Heeeeeee’s rumbling! Trailing 7-6 in the waning seconds of the third quarter, Weaver leaped from his inside linebacker position to make arguably the play of the year, a 37-yard interception return to give the Bears their only offensive touchdown of the afternoon. That score, in addition to a teamwide eight tackles-for-loss, proved to be enough in Cal’s 12-10 upset of the ranked Huskies, who would eventually take home the Pac-12 title.
- Nov. 10 @ USC (W, 15-14)
If there’s a signature game that this 2018 team will be remembered for, it’s for a hazy evening contest in Los Angeles, in which history finally bent and broke under the weight of Cal’s defense. On the Trojans’ homecoming weekend, a third quarter outburst from a hungry Cal squad stunned a crowd of nearly 60,000 at the LA Coliseum, as 14 years of losing were finally eradicated. USC would manage just 45 total yards in the second half, unable to stop the Bears from stealing bowl eligibility on its home turf.