Cal’s defensive front can’t stop the run

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In typical Cal fashion, when the pressure was on, the Bears could not capitalize.

That was the case Friday in Cal’s detrimental loss to Arizona State 24-17, where its starting quarterback, Chase Garbers, left the game with an undisclosed injury, and its defensive front looked lost.

ASU’s running back Eno Benjamin ran for three touchdowns and dominated in the second half, with most of his 100 yards being earned on first down conversions and clutch runs. Quarterback Jayden Daniels finished just 16 yards short of Benjamin on the ground, running for three first downs and passing for a whole lot more.

Granted, the defensive front was banged up, with outside linebackers Cameron Goode and Tevin Paul sidelined against Ole Miss in week four. But even with their return, the front seven — outside of the best linebacker in the country, Evan Weaver — could not get any semblance of pressure on Daniels and simply could not bring down Benjamin.

On two of Benjamin’s three touchdown runs, he was touched at the line of scrimmage by a Cal defender, but powered through multiple half tackles on his way to the end zone. During the play before his third, Benjamin was touched once again at the line of scrimmage, but he ended up 13 yards down the field to force a first and goal.

Daniels capitalized on almost every lapse in concentration from the Cal defensive front. Daniels two biggest passes on the evening were completed after having way too much space and time in the pocket, allowing his wide receivers to confuse the Cal secondary and find acres of arid turf.

In the second half, success in the pass game persisted for ASU, but its dominance in the running game put the game out of Cal’s reach.

“If (Cal players) don’t want to win the next game and win as many as we can, they better not walk through this door on Monday,” Weaver said postgame.

It’s not the wish of the coaches, and clearly the players, to have the ghosts of Cal’s tragic past haunt them once again this season. The Bears still have a stout secondary unit, who, minus the occasional blip, have been just as dominant as they were last season.

Teams are running and scoring against the Cal defensive front more this season than through five weeks of last season. Before Benjamin’s best performance of the season against Cal, the Bears front was on par with their 2018 totals, giving up 120 yards or more in three of their first four matchups.

The difference between this season and last is the propensity for even Cal’s most talented defenders to blatantly lack communication and miss multiple tackles. It was evident at Ole Miss and moreso against Arizona State that Cal missed multiple tackles behind or close to the line of scrimmage. Those plays often turned into big chunk gains for the opposition.

Against Ole Miss, the Bears allowed quarterback Matt Corral and backup John Rhys Plumlee to run for clutch yardage throughout the matchup and combine for 127 yards rushing, not to mention their 348 yards passing.

As is the case for any college football game, if a few plays went differently for Cal in its opponent’s favor, the Bears would’ve left Seattle and Oxford winless. The ability of other teams to find a stronghold against Cal in the running game should be a worrying sign for defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter for that reason alone.

The Bears are set to face much more talented and deep offenses in their remaining games this season, especially when they travel to No. 13 Oregon this weekend. With the hostile confines of Autzen Stadium and Oregon’s potent offense, Cal will have its hands full given its recent track record.

Yes, the Bears are finding a way to win games, but how long can that last?

Spencer Golanka is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @sgolanka.