BY Gerald Nicdao
Replacing All-American Brandon Mebane and second-team Pac-10 selection Nu’u Tafisi on the defensive line was one of the many questions that faced the No. 8 Cal football team. After three weeks, that same question looms over the Bears defensive line after injuries to defensive end Rulon Davis and tackle Matt Malele forced both to leave Saturday’s 42-12 win over Louisiana Tech early. Coach Jeff Tedford said Davis may have a stress fracture in his left foot and Malele may have torn his plantar fascia in his left foot. Both were seen on crutches in Sunday’s walkthrough and both are scheduled for MRIs today. “A lot of times, the initial outlook looks bleak,” Tedford said. “They took a hit no doubt, with all the injuries.” With Malele and Davis out, freshmen Cameron Jordan and Derrick Hill received ample playing time, and both players performed well.
On a 1st-and-10 with the Bulldogs inside Cal territory with five minutes left in the first half, Jordan was able to knock down Louisiana Tech quarterback Zac Champion, causing an errant pass. Hill—who had an interception against the Rams—almost got his second pick of the year, after tipping a pass at the line of scrimmage midway through the third quarter. Cody Jones, who started for Mika Kane (concussion), also recorded a sack. Regular starter Tyson Alualu had another solid game, blocking a Louisiana Tech field-goal attempt just before halftime and sacking Champion. “We always talk about the game being won in the trenches,” defensive back Brandon Hampton said. “Our D-line beating their offensive line, it helps (the secondary). When it’s time for the quarterback to throw the ball on third-and-long, he might make a bad choice because they’ve been in his face hitting him.” The Bears held the Bulldogs to 121 yards on the ground. Louisiana Tech tailback Patrick Jackson managed 68 yards rushing, after averaging 109 yards in the first two weeks of the season. Most of the yards Jackson gained were on draw and screen plays, after the defensive line was in the backfield.
Champion also looked flustered, often throwing the ball away with the defensive line coming down on him. “I think that we got good pressure on them,” Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said. “Except for a few draw plays, I thought we played the run pretty well. Overall I thought our front guys played pretty well.” What may have prepared the defensive line’s second unit was all the playing time it received the week before against Colorado State. Add to that the opportunities gained from the win Saturday, and depth at the defensive line spots may not be hard to come by—unless Davis and Malele’s injuries prolong their absence. “(Colorado State) put together some long drives in the altitude, and those young guys came in and gave some quality minutes last week,” Tedford said. “They were coming in today and getting a more experience. They really help provide some depth for us.” But dominating Louisiana Tech may not be a telling indicator of where the team’s actual depth lies. Gregory said that he thinks the true test will come next week, when the Bears open Pac-10 play against Arizona. “Going into conference play, that’s where we’ll see where our depth is,” he said “It’s a little bit harder to judge—we were up by so many points and it was a nonconference game.” And what about the possibility of not having three of Cal’s four regular starters playing next week? “It will be hard,” Gregory said. “If we lose both those guys, some of younger kids will have to step up.”