Cal's defense made its share of plays in last week's season-opening win over Tennessee, but there certainly is work to do. The defense does have one thing going for it - the offense.
Because of the Bears' ability to pile up points, opponents may do whatever it takes to keep their offense off the field. That may make life a little easier for the defense, which can expect teams to try to control the clock with the running game. "If I were an offensive coordinator, I'd want to keep our offense off the field," Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said. "I think they are going to try to run the ball. They want to run the football, use play action and keep drives alive. What we have to do is try to get some three-and-outs, try to get a turnover here and there and get our offense back on the field."
Not that Colorado State, Cal's opponent today, wouldn't try to run the ball anyway. The Rams pounded the ball on the ground in their season-opening loss to Colorado last weekend, with tailback Kyle Bell carrying 40 times. Bell, who was CSU's leading rusher in 2005 before missing last season because of a knee injury, gained 135 yards.
Cal allowed 382 yards to Tennessee, and both Gregory and Coach Jeff Tedford pointed to missed tackles as the primary reason. Tedford said fundamentals usually see the most dramatic improvement between the first and second games. The Bears will need to tackle better against Bell, a bruising tailback who can use his strength to slip tackles. "(Bell) may not run away from you, but that guy is a good football player," Gregory said. "In their last game, I don't think anyone brought him down on the first tackle. You should see some fundamentals improve in Week Two. Hopefully, they will because there are going to be a lot of opportunities to make tackles."
The defensive line will undergo a transition today because starting defensive tackle Mika Kane is out with a concussion. But in a stroke of good timing for the Bears, redshirt freshman Derrick Hill is finally ready to suit up after missing most of training camp because of back spasms. Hill didn't start practicing until near the end of camp and missed the opener.
Cal lost three starters from last season's defensive line, and Hill was expected to contend for a starting spot after having an excellent spring. Cody Jones will start in Kane's place, but Hill is expected to see extended playing time.
"I'm not sure he's ready to play every snap, but he's ready to make a contribution," Tedford said. "As the season wears on, he will definitely be a factor. We were counting on him to be a factor this year, so it's nice to have him back out there."
The Bears are prohibitive favorites, although playing on the road always can be an equalizer. The watchword during practice this week was to avoid a letdown after registering such a big win over the Volunteers. "It's more about us," Tedford said. "It's more that we're focused on what we're doing and working hard to reach our potential on every play." Today's game is a big deal locally. The Bears are the first ranked team to visit Hughes Stadium since Fresno State went in ranked No. 8 in 2001. The Rams haven't played a ranked team since visiting No. 20 TCU in 2005. "Everybody would forget about a lot of things if (CSU wins)," Rams Coach Sonny Lubick said. "It will be a formidable challenge. I know that Cal will not take us lightly, and they are a good football team. A win like this would be immensely great for our student body and the entire program."