Attrition has not been a friend to the Cal defense.
When the Bears face Portland State on Saturday, five defensive players projected as starters when fall camp began will not be on the field.
This must be killing new defensive coordinator Andy Buh.
“We don’t really let it bother us,” Buh said. “We just tell them the next guy’s got to stand up, pick up the flag.
“Our expectations don’t change, regardless of who’s in there. Our guys know that. We’re expecting big things out of the next guy. It gives that person an opportunity to show us what he can do.
“In a sense, it’s building some needed depth for us.”
Honestly, what else can the poor guy say?
Out Saturday are defensive end Brennan Scarlett (hand), defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil (knee), middle linebacker Nick Forbes (back), defensive end Chris McCain (head) and strong safety Avery Sebastian (Achilles).
Sebastian is done for the season. The coaching staff hopes the other four will be back. Eventually. Maybe. Who knows?
Scarlett, Forbes and Sebastian were expected to be perhaps the Bears’ best defenders.
The problem isn’t merely a diminished starting lineup, it’s reflected even more severely in Cal’s No. 2 unit. Because five players who were expected to be second-stringers have been elevated to the first team, the backup group has virtually no experience.
Only three players listed on Cal’s No. 2 defense had ever stepped on the field for the Bears before this season. None had ever started a game.
One of the others was in junior college, three were in high school, three more red-shirted.
“We don’t flinch,” Buh said. “We coach the guys that are in front of us.”
Buh gave his defense a mixed report card for its performance in the 44-30 loss to Northwestern. Two of Northwestern’s touchdowns came via interception returns, but the Bears did allow 508 total yards.
“The guys played hard. They played with a lot of enthusiasm, they played with a lot of energy,” Buh said. “Now there were a lot of mental busts out there that we’re getting corrected.
“All over the country you see massive improvements from Week 1 to Week 2 and we’re hoping that you see a big jump in our execution on Saturday.”
That “massive improvement” may be more important the next two games, when Cal takes on No. 3 Ohio State and No. 2 Oregon.
CAL’S CHANGING DEFENSIVE LINEUP
DE Brennan Scarlett, Jr Dan Camporeale, Sr
NT Deandre Coleman, Sr Deandre Coleman, Sr
DT Mustafa Jalil, Jr Viliami Moala, Jr
Rush Chris McCain, Jr Kyle Kragen Jr
SAM Jalen Jefferson, So Jalen Jefferson, So
MIKE Nick Forbes, Jr Hardy Nickerson, Fr
WILL Khairi Fortt, Jr Khairi Fortt, Jr
CB Stefan McClure, So Stefan McClure, So
SS Avery Sebastian, Jr Michael Lowe, Jr
FS Michael Lowe, Jr Alex Logan, Sr
CB Kameron Jackson, Jr Kameron Jackson, Jr