BERKELEY (AP) — As good as California’s defense was a year ago when the Golden Bears had one of the nation’s best, safety Ashtyn Davis wants more out of his teammates.
More than the 21 interceptions the Bears had in 2018, second-most among FBS schools. More than the five defensive touchdowns they scored a year ago, fifth best in the nation. And definitely more than seven wins, even though it was the Bears’ highest win total since 2015.
“I always knew that we could do what we’re doing,” Davis said. “Obviously, we have to continue to prove that we can do that. We haven’t done anything this year.”
Whatever Cal is able to do this season will come primarily on the strength of its defense. The Bears ranked 15th in total defense a year ago and return eight starters from that unit, including Davis and the entire secondary.
With that much experience back, defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter has opened up his playbook and added a handful of new wrinkles.
“That first year you’re teaching concepts, just trying to get the fundamentals down,” DeRuyter said. “As they understand it you can play with more speed and now we can add more bells and whistles. When you have (eight) starters back, we can do some things because our guys get it.”
Cal should get a good gauge of where it stands in its opener Saturday against UC Davis.
The Aggies are coming off a 10-3 finish a year ago when they shared the Big Sky Conference championship with Weber State and Eastern Washington, and won a first-round playoff game. That ended a string of seven consecutive losing seasons for Davis.
With quarterback Jake Maier, the conference offensive player of the year, the Aggies are poised for another deep run. They are ranked fifth in the STATS preseason Top 25.
“We’ll find out a lot,” said Cal coach Justin Wilcox, who was a graduate assistant to Davis coach Dan Hawkins from 2001-02 when both were at Boise State. “The goal for us is just to keep building. We’ll get into this game and see where we’re at, and then build off of that.”
A few other things to watch Saturday:
MAIER AGAINST CAL’S SECONDARY
Maier is on just about every preseason honors list, and it’s no wonder. The senior quarterback is closing in on a handful of school passing records after ranking second among FCS quarterbacks in touchdowns (34) and third in passing yards (3,931) a year ago. He’ll face a Cal secondary that is deep, experienced and considers itself the backbone of the defense. “If we bring energy and we make plays, the whole team will feed off it,” cornerback Cam Bynum said.
AS OPENERS GO
Cal has won 12 of its previous 15 season openers, and it’s critical for Wilcox and his players that they get another one against Davis. The Bears play at No. 13 Washington the following week, return to host North Texas State on Sept. 14, then play at Ole Miss on Sept. 21. A loss to the Aggies in the opener would put Cal in danger of a 1-3 start.
Both teams have questions regarding their receivers. Keelan Doss is in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders, leaving Jared Harrell (62 catches, 896 yards, five touchdowns) and Justin Kraft (26-275-2) as Maier’s top targets. Likewise, Cal quarterback Chase Garbers will have to adjust on the fly as Wilcox said he plans to rotate as many as six receivers.
IT’S BEEN A WHILE
California’s campus is about 65 miles south of Davis yet this will be the first time in nine years the teams have met. The Bears and Aggies had gone more than 70 years without playing before that game in 2010. Cal is 26-0 against teams currently in the Big Sky.