Tough foe for get­ting back on track

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - SPORTING GREEN - By Rusty Sim­mons

Af­ter start­ing for two years, in­clud­ing be­ing a cap­tain as a ju­nior, Dar­ius Al­lensworth lost his start­ing cor­ner­back job at Cal this sea­son.

In­stead of pout­ing and feel­ing sorry for him­self, the 6-foot, 195-pound se­nior kept fight­ing, re­turned a fum­ble 37 yards for a touch­down last week in Wash­ing­ton and moved back to the top of the depth chart this week.

“He could have eas­ily gone in the tank and be­come a cancer,” Cal de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Tim DeRuyter said. “… He has re­sponded in a great way.”

Cal is try­ing to make its sea­son mir­ror Al­lensworth’s ca­reer, look­ing to re­turn to the play that led to a 3-0 start and find a way to get past the stinkers that have led to three con­sec­u­tive losses.

It won’t be easy. Just like Al­lensworth had to com­pete with two hot­shot fresh­men, the Bears will play a third top-10 op­po­nent in a four-week stretch when they meet Wash­ing­ton State on

Fri­day night in Berke­ley.

The Cougars have jumped from a pre­sea­son No. 24 rank­ing to No. 8 be­hind their peren­ni­ally po­tent of­fense and a sur­pris­ing de­fense.

The “Speed D,” as Wash­ing­ton State calls it, is No. 11 in the na­tion in to­tal de­fense (al­low­ing 275.5 yards per game), hav­ing jumped from rank­ings of 99th, 94th and 69th the past three sea­sons. The Cougars rank fifth in the coun­try in take­aways (15) and are tied for No. 4 in de­fen­sive touch­downs (three).

The unit’s most impressive num­bers come in forc­ing neg­a­tive plays. Led by de­fen­sive line­man Her­cules Mata’afa, who leads the Pac-12 with 4.5 sacks and 10 tack­les for a loss, Wash­ing­ton State is No. 6 in tack­les for a loss (49) and No. 7 in sacks (21).

That’s not a good sign for Cal, which didn’t score an of­fen­sive touch­down and man­aged just 93 yards of of­fense in Satur­day’s 38-7 loss at Wash­ing­ton. The Bears have al­lowed 15 sacks in the past two weeks and com­bined for min­ues-32 rush­ing yards dur­ing the stretch.

“It drives me crazy. It drives all of th­ese guys crazy, but it would drive any­one crazy who is a com­peti­tor,” said Cal of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Beau Bald­win, who beat Wash­ing­ton State last year when he was the head coach at East­ern Wash­ing­ton. “… We’ve got to find ways to grow in the sec­ond half of the sea­son, and the guys are hun­gry to do that.”

Cal’s de­fense has quite a chal­lenge in fac­ing Wash­ing­ton State, too. The Cougars are No. 3 in the na­tion in pass­ing yards (392.0 per game) and lead the coun­try with an av­er­age of 10 play­ers mak­ing re­cep­tions per game.

Quar­ter­back Luke Falk or­ches­trates it all. The NCAA’s ac­tive leader in ca­reer pass­ing yards (12,893) and touch­downs (108), Falk is a pro­jected firstround pick in the NFL.

Ac­cord­ing to Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus’ study of the top 13 draftel­igi­ble quar­ter­backs, Falk ranks sec­ond in ad­justed com­ple­tion per­cent­age, third in passer rat­ing ver­sus pres­sure (111.2), first against the blitz (151.0) and sec­ond on short throws (122.1).

He has a bevy of re­ceivers, in­clud­ing Tavares Martin Jr., who is No. 2 in the coun­try with seven touch­downs, and run­ning back James Wil­liams, who is tied for ninth with 41 catches.

“It seems like they make about 80 per­cent of the catches when they have 50-50 balls,” DeRuyter said. “It’s re­ally impressive to see. … They’ve got a cor­ral of guys who are ex­plo­sive.”

Al­lensworth will do his best to help cor­ral that cor­ral.

“The ball is go­ing to be in the air this week, and it’s up to us to bat­tle and win the op­por­tu­ni­ties we have,” he said. “It hasn’t been the ideal se­nior sea­son for me, so when I get chances, I know I had to do some­thing with them.

“I’ve been through some stuff in my life that has made me a fighter. Just be­cause the depth chart was what it was go­ing into North Carolina, that didn’t mean it was go­ing to stay the same. The cream al­ways rises to the top. If you’re the best, it’s go­ing to hap­pen for you — if you keep grind­ing and fight­ing.” Rusty Sim­mons is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: rsim­mons@sfchron­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @Rusty_SFChron

Jonathan Fer­rey / Getty Im­ages

Wash­ing­ton State’s Luke Falk is third in the coun­try in to­tal yards and first in TD passes.

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