Nov. 8, 2006
by Tim Miguel, California Media Relations
[This story originally appeared in the November 4 issue of "Kickoff," the official California game day program]
Looks can be deceiving, and in the case of senior Brandon Mebane's performance in the 2006 season, that cliché is being proven true. The unobservant fan may not see how important a role the 6-3, 295-pounder has with the Golden Bear defense.
Because his hard work doesn't show up on stat pages or in highlight reels, Mebane's significant contributions often go unnoticed. Television networks and newspapers focus on Daymeion Hughes returning an interception for a touchdown, Zack Follett sacking the quarterback or Desmond Bishop delivering punishing hits to receivers and running backs.
The abilities of the big, physical defensive tackle don't go unnoticed in the Cal locker room and coaching offices, however. To most any member of the California team, Mebane is the catalyst and the driving force that makes the tough Golden Bear defense go. Cal led the Pac-10 in 2005, allowing just 21.2 points per game; and this year, the Bears are holding foes to 19.1 points per outing.
Mebane stays under the radar because opposing offensive linemen double-team him over and over again. Any offense that tries to block Mebane one-on-one will likely pay the price. It takes at least a double-team effort to hold him back.
"It gets frustrating sometimes, but I know it's coming every week," Mebane said. "Coach (Ken) Delgado gets me mentally and physically prepared each week for the double team. I'm not mad about getting double-teamed, I just want my teammates to get free and make plays."
Double-teaming Mebane, though, is a double-edged sword - when opponents concentrate too much on the Bear tackle, it leaves major holes for the rest of the daunting Cal defense to apply pressure. While he may not be making the official tackle or the crucial sacks every time, Mebane's efforts give the rest of the defense the opportunity to make big plays.
"He makes a huge impact because the defense starts with the front line," linebacker Desmond Bishop said. "With him on the front line, the attention that he draws from the offensive line, he frees a lot of us up to roam free and make a lot of tackles. We get all the publicity, but he's really the one that makes everything work. He'll still get pressure on the quarterback even with the double team and force him to make a bad throw. That affects the secondary because it makes the interceptions they get a lot easier."
Even with his reduced numbers, Mebane has still garnered his share of recognition. He was a first team All-Pac-10 selection as a junior, despite tallying just 29 tackles. In the preseason of 2006, he was rated the second-best defensive lineman in the country by The Sporting News. He was also listed on the preseason watch lists for four different national postseason awards.
So far this year, Mebane has an even 30 tackles to go with two-and-a-half sacks and seven tackles for a loss. Against Minnesota in September, Mebane had three tackles for a loss and a quarterback sack. Still, statistics don't define Mebane. One of his finest plays of the year was a simple assisted tackle at Washington State. Playing in a hostile environment where the Bears had not won since 1979, six years before he was born, Mebane stonewalled the Cougars on fourth-and-goal, leading one press-box observer to shake his head and say, "If you need one yard, you don't run it right at Mebane." In that game, Mebane and the Bear defense stopped WSU three times in the red zone.
"This year's going pretty well," Mebane said. "I'm not satisfied with my performance; I think I could take it to another level. I think I'm getting better each week, learning new things that I didn't know before about playing defensive tackle. At the end of the year, I want to be happy with my last game playing here at Cal, hopefully in the Rose Bowl. I want to be at that level where I know I got better and the hard work paid off."
Personal accolades and awards are not what drive Mebane to be successful. He said he's glad his teammates are making the plays to accomplish the most important task, getting the victory. He added that he's happy to see his teammates showcasing their skills on the field, which will hopefully propel them into professional football in years to come.
The product of Los Angeles and Crenshaw High School said his best memory at Cal thus far was sacking Matt Leinart in the L.A. Coliseum. But he hopes this year's trip to the Coliseum will provide even better memories.
Mebane's contributions don't just make Saturday afternoons rough for opposing lineman. His efforts on the field continue throughout the week in practice. Mebane puts the Cal offensive line to the test every day in practice.
Center Alex Mack said he feels sorry for opposing linemen who have to block him.
"He makes you a lot better," Mack said. "He comes off really well with lots of power. He's one of the hardest people I've ever blocked. If we could block him, it's great. He comes off so low and powerful, it's really hard to get a good block on him. You kind of have to get lucky almost to get a good block on him. Being able to manage him definitely means that you're a good player. I've never faced anyone better."
Mebane gives credit to his predecessors at Cal who showed him the way to becoming a great Golden Bear.
"I've learned a lot from the older guys mentoring me, like Lorenzo Alexander, Tosh Lupoi and Ryan Riddle," Mebane said. "Mainly Lorenzo, I spent a lot of time with him. We talked about how to approach different situations on the field. Coach Delgado has helped me mature a lot too since I came here. Those things had a big effect on my maturing as a football player and also bringing my football ability up."
Delgado, Cal defensive line coach, said he's worked with Mebane on strategies to beat the constant double-teams, including using different techniques, how to split the double team and how to make the right reaction.
"His field awareness, in terms of what's going on around him, has grown tremendously," Delgado said. "He was strictly a raw power player when he first got here. The development of his skills with his hands and his ability to make good decisions has improved tremendously."
Mebane might not leave Cal with the numbers to show how good he was, but the teammates, coaches and fans who saw him play will know how vital of a role he played in the Bears' defense of 2006.