Starting safety Tevin McDonald did not make the Holiday Bowl trip due to a violation of team policy, head coach Jim Mora said Saturday. The Bruins are practicing at San Diego State leading up to Thursday’s 6:45 p.m. kickoff against Baylor, which kicks off at 6:45 p.m.
The redshirt sophomore is arguably the team’s best defensive back, and is second on the roster with 79 tackles. He leads the team with nine pass breakups and 10 passes defensed, also returning an interception for 50 yards against Houston. As a freshman, he tied the school’s single-game record with three picks against Cal.
“It’s big,” safety Andrew Abbott said of McDonald’s absence. “He’s a big player on our secondary and on our team.”
Added defensive end Datone Jones: “He’s a great player, but someone’s going to have to fill his void. He’ll be really missed, but we’ll have to go on without him.”
Mora said the team will likely fill the void by committee. Senior safety-turned-linebacker Dalton Hilliard will be available after missing the Pac-12 Championship with a shoulder injury, and should see increased time on the field.
True freshman Randall Goforth, who has four starts this year, will likely play a major role as well. Abbott gave him plenty of praise, saying that his confidence has stood out this season. The senior recalled a red zone play against Stanford in the title match that had Goforth matched up alone against All-American tight end Zach Ertz.
When Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan threw to the 6-foot-6 target on a fade route, Goforth came through with the pass breakup.
“They obviously were going that way. They obviously were going after him,” Abbott said. “He just stayed calm, had the confidence that he could make the play. And he made a hell of a play. That’s what you look for. When I saw that, I was like, this kid is fine.”
Mora mentioned junior Brandon Sermons and freshman Marcus Rio as cornerbacks who could slide into the safety spot as well. They have combined for five tackles on the season.
UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times reports that McDonald tested positive for marijuana.