First Glance - Cal Football's Defense in 2010

While thinking about what to write for the last installment of my previous series, I decided to scrap the final part and switch the focus to Cal’s 2010 Defense.  Cal’s Defense did not disappoint against UC Davis and appears to have made some changes in the way it goes about taking care of business.  One should not read too far into the results from this past Saturday because of the huge discrepancy in talent between the two teams but there are a few things we can take away from that game.  Let’s take a closer look at some of the new things Clancy Pendergast has brought to and changed with Cal’s defense that were on display during the first game of 2010.  After the jump, we will examine New Personnel Groupings (Pics), a Numerical Breakdown of Pressure Sent on Pass Plays, Pressure Schemes and Plays (Video), and other various observations.


above: Freshmen Outside Linebacker Dave Wilkerson going for the kill


Total Plays Defended

This was one of the easier games to review because UC Davis was limited to only 45 plays on offense (teams usually run on average 70-75 plays a game on offense).


Total UC Davis Offense Plays Run Pass
45 19 26



Personnel Groupings

To defend UC Davis, Cal used 2 different schemes: the 3-4 and 4-2.


Personnel 3-4 4-2
Total # of snaps used 30 15


The 3-4 looks to be Cal's base defense in 2010, having been used two out of every three snaps in the first game.  There were two variations of the front 7 in the 3-4 personnel grouping (2 Defensive Ends, 1 Nose Tackle, 2 Inside Linebackers, 2 Outside Linebackers) that Pendergast used against Davis, which were the standard alignment:


and the moving of an outside linebacker to cover a receiver (usually in the slot) or to send pressure from this spot while keeping the other three linebackers and three defensive linemen in the box:


Most of the pressure Cal applied to Davis was sent out of the 3-4 personnel.  The 3-4 is very good against defending the run and as you will see in the videos below, can cause chaos when used effectively.  The 3-4 that I saw on Saturdays is what a 3-4 is SHOULD look like.

Cal used the 4-2 as well.  Usually, the 4-2 consists of four defensive linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs.  However, Pendergast used his own variant of the 4-2 against Davis with a personnel grouping that included two defensive linemen (mainly defensive ends but nose tackles were sometimes used), four linebackers (two inside and two outside), and five defensive backs (two cornerbacks, two safeties, and the nickel back).  A typical 4-2 defensive line consists of 2 defensive tackles and 2 defensive ends or 3 defensive linemen and a linebacker.  Pendergast's variant replaces the defensive tackles with two defensive ends in 3 point stances on the inside and lines up two outside linebackers in 2 point stances on the outside:

Why would Pendergast do this?  Simple answer: SPEED.  There is a TON of speed on the field with this personnel grouping.  By using linebackers, it adds two more players that are naturally better in coverage and will allow more blitzing and coverage options.  With fewer linemen, Cal sacrifices some run defense.  However, this personnel grouping was mainly used on passing downs against Davis and Pendergast did keep it on the field a few times in short yardage situations to mix things up.  Cal did not show much out of the 4-2 but based on my notes, the heavier and more complex pressure came from this personnel.


Pressure Up Front

The one thing that has loomed on all Cal football fans’ minds during the offseason: will Cal be pressuring the quarterback more in 2010?  So far, the answer is yes.  Listed in the table below are the numbers for how many rushers were sent and how frequently during all pass plays against UC Davis.  Say good-bye to the 3 man rush?  The results will be pleasing for Cal fans:

# of Rushers on Pass Plays (including sacks)
Total # of Times
3 1

4 (Front 4, excluding OLB lined up in slot)

4 (4th Mystery Rusher) 6
5 9
6 4


Pendergast was not shy on sending pressure on any down and distance situation and did a great job of attacking from the slot, edges, and middle with the linebackers and nickelback.  What I liked most about Pendergast’s playcalling is that he showed a lot of looks early on: rushed 3, mixed in 5 and  6 man blitzes, used the front 4 (refer to pictures #2 and #3 above), and sent the 4th "mystery" rusher in the first NINE PLAYS of the game. That gives any offense a lot to think about for the rest of the game.


Pressure Schemes and Plays

Cal ran around 10 different pressure schemes by my count against UC Davis.   Let’s take a quick look at some of the pressure schemes:


This scheme brought pressure with 5 rushers to one side of the offensive line and was used the most.  I like this blitz a lot because it is simple and effective.  It will likely be a staple pressure play for the defense this year.

  • The first clip shows OLB (Kendricks) lined up in the slot.  He inches closer to the QB and blitzes the outside along with the ILB (Holt) to pressure the right side of the offensive line.  Note how the slot receiver, who Kendricks was on at first, caught the pass and picked up yardage.  If a different route was run, a first down could have been picked up due to how far back the defender was.  Something to think about when blitzing.
  • The second clip shows basically the same blitz concept being executed from the standard 3-4 front (as opposed to the first clip where on OLB was lined up in the slot) and providing pressure to the left side of the offensive line
  • The third clip shows the versatility of this blitz.  On this play, the distance is 2nd and 2 so it could have been either a pass or run play.  Davis ran play action.  The OLB (Browner) rushes the outside while the ILB (Mohamed) is bringing pressure up the middle.  Mohamed makes a read on the handoff.  If there is no handoff, he continues on his path and gets after the QB.  This play allows the linebackers to both run blitz and rush the passer with quick and easy reads.
  • The last clip shows pressure coming from the right side.  Essentially, it's a mirror of the blitz in clip 1 of this highlight.



This video consists of the 4th rusher along with the 3 defensive linemen who rush the quarterback on any given play while coming out of the 3-4 standard front.  There are 4 highlights and the 4th rusher comes from the left outside linebacker (Browner) in the first clip, right outside linebacker (Browner, who gets a sack) in the second clip, left outside linebacker (Price) in the third clip, and right inside linebacker (Forbes) in the fourth clip.  So far, there is no real pattern as to who gets sent and when, so offenses will be continuously guessing who is coming from where.



This last video gives us a taste of the type of pressure that was sent from the 4-2. 

  • The first clip shows Cal sending 6 guys (4 linebackers and 2 defensive ends) to get after the QB.  They successfully force him out of the pocket and to pass while on the run. 
  • The second clip shows another playcall where Cal sent 6 guys (2 defensive ends, 3 linebackers, and the nickelback).  The QB let go of the ball quickly and the pass hit his receiver in the hands but was dropped. Note the Cal safety that would have leveled the receiver if he caught it. 
  • The last clip shows some of the backups executing a 6 man blitz.  The backups have some work to do.


Miscellaneous Observations

  • The front 7 will be playing more 1 gap this year.  The defensive linemen were penetrating gaps instead of just occupying blockers against Davis.  I won’t get too much into gap play, but this different approach will help to open up lanes for other defenders/blitzers to get into the offensive backfield
  • There was plenty of pre-snap movement from the linebackers and secondary faking the blitz and keeping the offense thinking.  It's good to see this being implemented a lot more by the defense.
  • Much more man coverage and jamming of receivers at the line of scrimmage to throw off the timing on routes than in recent memory.
  • Starting linebackers are playing with more confidence.  They have a better grasp on things and the younger backups will come along with time over the course of this season.  However, I still feel that Cal needs a more formidable pass rushing linebacker(s) if they are going to be an elite defense.
  • It looks like players are taking better angles, tackling well, and flying to the ball to help finish a tackle.  I am pleased with what looks like improvement from last year in these areas.


The players really like this defense.  Pendergast calls plays that allow guys to take turns pressuring the quarterback.  There is not just one designated rush linebacker a la Follett.  Opportunities to raise hell in the offensive backfield appear to be more plentiful.  There are still many questions that need to be answered and we will find out more about our defense in the next few weeks.  Until then, GO BEARS!

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