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Cal Football Roundtable: A Look Back at the Defense

General Pendergast will unleash the Bears anytime and anywhere...
General Pendergast will unleash the Bears anytime and anywhere...

Kodiak: Statistically, the Cal defense ranked first in the Pac-12 and in the top 25 nationally. But did we really perform that way? What went right? What went wrong? We were worried about replacing Cam Jordan, MikeyMo, and Chris Conte; were our fears answered or justified? Going into his 2nd year, Coach Pendergast was supposed to be more comfortable with the college game, and his players should be more familiar with his system. Did the schemes, adjustments, and on the field performance reflect an improvement over last year?

HydroTech: I think our defense is actually better than it often appeared. The problem throughout many of our losses where the defense didn't look good, was also that our offense was horrible. When a team's offense sucks, it puts a lot more responsibility on the defense to keep the opposing team from scoring, and keeping the game manageable. For example, the Oregon game was a great defensive performance for one half of the game. If the Cal offense had managed to stay on the field longer and score some points, I think our defense wouldn't have become so overrun in the second half. Same goes with the USC game. If our offense doesn't turn the ball over five times and stays out on the field longer, and scores some points, the defense will be more rested and wouldn't have had so many short fields to defend. And then the UCLA game. That game was a rare occurrence of both the offense and defense being pretty inept. Although, if the offense was actually competent that day, then I think they might have bailed out the defense for once -- instead of the defense always bailing out the offense.

Berkelium97: The biggest improvement this season was that the defense showed up and was ready to play for every single game (UCLA is an exception). Like HydroTech said, all of our losses can be blamed on the offense (even UCLA, because scoring only 14 against that depleted Bruins squad was an embarassment), with the Big Game being the only possible exception--better red zone offense would have gone a long way in that game. This was a big contrast to last season.

In several games during the 2010 season, the defense was thoroughly abused by the opposing offense--USC, Stanford, Oregon State--for mysterious reasons. It was as if the defense did not preparation whatsoever for those games. This was the major criticism of Pendergast during year one.

Thankfully, the defense was well prepared this year and it generally performed well enough for us to win most of the games that we ended up losing. Now if only the offense could do its job as often as the defense does its job...

Kodiak: For the most part, I thought our defense played pretty well.

The game against Colorado where we seemed incapable of stopping their short passing game or shutting down Richardson was frustrating. I suppose that was the growing pains game early in the season where we missed Jordan, Mohammed, and Conte the most. Fortunately, the coaches and players did a better job for the rest of the year. (with one exception)

The one real outlier and black eye for the season was the debacle against ucla. Not only did the guys not seem to be up for this one, but it's beginning to be a concerning trend that Pendergast's preferred method of running the scrape exchange is either not an effective scheme or not one that our personnel can execute consistently.

I know that Williams and Anthony get some flak for giving up some deep completions. I think a lot of our secondary issues were linked to an inconsistent pass rush. Guyton had a nice senior year, but no one stepped up on the Dline to the level of Cam Jordan. We had to rely on different blitzes to provide pressure and this resulted in rolling the dice if our guys couldn't get there.

It wasn't too surprising that McClure had a rough go during his first start. But he bounced back and looked like he had the potential to be our best cover corner before his unfortunate injury.

Safety play was an issue all year. I wouldn't have thought that Conte would be the guy that we missed the most, but no one came close to replicating his level of play. I'm not sure if this is on Coach Ambrose, or if we just over-estimated the skill and talent projected for the position.

The most promising facet of the defense was the pass rush we started to have when McCain, Wilkerson, and Whiteside were all healthy and finding their stride. Some of our best defensive performances came when we were able to generate pressure while only rushing our base four guys. I also liked that Jalil and Coleman both improved to the point where they were platooning regularly with the starters by the end of the year.

I'm still not quite sure how I feel about Coach Pendergast. I like the creativity employed with some of his blitz and coverage packages. I worry a bit that it seems his schemes aren't always the best fit for our players. On paper, his gameplan might be the perfect counter to what the other team likes to do. But, in reality, it seems like he sometimes assumes that our players will be able execute responsibilities that they're just not capable of doing. And when the other team exposes those weaknesses, it seems like we have trouble adapting our gameplan on the fly. Sadly enough, I don't know enough about football; these could just be the ramblings of a cranky old idjut.

TwistNHook: We've actually, statistically, been one of the best Ds in the Pac-12 last few years. Credit should go to Pendy, Teddy, Ambrose, and others (EVEN TOSH :(!). Yet, it never seems like the Cal D is truly that amazing. I think it is a combination of two factors:

1. Pac-12 Ds not being that great altogether. You don't have an Alabama sitting there. So, you don't have to be AMAAAHHHZING to get up into the upper echelon there.

2. We play great in most games and then have brutal breakdowns that are really memorable. So, you have a couple great games where we shut Utah, WSU, and OSU down. And then Oregon drops 40+ on us.

Frankly, I'd be happier with some consistency there. Bob Gregory's D always seemed consistent. They were definitely worse, but they were consistent. At least until the tail end when the 42-3 etc etc etc started up.

Why is Cal so inconsistent on D?

Ohio Bear: I don't have a comprehensive answer, but the first thing that jumped to mind (at least with regard to the 2011 season) was that our defense didn't have an answer for something the opposition did that was unexpected. The cases in point I thought of were the Colorado and Ucla games. Against Colorado, the usually average Tyler Hansen had a monster day at QB, with most of that damage coming to Paul Richardson. That combination had not had a day nearly as prolific as it had against Cal that day -- and hasn't since. It took us by surprise and we didn't really adjust, at least not until late in the 4th quarter and in overtime when Steve Williams (thankfully) made a couple of nice plays to break up passes to Richardson.

In the Ucla game, the Bruins ran the ball at will, a lot of it opened up by the huge running day that QB Kevin Prince had. We knew that Prince would run it some of the time; after all, that's the pistol. But I don't think anyone on the Cal side expected THAT kind of rushing performance by Prince. And our defense did not adjust to it very well.

Another thought: look at some of the games where the defense turned in shutdown performances in 2011. Fresno State, Utah, Washington State, and Oregon State are the games I am thinking of. Coach P's defense seems good at exploiting flaws in the opposing offense, particularly quarterbacks who are inexperienced or a step(s) below the Matt Barkleys and Andrew Lucks of the world.