California has played dominant defense on Saturdays this season. But as Bears fans know, there is a catch.
The Bears gave up 497 yards at Nevada in a 52-31 loss on a Friday night.
In the other three games, they've given up just 20 total points, and they've been good enough to still rank 15th in the nation in total defense (282.5 yards per game) while yoked with the Nevada numbers.
It's fair to say that new coordinator Clancy Pendergast, a longtime NFL coach, is doing a pretty good job -- other than when he's faced a pistol offense, which isn't terribly popular in the NFL.
And, of course, Pendergast and the Bears get a second crack at the pistol on Saturday when UCLA comes calling.
Seemed like a great time to check in with Pendergast to get his take on "Pistol II: Redemption?"
You guys have had three strong weeks of defense, and one bad one: Was it a case for you of having a short week of practice to prepare for an offense you never game-planned for in the NFL?
Clancy Pendergast: We are not making any excuses. We didn't play well that night. We didn't play with a good gap integrity. We didn't get off blocks. And we didn't tackle well. So those were most of the shortcomings, things we had wrong that night against Nevada.
I'm not trying to give you an excuse, but there aren't many pistol offenses in the NFL. You had to look at it as something different, right?
CP: There are some neat things about it. It's very similar to the "Wildcat" offense that was a craze in the NFL two years ago, which started with the Miami Dolphins. I spent a whole offseason and 2009 studying the Wildcat and how to defend it, just because it became so popular in the 2008 season. We looked at how a lot of NFL teams defended it, and looked at some of the college teams that ran it and studied some of them and how teams defended them. But in the true Wildcat, the element of the quarterback not being under center to throw the football is really the biggest difference.
That said: You've guys have been mostly lights out on defense otherwise. Who is playing well for you?
CP: I think [DE] Cameron Jordan has been our most consistent guy. Linebacker D.J. Holt has played really well, at mike linebacker inside. He's been our most consistent linebacker week in and week out. In the secondary, [safety] Chris Conte has been pretty consistent.
How much will it help to get linebacker Mike Mohamed back healthy?
CP: Well, he's obviously one of our best players, so having him back in the lineup on a full-time basis will make us a better defense. He didn't play against Nevada because of the (toe) injury. He played part-time against Arizona. We expect to see him a lot on Saturday. That should boost our defense a little bit. Anytime you get one of your better players back, it obviously helps your group.
When you guys have not played well, what goes wrong?
CP: It's been more the fundamental things -- guys not reading their keys and doing their job. That's the one thing we didn't do against Nevada. We had guys out of position, and guys not doing their job. Generally, when you don't play well on defense, that's what transpires. That night was like no other game.
How is UCLA's pistol different than Nevada's?
CP: Very similar. It's very similar.
As a competitor, are you excited about getting a second crack at a specific scheme?
CP: It's just another game plan, but we're excited by the opportunity to play against a very well-coached, talented UCLA team. It's our second week in the Pac-10, and we're just focusing on the next game at hand.
The Bruins have run the ball well this year. What do you see when you look at game film of UCLA?
CP: It's pretty well-documented that they do a nice job in the running game. They've been able to move the football and control the clock. The line does a good job of working together. I think they work real well in terms of the blocking schemes they use. Both running backs have been a nice one-two punch for them. The quarterback obviously keeps you honest. They can run and throw it. They have a lot of weapons on the offensive side of the ball. They are going to be tough to deal with.
You've got a few games under your belt: How is coaching in college different than in the NFL?
CP: It's just like I've said from day one: Coaching is coaching. I enjoy the opportunity to teach. You get a chance to do that every day. The biggest thing is the limited meeting time [in college]. So you've got to utilize your time as much as you can. But from a pure coaching standpoint, I've always enjoyed working with young players. In the NFL, that's how you build your team. You develop young players. It's no different at this level. It's just getting the players familiar with the techniques you want to use, the techniques within the scheme, the different calls they need to utilize between the linebackers, defensive line and secondary. That's how you play good defense.