Good defense is about talent and scheme. Just about every coach will tell you the former is more important than the latter, as winning one-on-one battles is the foundation of good defense. But to be great, a defense needs both.
California had neither last year. So, yeah, it was a defensive disaster.
Disaster? The Bears yielded 42.6 points per game, which ranked 127th -- second to last -- in the nation. To call their run defense milquetoast is to do an injustice to Caspar Milquetoast, the "Timid Soul" of the Harold T. Webster comic from the 1920s. The Bears yielded 6.15 yards per carry, worst in the nation.
They surrendered 21 rushing plays of over 30 yards. By way of comparison, 71 FBS teams gave up nine or fewer.
Teams didn't need to pass, but when they did they produced 30 touchdowns, which ranked 121st in the nation.
The Bears weren't talented on defense to begin with, and injuries only made things worse as young players who weren't ready for Pac-12 competition were prematurely forced into action. Only one Cal defender earned even honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors: lineman James Looney.
Then there's the scheme. Despite a dearth of Pac-12-ready defensive linemen, the Bears ran a 4-3. And that 4-3 -- burdened by inexperience -- was, well, predictable.
"You had a group that probably played a little simpler than what you could do with a more veteran group," new Cal defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter said. "They played hard. Kids chased the ball. But at times it was a bit simple and because of that offenses knew where they were going to be. We're going to do a better job of disguising some things, mixing up our fronts and coverages."
DeRuyter is perhaps the biggest statement-making hire on new head coach Justin Wilcox's impressive Berkeley staff. Wilcox, in contrast to his offensive-minded predecessor, Sonny Dykes, is a defensive guy. That he was willing to hire an established veteran with head-coaching experience as well as a long resume of success running defenses suggests he's willing to delegate authority instead of micromanaging.
DeRuyter and Wilcox don't have much history. When Wilcox wasn't retained by Clay Helton at USC after the 2015 season, DeRuyter tried to hire him at Fresno State, where he was then the head coach, before Wilcox opted to become Wisconsin's defensive coordinator. DeRuyter, fired after a 1-7 start in 2016, planned to visit Wilcox in Madison this offseason before Wilcox was hired at Cal.
When Wilcox was named Dykes' replacement, it was DeRuyter who initially reached out. While one question about the Wilcox hire is his lack of head-coaching experience, it's notable that both his coordinators -- former Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin will run the Bears offense -- have been head coaches. Ergo, Wilcox won't be lacking potential consiglieres when it comes to consultations on administrative issues.
As for defense, DeRuyter and Wilcox, both 3-4, odd-front adherents, hashed out during the interview process how they'll collaborate on rebuilding the Bears' beleaguered unit. A big part of that is rebuilding confidence.
"When you go through a season like they did, it's hard not to at least question things," DeRuyter said.
DeRuyter said spring priorities include evaluating existent talent and installing a new base scheme. Count on plenty of position changes, including some offensive players perhaps moving to defense.
"We're going to have to take defensive ends and make them outside linebackers," DeRuyter said.
DeRuyter, 54, arrived at Fresno State, where he went 30-30 before being replaced by former Cal coach Jeff Tedford, after strong tenures running defenses at Texas A&M and Air Force.
His defenses know how to attack. In 2011, Texas A&M led the nation with 51 sacks and ranked third with an average of 8.0 tackles for loss per game. They also can stop the run. That same year, the Aggies ranked 12th nationally in rushing defense (101.85 jpg).
At Air Force, DeRuyter showed a team could play A-list defense without A-list talent, as the Falcons ranked in the top 10 in both pass defense and scoring defense (15.69 ppg) while ranking 11th in total defense.
He laughed when told that the general feeling among Cal fans is it can't get any worse on defense.
"We'll definitely get better," DeRuyter said.
The question then becomes how long it will take "better" to equate to "good."