It's been an inconsistent year for California, and that goes for the Bears defense, too, despite its generally strong numbers.
But first-year defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast clearly put together an outstanding game plan last weekend, when the Bears held top-ranked Oregon to a season-low in yards and points.
It doesn't get any easier this Saturday, though, with No. 6 Stanford coming to Berkeley for the annual Big Game. While the Cardinal might not be as fast and flashy as the Ducks, they also rank among the nation's elite offenses, and quarterback Andrew Luck may be the best at his position in the nation.
So there's no rest for Pendergast this week. He did spare a few minutes, though, to talk defense.
Give me the basics of what you guys did against Oregon and why was it so successful?
Clancy Pendergast: I just think our guys played well that night. We played with good gap integrity -- the guys fit their gaps. And the secondary did a good job in coverage.
Why is it so difficult to maintain gap integrity against Oregon?
CP: They are very lateral in a lot of things they do. Sometimes the gaps travel down the line of scrimmage and they are hard to keep. But that's very important against them. And they do some other blocking schemes that aren't lateral, too. So you have to prepare for different types of blocking schemes with them. Their linemen are very athletic. Their running back runs very well, not only tackle to tackle but also on the perimeter. And you've also got the quarterback to deal with.
Going into the game, did you anticipate you'd get such an inspired, fiery effort?
CP: I did. We had a good week of practice. They were into it. The communication was good throughout the course of the week. We really zeroed in on the things we wanted to do. It was more about us defensively than it was about Oregon.
Give me two or three guys who really played well versus Oregon.
CP: Defensive end Trevor Guyton played good. Noseguard Derrick Hill played good. Linebacker Mike Mohamed played good. Safety Chris Conte played good. Safety Sean Cattouse was solid. Those are the guys who jumped out at me.
This will be your first Big Game: Does anything feel different to you this week, or is it just another game?
CP: The intensity is a little heavier in practice. The guys' antennas are up a little bit like they were last week. From being around college football and football in general, I've always known this is a storied rivalry. I'm looking forward to my first Big Game.
Looking at Stanford: What do you see on film of their offensive line?
CP: They are very impressive. They do an excellent job at the line of scrimmage. They get movement. They work very well together. And when they do get movement, they are very athletic in getting to the second level. They are a physical group. I'm very impressed with the job they've done, from an athletic and physical standpoint and from a coaching standpoint.
You've got a significant NFL background: Does Andrew Luck look like a guy who can star on Sundays? What does he do well?
CP: He's very impressive. You can see he carries himself with a lot of confidence. Coach [Jim] Harbaugh and his staff have done an excellent job preparing him. You can tell he has a very good command of the offense, with the different things he does within the scheme. He sees the field well. He evades the rush very well. He gets them into good plays when they need to change a play at the line of scrimmage because of a certain look the defense is giving them. He's been very patient. He can make plays outside the pocket with his feet, but he can also make all the throws in the passing game -- from the intermediate and underneath option-type routes to the precision comebacks, all the way from one hash to the other sideline, which a lot of teams in the NFL like to have the quarterback make. He's got a lot of tools that are going to make him an outstanding prospect at the next level.
Is it much different preparing for Stanford compared to preparing for Oregon?
CP: That's kind of college football. You are preparing for different offenses week in and week out. That is the challenge as a defensive coordinator -- to put together a plan that adapts to what the other offense is meant to do. They create a lot of problems. They use a lot of different personnel groups. Like I said, they are very good at running the football. They are very well coached. They are very efficient throwing the football. They are very good on third down. They are very good in the red zone. We'll have our hands full on Saturday without a doubt.
Give me a couple of keys for you guys to be successful on Saturday?
CP: Our rallying cry is we've got to have very good gap integrity within our front seven. And we can't give up a big plays. They like to push the ball down the field, but we can't let them get any explosion plays.