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September 15, 2010BERKELEY-It hasn't taken Clancy Pendergast much time to become a beloved figure in Berkeley. Judging by the clamoring of this site's subscribers for ever more material from the Cal football team's new defensive guru, dare I say that he's become a cult hero. But for a man who was one minute away from winning a Super Bowl, well, let's just say that none of the adulation goes to his head.
He leads the coaching staff in permanent stubble, and his sessions with the press are always simple and direct, belying years of NFL media polish. His stone-faced intensity never lets up, and he never flinches. He's probably one hell of a poker player. The playful fan nickname "Fancy Clancy" couldn't be further from the truth. Pendergast is no-nonsense and straight to the point. Just like his defense.
"It's just about going out and executing what you do, better than what they do," says Pendergast. "That's our goal every week, in regards to the offensive scheme. We try to run our defense better than the other team runs their offense. That's what we preach, week in and week out. This week will be no different of a challenge."
Such is the case going into this week's tilt against a Nevada offense that can only be described as unique.
"They're a little bit different," Pendergast says, matter-of-factly. "A couple of years ago, the wildcat formation became fairly prevalent around the NFL, so for the last couple years, in the offseason, we always spent some time studying different collegiate offenses that could potentially bring the wildcat formations into the NFL. What they do is very unique, and they're really good at what they do."
What the Wolf Pack does is provide multiple looks on offense, with a strong-armed quarterback in Colin Kaepernick who has passed for 7,623 yards in his career and rushed for 3,127.
"He creates a lot of problems," says Pendergast. "He's a very smart quarterback. He's obviously a general out there on the field with communication. He runs their offense well, he sees the field well, he has very good speed, can make people miss and has an extremely strong arm, so he creates a lot of problems for you."
Some of those problems could be solved by Cal's stout defensive line, which has been let off the leash in the first two games of the 2010 season, when compared to years past. Cameron Jordan, Deandre Coleman, Ernest Owusu, Trevor Guyton, Derrick Hill, Kendrick Payne and Aaron Tipoti have combined for 19 of the Bears' 143 tackles, seven of Cal's 14 tackles for loss and 3.5 of the Bears' eight sacks. That kind of depth will be crucial in the high-altitude environs of Reno's Mackay Stadium, which sits 4,610 feet above sea level.
"(Depth) is obviously a positive for our defense," says Pendergast. "I like the rotation that we have with the first seven guys there. It's going to help us in all games this year."
The best way to create that kind of depth? Open competition. While with some coaches that term is specious at best, with Pendergast, it's a truism. Even discounting the bench-emptying win over UC Davis, 30 defensive players have seen action.
"We're still in the midst of evaluating the guys that we have and who the best 11 guys are," says Pendergast. "Just like last week, there will be a rotation of guys that will get an opportunity to go out there and play."
With senior linebacker Mike Mohamed sidelined for much of the week with a sprained big toe, the depth on the inside has been tested, but whether or not last year's conference leader in tackles can suit up on Friday, Pendergast is confident that there are plenty of players ready to step up.
"We've got a host of guys that are playing behind him that are getting opportunities in there," says Pendergast.
Big or small, every man on the defense has the chance to make a difference, not the least of which has been pass-rushing outside linebacker Jarred Price, who is generously listed at 5-foot-11.
"I think there's a really good one in Pittsburgh that's not a really tall guy in (James) Harrison. Rushing the passer is honestly about hands and leverage and, however you can create that-whether you're a tall guy or a short guy-you've got to have leverage on the pass protector," says Pendergast, who clearly relishes talking about the nuts and bolts. "So, if you're an undersized guy, you've got an opportunity to get under their pads and torque them from underneath, and if you're a longer, edge guy, you've got a chance to use your hands and your arms to press their shoulders to get on the edge of an offensive player. Either can be effective; it's just a matter of how strong and how well that person uses his hands."
Last week against Colorado, Price contributed four tackles and two sacks, using his size and speed to get under and around the Buffaloes' sizeable offensive line.
"For anybody that we play, Price is going to have an opportunity to get on the edges, and we've just got to create situations where we can give him the opportunity to rush," says Pendergast. "Jarred's done a nice job in the first couple games, and most of the defense is a work-in-progress, as well as he is."
That's the thing about Pendergast: it's all about the process. Technique and preparation are as much a part of his defense as the speed and aggression which fans see on the field. This Friday will be an excellent chance to get a look at offensive elements that drive future Pac-10 opponents like Arizona and Oregon, something of which the ever-studious Pendergast is more than aware.
"Well, they're obviously different from a lot of the Pac-10 teams. They're similar, obviously, in the zone-read-type blocking scheme that they have, to a handful of teams," says Pendergast. "Each week, we're just trying to get better, and, like I said, every game plan will be different.
"I think they're the same in the fact that they use the whole field-from the sidelines to the numbers, from the numbers to the hash, between the hashes and so forth, all the way across the field. That is the aspect of their offense in which I see a similarity."
The attention lavished on this week's game-like many of the outward trappings of the college game-are of no consequence to Pendergast, who remains intently focused on the task at hand. And you can be sure that his players know that, as well.
"They know what kind of challenge it is," Pendergast says. "We don't have to bring it to their attention too loudly. They know what the challenge is, and what's at stake, and that we've got to go in there and we're going to have our hands full with a very potent offense. We've got to go in there and play our game."