Cal is taking the first step to try to repair its shoddy pass defense by increasing the role of freshman cornerback Stefan McClure.
Both coach Jeff Tedford and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said Tuesday that McClure will start seeing significantly more playing time. McClure, the fourth-ranked cornerback prospect in the nation in 2011 according to scout.com, tore a ligament in his right thumb during training camp and had his cast removed Tuesday. He had been playing primarily on special teams.
Pendergast said McClure will form a three-man cornerback rotation with Marc Anthony and Steve Williams, and also could be used in nickel situations.
"We're just going to commit to playing him," Pendergast said. "He is a guy that we've identified that's going to be out there for a lot of the rest of the games. He's a good football player, and he's going to have a good career here."
The Bears have been surprisingly ineffective in pass defense this season, ranking seventh in the Pac-12 at 236 yards allowed per game. They are ninth in pass efficiency defense (133.1). Considering one of their games was against Presbyterian, a subpar Football Championship Series division opponent, the pass defense has been even worse than those numbers suggest.
In Cal's past two games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents (Colorado and Washington), it has yielded an average of 383 passing yards. The Bears led the Pac-10 in pass defense (187 yards per game) and total defense (319.1) last season.
"This is what I've been working for ever since my high school season ended, to come in here and try to compete and help the team win," McClure said. "All the hard work is paying off. Now I have to go in there and make plays."
Tailback Isi Sofele was stopped for no gain on one play and lost a yard on the next. Cal never reached the end zone, and the Huskies held on for a 31-23 win.
Tedford was questioned why C.J. Anderson, the Bears' more bruising running back, wasn't on the field for those plays.
"That was an off-tackle play. We just have to block," Tedford said. "There was a big hole there. We just have to sustain our blocks, so that wasn't so much Isi. Isi has had more experience with that play and has a little bit better speed to be able to execute that play. So that's why he was in there."
"There's no doubt he's a gifted player," Tedford said. "He's one of the best players we've had here."