No time like the present for Cal's defense.
No sense waiting around for the Bears to acclimate themselves gradually into a new philosophy.
Cal has digested new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's schemes and run with them, quickly erasing the memory of last year's porous defensive performance and putting together one of the best units in the country.
The Bears enter Saturday's game at USC ranked eighth nationally in total defense (254.8 yards allowed per game), and they are among the top 10 in four other defensive categories.
Not bad for a defense that had to start over when longtime defensive coordinator Bob Gregory left for Boise State and Pendergast was hired just before spring practice.
"I don't think it's surprising," Cal inside linebacker D.J. Holt said. "We're smart guys. We go to UC Berkeley. We're able to catch on to things fast. It was a bit complicated when he got here, but we bought into it. That's what it comes down to. You believe in your coach. You believe in each other."
Pendergast, who spent six seasons as a defensive coordinator in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs, is making believers out of a lot of people. He was able to introduce his concepts during spring ball and have the Bears refine them during training camp.
The Bears have responded immediately. In four of Cal's five games, the defense has held the opponent to one touchdown or less and gone into halftime with a shutout intact.Twice, the Bears held the opponent to under 150 yards of offense.
"I was pretty sure that it was going to go just like this before we started playing," said outside linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who has thrived in Pendergast's system with a team-high 41/2 sacks. "When Coach Clancy came in, everyone was real excited about the scheme he was bringing and the pressures and everything he had to offer. The defensive guys were real excited about all that, and this is the type of defense we expected to have."
The Bears last season had a strong nucleus returning from a successful defense but finished a disappointing 72nd nationally (378.8 yards allowed per game). Pendergast introduced a more aggressive scheme, one that allows his defensive front more freedom to make plays while trusting the secondary to hold the line on the back end.
That formula is working. The Bears rank ninth in the country in sacks per game (3.2) and the secondary has played at a high level. Cornerback Darian Hagan was named Pac-10 Player of the Week for defense last week.
"It's a fun defense," safety Sean Cattouse said. "It extends from Coach P. It's a whole attitude. He makes us want to act professional, play professional. He gives us a lot of freedom. It's a defense that everybody really wants to be a part of and play in."
It's easy to raise an eyebrow when looking over Cal's game-by-game statistics. Every game has dominant numbers, except one -- the Bears' 52-31 loss at Nevada on Sept. 17. Cal was overwhelmed by the Wolf Pack's explosive and unique pistol offense and never made adjustments to slow it down.
The Bears were redeemed somewhat on Saturday by silencing UCLA, which also runs the pistol. But the performance against the Wolf Pack will serve as motivation for the rest of the season.
"Everyone probably thinks Nevada just whipped us, but really as players we didn't do what our assignments were," Cattouse said. "In too many instances, we just beat ourselves. That was just one of those games. It happens, and it shouldn't. But we know that. If (opponents) don't know that we beat ourselves, they'll see when they play us."
Pendergast has stressed accountability and expectations since he arrived in Berkeley. He said the Nevada performance was simply a case of too many players not being accountable for doing their jobs. But it's that focus on expectations that ultimately is reaping benefits for the Bears.
"I want things done in a certain way," Pendergast said. "I have a vision for where I want this defense to be. The players have to have that same vision because they're the ones that are actually out there doing it. My expectations are high every week for this defense. Hopefully, we can continue to get better as the season moves forward."
Cal (3-2) at USC (4-2), 12:30 p.m. CSNBA