BERKELEY-It's about 114 miles from downtown Phoenix, Ariz., to the gates of Tucson's Arizona Stadium. But, for Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, the miles are just the beginning.
If I do the math right, 114 miles equals 42 years (15 of those as a professional football coach), five NFL teams, four stops as a collegiate graduate assistant and an NFC championship. And on Saturday, he's coming home, as his Bears (2-1) open up the Pac-10 schedule against No. 14 Arizona (3-0) at 7 p.m.
"I enjoyed my time there, going to school there. I have a lot of fond memories of the time that I went to school there, and I had an opportunity to coach high school football there at Amphitheater High School, which was my first coaching job, so that was a good experience," Pendergast said on Thursday. "I still have a lot of friends, not only in the Phoenix area, but in Tucson, as well. Two of my sisters went to Arizona, so they'll both be at the game. My mother will be at the game, and then a lot of friends will be driving down and driving up."
Asked as to whether he's told his relatives not to wear red, the stoic Pendergast cracks a rare smile.
"They'll be cheering for the Cal Bears," he grinned.
Pendergast returns to his alma mater as the head of a Cal defensive unit that climbed as high as No. 1 in the nation after the first two weeks of the 2010 season-his first in Berkeley-before giving up 52 points and 497 yards to Nevada's pistol offense. To say the least, the graduate of Tolleson (Ariz.) High and former Wildcat undergrad has some making-up to do in the eyes of Bears fans.
"The guys have to come back to work and fight," Pendergast said after the Nevada loss. "We have to move on and look forward to preparing for Arizona and starting the Pac-10 schedule. I've got a lot of confidence in this group. We trust each other and we've just got to move on and go back to work and move on to the next opponent."
The ride home from Reno was-not surprisingly-as silent as the grave, something that head coach Jeff Tedford saw as a positive sign in the face of the embarrassment suffered at the hands of the Wolf Pack.
"Absolutely. Yeah, I mean, that's the thing. The bus ride and the plane ride were as quiet as you've ever heard it. It was disappointing," Tedford said of the loss. "Any time something like that happens to you, it stings. It makes you sick to your stomach. I know a couple of the players, when I saw them on Monday, they still said that they were sick to their stomachs about it. They were anxious to get back on the field today and get after it."
This week has been all about recover and preparation, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
"Our guys are challenged this week, and, obviously, the way things turned out last week is not the way we'd like to display ourselves, defensively," Pendergast said on Thursday. "I expect a much-improved effort this week."
Pendergast has focused on trying to balance the tasks of not only defending the run and the downfield pass, but also Arizona's short passing game, which uses quick passes underneath to act as a de facto running game in addition to a more traditional rushing attack.
"I think a lot of it has to do with certain situations throughout the course of the game. The ball isn't always out quickly. The majority of the time, it is out quick, but you've got to pick your spots," Pendergast said. "The D-line has to do a good job of pressing the pocket and trying not to create throwing lanes for the quarterback to see through well. We've got to do a nice job of compressing the pocket. They get big splits with their offensive line to try and give the quarterback windows to see down the field, and so, we've got to do a good job of squeezing that and cutting that off, maybe to where we can impair his vision a little bit, downfield."
Cal will have to plow through a Wildcats offensive line stocked with experience. Apart from junior guard Vaughn Dotsy, the other four men up front-tackles Adam Grant and Phillip Garcia, guard Conan Amituanai and center Colin Baxter-are all seniors, with a collective nine varsity seasons under their belts. In order to shake up junior Arizona QB Nick Foles, Bears defenders will have to hit him as much as possible, just to make him think twice when he drops back.
"Regardless of who we play, we like to be disruptive to the quarterback," Pendergast said. "This week will be no different."
Last Friday, Cal was victimized by the imminently-mobile Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who ran for 148 yards and three touchdowns. This week, they will face a far-more-stationary signal-caller in Foles, who has gone on the run six times this year for -33 yards and has been sacked four times.
What Foles does have at his fingertips is a get-it-out-quick spread offense. When he's not passing, Foles has the luxury of handing the ball off to senior starter Nic Grigsby (187 yards and five TDs on 33 touches) and junior firecracker Keola Antolin (13 touches for 41 yards and 11 receptions for 85 yards and a score).
"They do an excellent job of getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands, and they spread the ball around to different areas of the field," Pendergast said. "So, it'll be important for us to react early to the quicker throws, because the speed of the game will be rapid, early."
The Bears are intimately familiar with Antolin, who, as a freshman, burned Cal for 149 yards and three touchdowns the last time the Bears paid a visit to Tucson in 2008.
"Arizona probably does as good a job of anyone of being able to line up and run the ball downhill at you, and then be able to spread you out and throw it. They're very, very efficient in their passing game," Tedford said. "It's a lot of quick throws, so their passing game can really be their run game, because they're so quick, they get the ball out fast with five-yard completions. A couple of those move the sticks. Then, if they break a tackle, then there are big plays and so they're very efficient with what they do. They're not a big down the field throwing team, so it's really hard to get pressure on the passer because they get rid of it so quick. But then, they can line up and come downhill at you and we've seen that before. I think two years ago, when we played there, in the fourth quarter, that's really where they beat us. They ran the ball really well. Antolin got after us with some pretty good downhill running, so they can do that."
Last year, in the decidedly more friendly confines of Memorial Stadium, Cal held the Wildcats to 93 total yards on the ground-77 of those by Antolin. The Bears came out on top in a whacky affair which featured four field goals and a game-saving tackle by Giorgio Tavecchio and a third-and-3 mental lapse by Foles, who recovered his own deflected pass and tried to throw the ball again, resulting in a penalty that backed Arizona out of field goal range to the Cal 39 with less than two minutes left.
That game, the Bears held the Wildcats to just 274 total yards of offense as they came away with a 24-16 win. Foles went 25-of-41 for 202 yards and one touchdown, but was picked off once and sacked three times. Six of Cal's starters that day are on the current two-deep, and all of Saturday's projected starters saw action, as well, something that Tedford believes gives the team a solid base off which to work.
"I think so. You look at certain concepts, but we are new, so we've got different things going on," he said. "They're pretty much the same (offensively)."
Pendergast was a bit more nuanced in his analysis, taking into account the fact that both he and Arizona's offensive coordinator Bill Bedenbaugh are new to their respective roles, with Pendergast replacing Bob Gregory and Bedenbaugh moving up from offensive line coach to managing both the front five and directing the whole offense.
"There's a lot of similarities there this year, as to what they did last year, offensively, even though they have a new coordinator," Pendergast said. "That's obviously the tape we looked at (last year's game), and every game they played last year, and there's a lot of similarities in their offense from last year to this year."
As far as the relatively small turnover in his defensive personnel since the last time the two teams squared off, Pendergast said that even though the same players are there, they are running a markedly different defense.
"It's completely different, to me," Pendergast said. "The terminology is different, how we recognize routes is different, coverages are different, so there has been some carry-over to some of the guys saying, 'Oh yeah, I remember that route,' but that was close to a year ago, so I don't know exactly how much they remember."
This year's Wildcats offense has averaged 457.7 yards per game-good for fifth in the conference behind the No. 4 Bears attack-but made national waves by upsetting then-No. 9 Iowa last week to the tune of 34-27. Arizona racked up 366 yards against a Hawkeye defense that still ranks as the No. 18 unit in the country.
"We're playing a great offense, so not many people just stop them, or shut them completely down. We have to contain them," Tedford said. "I've told the team that this is going to be a four-quarter game. It's going to be a tough battle, because they're very good at what they do, and so, but yes, I wouldn't, you know, last week's unconventional thing and the short week, we didn't handle it very well. There was some indecision, and that's one thing you cannot have against that group. It's a triple-option, and if you overplay one thing, you try to make up for somebody else. You have to be very patient against that group we played last week. If you try to get after it, we were probably over-aggressive, trying to make plays that weren't our play, and then, sure enough, when you do that, then they know how to pull it out and beat you, so I'm hopeful that we rebound and I think they understand that preparation and focus are needed to bounce back against this group, because this is a high-powered offense we're playing this week, as well."
Apart from the fact that all games have four quarters, these two squads in particular have a penchant for taking things to the wire. Including last year's Cal win, three of the last four meetings between the two teams have come down to late-game heroics.
In 2008, the Wildcats upset the then-No. 25 Bears in Tucson by a 42-27 margin, coming back from a 24-14 halftime deficit to score four touchdowns in 11:45 of the third quarter.
During Cal's run to a Pac-10 co-Championship in 2006, the Bears stumbled in the desert when Arizona made Cal its second straight ranked victim in as many weeks.
The Bears were down by four points with 2:18 to play when an apparent 63-yard scoring strike from Nate Longshore to DeSean Jackson was called back when video review revealed that Jackson stepped out of bounds by the tiniest of margins at the Wildcats' 41-yard line. During that game, Longshore threw three interceptions, one of which came with the game tied at 17-17 in the fourth stanza. On a sideline pass to fullback Byron Storer, now-San Diego Chargers corner Antoine Cason stepped in front of Storer, hauled the ball in and ran 39 yards untouched to the Cal end zone.
It didn't take much imagination to see the echoes of that play last Friday, when current senior signal-caller Kevin Riley tossed a third-quarter 66-yard pick-six to Nevada's Marlon Johnson.
"Uh, yeah, obviously I was displeased," Riley said during Tuesday's press conference. "I made some crucial mistakes, especially that pick-six that changed the game. But, all you can do is learn from it. I can't really think about it. I went on, played hard the rest of the game and this is a new week, a new opponent. I still have plenty of confidence in myself and in this offense, and we'll be fine. We've just got to execute."
Riley should have the advantage of getting freshman wide receiver Keenan Allen back in the regular rotation after an uncharacteristic one-catch, six-yard evening against the Wolf Pack due to a tweaked ankle.
"Keenan was a little knicked up," said junior receiver Marvin Jones. "That's why you didn't see him very active in the game. Coming into practice (Tuesday), he was 100 percent and they were hooking up just fine."
Allen looked much more like his old self throughout the week of practice, and though he occasionally sported a tape job on the offending joint, did not limp or show any hesitation. His stride has been as long and as silky-smooth as it was when he accounted for 176 all-purpose yards in the opener against UC Davis.
With Allen now back to full strength, Jones should have an easier time of it come Saturday, now that he has his bookend back. Not that he struggled against Nevada, by any means. In fact, he set career-highs with 12 catches and 121 yards. But, there's a big difference between having one 6-foot-3, 200-pound receiver to deal with and having two.
"The main thing that sticks out is that we have playmakers," Jones said. "We have a lot of playmakers. We have a playmaker in Kevin Riley, obviously in Shane Vereen-he's a wonderful talent-and we have him back there, and then you have me, you have Keenan. We have playmakers that spread the field. I don't think you could point out any one guy or focus on one guy."
Arizona's secondary has produced two picks and 14 pass break-ups through their first three games. The Wildcats have allowed just 134 yards per game through the air, and their pass defense is ranked No. 3 in the conference and No. 14 in the nation.
"They're a veteran group, with some players returning from last year's squad. They mix it up, with a lot of cover-3, they do some four-covers, they press, they do a lot of man and they really put a lot on their secondary, which they have a lot of trust in," Riley said. "They really pack the box inside and they don't want teams to run the ball, and teams haven't been running the ball, and so we're definitely going to have to be able to throw the ball this week to win, and they put a lot of responsibility on their DBs, which, obviously, they have trust in."
Jones has some intimate knowledge of the Arizona secondary, particularly cornerback Robert Golden.
"We went to this camp called the B2G Elite Camp, the elite 100 in the nation, so I met him there. That's when we became friends, before our senior year in high school," Jones said. "We were recruited by Oregon together, we took our Oregon trip together and I've practiced against him. We went against each other last year, and it's just funny, when, at the end of plays, I'll check him or something, just do something funny. But, we'll just have to see."
There has been some good-natured ribbing between the two as the game approaches, but the ever-affable Jones isn't about to resort to cellular mud-slinging.
"Not trash-talk. We never trash-talk to each other. We just say, 'Let's go. You ready?' Stuff like that," Jones smiles.
The corner most likely to have Jones duty on Saturday will be Trevin Wade, a 5-foot-11, 182-pound junior.
"I played against him last year, but he's a right corner, so, whenever I'm on the left, he'll be there, so I don't think it's specifically him matching up with me," Jones said. "He'll match up with whoever's on the left. He's a good player. I watched him take a pick-six to the house (against Iowa). He's very active, he's very aggressive on break points, so that's what I think of him."
Jones cited the quickness, speed and strength of the Wildcats' defensive backs, particularly safeties Anthony Wilcox and Joe Perkins, each standing 6-foot-2 and weighing about 200 pounds.
"They're quick. They're quick and they're strong. They're definitely quick and fast. They're good players," Jones said. "We've definitely gone against bigger corners, but they are physical. They're a physical group."
Riley, for his part, will have to keep his eye on a veteran Arizona defensive line composed of three seniors-nose tackle Lolomana Mikaele and defensive ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed-and one lone redshirt freshman: defensive tackle Sione Tuihalamaka.
"Defensively, their D-ends are just workers," Riley said. "They're not huge guys, but the kind of remind me of Oregon State's D-ends-(now-Dallas Cowboy) Victor Butler a couple of years ago-in how they're always coming every play. They're just good."