Pac-12 Preview: Cal's Conference-Leading Defense Prepares for 2012

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Pac-12 Preview: Cal's Conference-Leading Defense Prepares for 2012
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
California senior defensive back Josh Hill (23) will be a leader of the Golden Bears defense as the team returns to Memorial Stadium in the 2012 season.

Clancy Pendergast seems to know what he’s doing.

In his two years at Cal, the 44-year-old defensive coordinator trained the Golden Bears into the best-ranked total defense in the Pac-12. The defense, ranked No. 25 in the country in 2011, was three slots higher than Stanford (28).

Each year, however, the Bears continue to finish in the middle of the conference. Last season, Cal finished 7-6 overall and 4-5 in the Pac-12 under 11-season coach Jeff Tedford.

Cal’s defensive strengths lie in their corps of ball hawks and their ability to control the line of scrimmage.

The Bears were seventh in the country in tackles for loss—100 for 387 yards—but they allowed 129 rushing yards (34th).

The squad also gets on and off the field, keeping its rotation and big men fresh.

Its No. 21 ranking in opponents' time of possession (28:03) and No. 25 third-down defense (63/179, or 35.2 percent) gave the defense rest and kept the opponents’ offense on the sideline.

The Bears were also sharp on forcing turnovers last year. Cal recovered 11 of the 18 fumbles it forced and grabbed 12 interceptions.

Josh Hill, the only Bear to return an interception for a touchdown in 2011, will have to be the senior leader in 2012.

The 22-year-old Houston native will have to step up to replace the four seniors who led the defense last year: Mychal Kendricks, D.J. Holt, Sean Cattouse and D.J. Campbell. Hill is one of seven senior defensive players on the 2012 roster.

To rebuild this fall, the Bears signed five defensive players in its class of 19. The recruiting class was ranked as No. 6 in the Pac-12 by Rivals.com. The Bears signed no five-star recruits and one four-star defensive player—De La Salle linebacker Michael Barton.

The Bay Area talent pool has served Cal, Tedford and Pendergast well in recent seasons the coaching staff has found a way to work them into the lineup.

If Pendergast can work continue improving the defense for another season, he would get Cal fans thinking of the adage, “Once is a mistake, twice is a habit and three times is a lifestyle.”

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