On a sunny Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium, the California Golden Bears were dominant. A 52-7 win over future conference foe Colorado would indicate so. But, for the moment, ignore Kevin Riley's career high four touchdown passes; ignore Colorado's penalty bug (CU committed 8 penalties in the first half); ignore head coach Jeff Tedford passing legendary Pappy Waldorf for third on the schools all-time wins list.
Instead, just focus on the defense.
One week after stifling UC Davis to 81 yards, the Bears faced FBS-level talent. And while the defense let up a very respectable 239 total yards, you have to dive a little deeper into the numbers to see how dominant they were.
Five forced turnovers. Six sacks. Two defensive touchdowns.
If you dive deeper into the numbers, you see even more. Colorado – from the very physical Big XII – averaged a mere 1.7 yards per rush. Colorado – with the speedy playmakers on the outside – averaged a disappointing 4.9 yards per pass attempt.
Safe to say, the defense was dominant. Their architect – defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast – sent an array of blitzes from all over the field, and gave a senior-laden Colorado offense fits.
Even safer to say, head coach Jeff Tedford was thrilled.
"The defense played excellent,” Tedford said. “We played pass defense really well and we stopped the run. (The defense) played really hard, and you like to see that."
Pendergast called for linebackers and cornerbacks to be in the backfield. Combined with the physical defensive line, Colorado quarterback Tyler Hansen quickly became uncomfortable.
That resulted in lost yardage and mental errors. And while the defense surged, the offense benefited. Throughout the first half, the offense started with excellent field position. In the end, 31 of California's 52 points came off turnovers.
“The defense was very stingy today,” said Tedford. I thought in the first half Colorado had really poor field position. The defense did a really nice job not letting them out of there.”
In the first half, Colorado had eight drives. Of those eight, only one drive lasted more than three plays.
That single successful drive took them down to the Cal goal line, but the Buffs were unable to capitalize, pushing themselves back on penalties. The drive ended on a missed 42-yard field goal by kicker Aric Goodman.
Late in the half and already down 24-0, the Buffaloes looked to get on the scoreboard. But an errant, left-handed toss by Hansen wound up in the arms of senior linebacker Mike Mohamed, who returned it 41 yards for a California score. That play, which took place with only 11 seconds remaining before halftime, put the Bears up 31-0, and took all the air out of Colorado's sails.
“The ball was up there in the air and I just grabbed it and looked for daylight,” said Mohamed of his interception. “Luckily, I was able to take it all the way.”
The preseason All-American finished with that pick-six, along with tying his career-high of 14 tackles (1 for loss). Mohamed's skill set fits perfectly within Pendergast's defensive scheme, as he has hit the 2010 season off well.
“It's a great system,” said Mohamed. “We have guys up front making sacks, interceptions, tackles... It's a good defense to put a bunch of different guys into different positions to make plays. So far, it's been paying off.”
Many defensive players share the same opinion of Mohamed, and they can only be excited by what the future holds in store as they unleash more in the coming weeks.
“Coach P is great,” said senior Cameron Jordan, who had his first sack of 2010. “Our whole defense is into it. Things are working out. I mean, we are shutting down offenses and doing our job.”
“[In Pendergast's defense,] we almost dictate what the offensive line has to do to us, because we are shifting more, we are a little bit more aggressive... It's not so much that we are reacting, but the offense is reacting to us.”
Pendergast knows that his players are thriving so far in this system. After all, his system allows the defense to make a statement every week.
“This is a player’s game,” said Pendergast after the game. “We have to utilize the players that we have, and I want to put a product out there that is fun for our players that they enjoy utilizing their skill set. And, it's also fun for the fans to watch. We don't want to be a defense that stands around and holds back. We want to be active and we want to be disruptive.”
Active and disruptive, the Bears most certainly were – right through the last snap. With 34 seconds left and the game already decided, senior Darian Hagan – who has had his own rollercoaster journey this past year and had his father watching from the Colorado bench – snagged a fumble from the Buffaloes' Ryan Deehan, and returned that 82 yards the other way for the final score.
The points were not just gratification for Hagan. It sent a loud message to the rest of the conference.
The Bears won't be giving up anything easy in 2010.
You can now follow Cal Sports Digest via Twitter.
Discuss in Cal Sports Digest Forums.
If you have not by now, subscribe to CalSportsDigest.com. Click HERE to get access to the members-only content from CSD and the nation-wide Scout.com network.
©Copyright 2010, CalSportsDigest.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.