Bears, Buffs: Rocky Mountain Rematch
By Ryan Reiswig
It was nearly one year ago that the Colorado Buffalo suffered one of their most deflating losses of their season.
Traveling out to the west coast to face their eventual Pac-12 Conference foe the Cal Bears, the Buffaloes managed just one touchdown while allowing seven in a 52-7 loss at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif. The Buffaloes have a chance to avenge that loss this Saturday, as the Cal Bears travel to the Rocky Mountain State to face them at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.
After such a convincing victory the year before, some teams may come into a follow-up contest the following year over-confident and too sure of themselves. The Bears, however, aren't even thinking about last year's victory.
"Last year is last year and this year is this year," said second-year Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. "They have a completely new staff, a different scheme, and just a few of the same players. We expect a four-quarter game against Colorado. I know they're going to be ready to play because they're a very well-coached, competitive team."
This year's Buffalo squad is led by Colorado alum Jon Embree. Embree, who coached tight-ends for the NFL's Washington Redskins last year, will present the Bears with a different offensive look than what they saw last year.
"They're using their personnel a little bit differently and their blocking schemes in terms of the run are different," said Pendergast, a veteran of 15 seasons coaching in the NFL before coming to Cal. "Their passing scheme is different. Coach Embree has installed a West Coast style offense which is different than what they had last year."
Embree's offense, quarterbacked by senior Tyler Hansen, will showcase a passing game that stretches the field vertically, as well as the traditional, shorter, West Coast routes. Colorado's running game needs to be respected as well, led by senior Rodney Stewart.
"We have to do a good job of defending the whole field," said Pendergast, the Arizona Cardinal's defensive coordinator in 2008 when they earned a trip to the Super Bowl. "They run the ball very well inside and outside and then they stretch the field vertically in the passing game. We have to do a very good job of reading our keys and playing with good fundamentals."
Pendergast's defense showed what kind of force it can be capable of last week as they kicked off their season by handily beating the Fresno State Bulldogs at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, 36-21.
Fresno State managed 21 points, however 14 of those points were scored as a result of their offense's mistakes: a fumble recovered by Fresno State in the end zone and a Fresno State interception inside Cal's 20-yard line that led to a Fresno State touchdown. Despite handling a pesky Fresno State team rather thoroughly, Pendergast sees plenty of room for improvement in his defense.
"There were plenty of things that we can get better at and we're just focused on trying to get those things better as we move in to the second game of the season," said Pendergast, a native of Phoenix, Ariz. "I think we need to be more consistent in defending the running game."
Being more consistent is something Pendergast is reinforcing to his defense this year, and that includes forcing turnovers. The Bears forced one turnover last week against Fresno State, something their well-seasoned defensive coordinator would like to see more of.
"Sometimes [turnovers] come in bunches," said Pendergast. "We work drills on it all the time and I think it's one of those things that we have to continue working at. Last week we didn't get as many as we'd like."
While Pendergast saw aspects of his defense's performance against Fresno State he demands improvements in, he also sees many positives. Some of these positives may stem from many of the players being in his system for the second year.
"I thought the communication was good," states Pendergast. "Being the second year in the system, we're a communication-oriented defense, and that's something that's going to be better whenever you do it in the second year. I liked the effort, I thought we chased the ball well and that's something we preach a lot."
If Cal continues to build on what they started last week, the Bears will give the Buffaloes all they can handle.