The USC Trojans made some sweeping changes after a disappointing 2012 season. One of the biggest came at the top of their defense as Monte Kiffin stepped down as defensive coordinator to make his return to the NFL. In his place, the Trojans have turned the reins of their defense over to Clancy Pendergrast, and the defense will be better for it in 2013.
Pedergrast comes to USC from Jeff Tedford’s dismantled staff with the Cal Bears and his Bears’ defense last season didn’t turn too many heads. They faded down the stretch, giving up an average of 33 points and 441 yards per game, but everything around the Cal program slumped last season. His defense at Cal actually ranked 33 spots lower than the USC group he’s taking over. There isn’t much you want to hang your hat on from a 3-9 season, but his unit’s struggles shouldn’t dampen USC’s excitement over handing their defense over to Pendergrast.
That’s because he brings some much needed change to the position with his extensive experience against the varied offenses of the Pac 12. He also has ties to the NFL, which will help give him credibility with the Trojans’ current players and help them with future recruits. In the two seasons before this year’s disastrous run at Cal, Pendergrast put together one of the best defenses in the conference. He knows the competition in the Pac 12 as well as anyone, which means there will be zero learning curve as he works to improve the USC defense.
His plan involves installing a defensive scheme that is flexible enough to run against all of the different offensive looks that USC will face in conference play next season. It will work against pro-style, the spread with the quarterback running, the spread without the quarterback running and the pistol. Pendergrast will call the defense a “52” defense that will likely play as a variation on a traditional 3-4 defense.
The key will be the “flexibility” of the defense that Pendergrast is looking for. One of the biggest weaknesses of Monte Kiffin’s defenses was the rigidity which they were run with. They struggled to make in-game adjustments and adapt to different looks they saw from week to week and even drive to drive.
Pedergrast’s ability to adapt and his experience against the different looks USC is going to face, aided by the upgrade of talent he’ll have to work with, spell positive things in the near future for the Trojans’ defense.